eBay Billionaire Battles Human Trafficking

Pierre Omidyar, billionaire eBay founder and his wife, Pam, are taking their considerable fortune and business acumen and deploying them in an ambitious effort to end modern-day slavery. Nepal, they’ve decided, will be their case study; success would have global ramifications. A $600,000 grant will pay for 2,500 working kids to leave the dangerous, dirty Nepalese brick kilns and go to school. Next the Omidyars plan to pay for entrepreneurship and money management training to help 4,000 more brick workers escape slavery.

In the past four years the Omidyars have become the single biggest private donors to the fight against the pernicious but lucrative human trafficking industry. They’ve invested $115 million to date in their Humanity United foundation, which funds 85 antislavery nonprofits as well as on-the-ground projects in five countries, including this first one in Nepal. They’ve pledged to spend another $50 million by 2016. It took a few early years of supporting a handful of charities before they focused on trafficking as a target. Sudan would join Nepal on the list of countries they eventually chose to focus their cash on first, along with Congo, Liberia and the U.S., where more than 40,000 women, men and kids are being held as sex slaves, unpaid domestic workers or forced field hands at any given time.

The Omidyars and their team at Humanity United found the best of these U.S. antislavery nonprofits, such as International Justice Mission, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking, grouped them under one umbrella–the Alliance to End Slavery & Trafficking–and invested $8 million across all 12 of them. They didn’t meddle much, trusting that the new group would know best how to make a joint case to Congress to pass a raft of laws. The Omidyars pledged $165 million pledge to Humanity United. So far the slavery alliance hasn’t let the Omidyars down. A year after Humanity United’s grant kicked in, the combined advocacy efforts of these ex-slaves, social workers, lawyers and churches secured 90% of the amendments they’d requested to the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which helps rescued slaves secure visas and protect themselves from retribution from their traffickers. In 2010 the group lobbied for, and won, a landmark $12 million increase in U.S. federal antitrafficking funds.

The Omidyars’ investment in the alliance also pays for ex-slaves to train as advocates, meeting regularly with politicians to put a clearer face on the misunderstood business of trafficking. In a speech at September’s annual Clinton Global Initiative conference in New York, President Obama announced a partnership between Humanity United and the White House, backed by $6 million from sponsors including Goldman Sachs in its first big donation to anything slavery-related. “We’re going after the traffickers,” said Obama to a mixture of applause and stunned faces.

Learn more at Clare O’Connor’s Forbes Magazine article: Inside eBay Billionaire Pierre Omidyar’s Battle To End Human Trafficking.

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