Giving a voice to those experiencing modern slavery

Participants in Voice of the Free's community prevention program

22 April 2020

The Philippines is a leading source of migrant workers, with over 9 million Filipinos living overseas and sending funds back to their families. A lack of education and employment opportunities has contributed to growing numbers forced to seek work far from home - leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

Currently an estimated 784,000 Filipinos1 live in modern slavery.

The Voice of the Free Foundation aims to change this. Founded in 1991 by internationally recognised activist Cecilia Oebanda, the grassroots organisation is at the forefront of fighting human trafficking and modern slavery.

“We envision a society where people are free, protected and empowered to explore opportunities without the risk of slavery, exploitation and abuse,” says Sherryl Loseno, Executive Director of Voice of the Free. “So we mobilise social partners, develop high impact programs, and build the resilience of young women and girls to end slavery and other forms of abuse.”

For nearly 30 years, the hybrid non-governmental organisation (NGO) has developed public-private partnerships and task forces to rescue at-risk children who fall prey to illegal recruiters and traffickers. It has rallied the private sector to increase incomes so families can support their children’s education.

“We also provide care for victims of various cases of abuse and exploitation including human trafficking for sexual exploitation, forced labour, online sexual exploitation, and illegal recruitment,” Sherryl says.

Voice of the Free focuses on helping victims develop a range of skills through its Centre of Hope, where women and children can receive educational and psychological support, as well as medical assistance.

“Cecilia and her staff have created a truly supportive environment for these young women who had gone through very tough times,” says Eric Yaptangco, the Executive Sponsor of Voice of the Free at Macquarie’s Manila Office.

The Macquarie Group Foundation has been providing funding and support to Voice of the Free for more than five years through a number of initiatives.

As part of its strategic grant-making program, the Foundation in Asia has been focused on supporting organisations providing better migration outcomes for migrant workers as a means to combat modern slavery. Voice of the Free is one of the Foundation’s strategic grant partners working toward this goal.

Susan Clear, regional director of the Macquarie Group Foundation in Asia, shares “With our grant-making focus, we aim to enable our grant partner organisations to strengthen and create fair policies and regulation, build ethical and sustainable recruitment practices and educate vulnerable communities about their rights. It’s been a long-term regional project for the Foundation, the results of which are boosted by significant efforts from our staff.”

Eric says the cause is close to everyone’s heart in the Philippines.

“Everyone knows someone who has had no choice but to work overseas to have better opportunities and provide a better life for their families.”

Roda Placedes, Macquarie’s Office Lead for Employee Engagement with Voice of the Free, agrees.

“We live in a country where a tenth of its population leaves home in search of permanent settlement or temporary work overseas. So it’s important to support organisations that will reduce the risk of slavery, trafficking, and abuse for Filipinos.”

Over the years Macquarie has helped fund two phases of Voice of the Free’s Prevention Program, as well as a community watch group in Dumandan to gather crucial data from across the country.

“The watch group supports social enterprise development in the area, and provides community-based training on safe migration and ethical recruitment,” says Sherryl. “For the 120 mothers who have signed up to the program, it’s a chance to increase their household income and access basic social services.”

The Foundation has also supported the organisation through regular public speaking workshops with survivor advocates.

“These workshops help the girls exercise self-expression, and build their confidence and self-esteem. Survivors who underwent the program are now active advocates of Voice of the Free,” Sherryl says.

The local Macquarie team also runs a series of learning and recreational activities for Voice of the Free’s Pathways to Healing Program. And more recently, Macquarie coordinated the update of the non-profit’s website.

“It has long been on our to do list to fix their website. With the support of our employee network group’s project - Women@COG Tech Manila’s Programmed to Empower - we finally made it happen,” says Roda.

Sherryl says Macquarie’s support has not only made important programs and initiatives possible, it has also helped empower victims through community outreach activities.

Through their efforts to co-ordinate these activities, Roda and Eric have become passionate advocates for Voice of the Free.

“I hope that through Macquarie’s support, Voice of the Free will be able to touch more lives and help more women and children explore better opportunities without the risk of being abused and exploited,” says Roda.

Learn more:

To learn more about forced labour in amongst domestic migrant workers in Asia, read this regional research report, funded by the Macquarie Group Foundation in partnership with Seefar, which identified key recommendations and insights about how we can create better migration outcomes.

1 2018 Global Slavery Index estimates 784,00 Filipinos are living in modern slavery, with 65% of persons trafficked being women, while children make up 21%.