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Interview: Ishaan Shah on How We Can Fight Against Modern Slavery

Updated: Sep 16, 2021

Youth for Positive Change spoke to Ishaan Shah about his organization Stolen Dreams and the important role we can all play in ending slavery.

Ishaan is the seventeen-year-old founder of Stolen Dreams – an anti-slavery organization established in 2017 – as well as a TEDX speaker, poet and human rights activist.

Your anti-slavery org. Stolen Dreams is truly incredible. What inspired you and how did it come about?

In 2016 I watched a documentary about child trafficking and exploitation. It was the first time that I heard about modern slavery. Previously, I had learnt about the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade; little did I know that slavery continued to thrive in our societies, hidden in plain sight. What I learned was shocking: every hour around 130 people across the world are trafficked for the purposes of forced exploitation, more than 45 million people globally are trapped in slavery, including 1 in 4 children.

After watching this documentary, I asked every student in my year group if they knew that slavery still existed – not one of them knew. As any curious teenager would, I decided to research this issue further; however, the information online was incredibly complex and challenging for me. It was this lack of a central resource for young people to engage with this issue that inspired me to create Stolen Dreams.

Today, Stolen Dreams acts as communications organisation: a central resource for young people from across the world to learn about the issue of modern slavery and human trafficking, and how they can drive positive action around ending this heinous crime.

On your website, there is a section dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community and information on how young girls are far more likely to be trafficked into slavery. In the fight against slavery, do you believe an intersectional approach is needed to effectively solve – or at least, mitigate – the problem?

Yes, I strongly believe that an intersectional approach is needed to mitigate the rates of exploitation. 1 in every 130 women globally are trapped in some form of slavery today. 71% of victims of slavery are women and girls. Approximately 56% of transgender youth are involved in sex trafficking globally. Women, girls, LGBTQ+ individuals and other marginalised communities are at a greater risk of being forced into slavery. Gender imbalances, climate change, the stigma around the LGBTQ+ community, lack of access to education, healthcare, mental health support and safe employment – these all exacerbate vulnerabilities and hence, the chances of being trafficked are far higher. Many of the global challenges we face today are interlinked. Therefore, a sustainable, robust and effective union of governments, businesses and consumers that promote an intersectional and all-inclusive approach must be adopted if we are to effectively mitigate the rates of slavery in our lifetime.

What is one fact about modern-day slavery that you’d want our readers to know?

We encounter slavery every day in the clothes we wear, foods we eat and even on our high-streets. Fast fashion brands (including Zara, H&M, Primark and Nike), electronic companies (including Apple, Microsoft and Samsung) and even our favourite food companies (including Cadbury’s Chocolate, Burger King and McDonald's) all profit off the exploitation of people, sourcing from suppliers that use slave labour. When I first found out that slavery still existed, I thought it was an issue happening in faraway countries and communities, until I realised that in fact I was encountering it every day. Slavery is closer than you think.

Finally, what advice would you give to someone who wants to help in the fight against slavery but doesn’t know where to start?

The issue of modern slavery is harrowing and complex, but there is hope. Here are five ways in which each of us can play a part in fighting slavery:

First, educate yourself and raise awareness. Not many people are aware that slavery still exists and that we encounter it every day. Spread the word using social media or just simply by having conversations with friends and family. Also, know how to spot the signs of slavery to keep yourself and those around you safe.

Second, write to your local or national government representatives. It is critical that government policy on a national level is established to tackle supply chain slavery and to ensure that companies are being transparent and taking action to eradicate labour exploitation. On a local level, it is important for local governments to ensure that a robust strategy is put in place to tackle slavery. This can involve raising awareness, training emergency services appropriately and guaranteeing effective support for survivors.

Third, stay safe on social media. Currently, during this COVID-19 pandemic, traffickers have evolved to exploit people online, especially young people. Make sure you are only talking to people you know on social media! Be aware of your e-safety. You can check out our website to learn more about staying safe online.

Fourth, consume consciously. With brands constantly looking for cheaper sources of labour, many products, such as clothes, foods and electronics are at risk of being produced using slavery. If you can buy ethical clothing, that is great. However, buying second hand, locally sourced goods, thrifting, and reducing the rate at which you buy can help slow the demand. Whenever you are about to buy something new, always ask yourself, ‘Do I really need this?’ and ‘Who made this?’

And finally, support other anti-slavery organisations. If you can, donate to organisations that are working to end slavery through lobbying businesses, shaping government policy, supporting survivors and driving positive action. Grassroot organisations rely on donations to keep safehouses and support programmes running across the world. You can even start a fundraiser or sponsored event! Another way you can support organisations is by saving, sharing, commenting and engaging with their content on social media – this will help to boost their engagement and will allow their messages and calls to action to be spread even wider. For a full list of some of the most incredible anti-slavery organisations that Stolen Dreams supports, check out our website.

Together we can ensure that the generations to come grow up in a world free from slavery; let’s take action now!


BIOGRAPHY: Ishaan Shah is a 17-year-old award winning human rights activist from the UK. In 2017, he founded Stolen Dreams, an international anti-slavery organisation that acts as a bridge between young people and some of the greatest human rights issues of our time. As an intersectional activist, Ishaan also addresses a number of other global issues including gender inequality, climate change, LGBTQI+ rights, poverty and access to education. Ishaan has spread his messages widely through social media, television, articles, blogs, podcasts, public speaking and teaching lessons at schools.

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