29 October 2020 LESSONS Labour rights

Multi-targeted approach helps to reduce forced labour

Freedom Fund and several NGOs in Tamil Nadu in southern India's textile industry wanted to find ways to successfully address labour exploitation. They used a hotspot model - concentrating resources in communities where forced labour is persistent - and drove more effective community organisation, and government and business engagement.


  1. To strengthen community capacity to prevent forced labour of adults and children
  2. Supporting survivors in rehabilitation, and securing viable livelihoods
  3. Improving brand and supplier practices to prevent unfair labour practices
  4. Helping the policy environment to support the advancement of women’s and labour rights
  5. Increasing community, government and industry awareness of labour exploitation and improving accountability


Partner: Freedom Fund

Investment: EUR 2.378 million

Duration: 2015-2019

Geographic region: Global


The hotspot approach worked - interventions reduced forced labour as well as brought down the number of youth trapped in bonded labour:

The evaluation reported a large reduction in the presence of bonded labour – down from 56% of households in 2016 (at the beginning of the programme) to 11% households in 2018 (at the end of the programme). In addition, the prevalence of children in bonded labour dropped from 13.0% in baseline to 1.1% at endline. The reduction rates, in line with national trends, suggest a successful contribution of bottom-up interventions aimed at communities, households and individuals impacted by bonded labour practices

The hotspot approach helped to implement preventative strategies, dedicating resources and provision of specific support by NGOs to households and individuals to access services highlighted by the awareness building activities 

NGOs used awareness and empowerment strategies concerning labour, women's and educational rights, and provided specific support to communities in accessing government schemes and services, and along with collective action helped bring down the number of people forced into bonded labour

Changing behaviour and mobilising communities is effective in fighting forced labour – by using a multiple intervention strategy and a combination of awareness campaigns

Different interventions enabled a concerted and flexible response to the problems that contribute to forced labour in the intervention communities. The bottom-up approach drove collective organisation and local action, coupled with various interventions by NGOs for specific household problems, leading to a significant drop in forced labour in the target communities

Raising awareness (through the film “Call Me Priya”) and group mobilisation activities (such as the creation of self-help groups, including women’s and worker’s groups) sparked change in individual, family and collective behaviours in intervention communities. There was evidence that more information had led to greater knowledge of dangers and increased confidence to speak out 

These strategies have also led directly to action to combat bonded labour. For example, people started to think differently about their spending (to avoid the need for loans that result in bonded labour); mobilisation has been done to keep children in school longer and prevent dropping out of school; there is greater caution towards traffickers and middlemen (and in some cases action was taken against them); workers have requested improvements in wages and conditions based on their knowledge of right,; and more steps have been taken on a range of related issues. There is also evidence that economic circumstances have improved in communities as a result of livelihood programmes. In future, a focus on health and alcoholism will help to prevent continued exploitation 

While the interventions addressed symptoms of forced or bonded labour, informing policy and tackling recruitment policies of mills to combat bonded labour are in the early stages. The interventions engaged with mill ownership through internal complaints committees with reported evidence of improvements in pay and working conditions in some of the mills. There is also greater involvement of government actors through networks such as the Tamil Nadu Alliance

What did we learn?

Laudes Foundation

Interventions must be aimed at bonded labour prevention strategies to focus on systemic issues such as recruitment practices of mills and growing number of migrants employed as replacements

A multi-pronged, bottom-up approach can bring about behavioural change in communities when it builds on labour rights, empowers individuals and households and provides support strategies 

A selection of appropriate, proficient, committed and context familiar NGO partners is vital for achieving results in community based initiatives 

It is crucial to keep on top of shifting and changing contexts as some interventions may not remain relevant over a period of time, for example when saturation points are reached in target communities

For Partners & Others

Effective follow-up and monitoring of outcomes of individuals and households is important to keep track of progress and make informed adjustments within forced labour initiatives

Persistent prodding and persuasion is helpful while navigating the difficulty in accessing mill ownership