47_Jesse Sage

Free the People

Some 30 million people still live in bondage. makes savvy use of the Web to draw attention to slavery and to organize email campaigns to pressure companies and governments.


Jesse Sage
Associate director,
Boston, Massachusetts


What needed an overhaul?
Slavery did not end in 1865. Today, 30 million people live in bondage worldwide, more than ever before in history. From victims of jihad slave raids in Sudan, to forced prostitutes in Thailand, to Ukranian women trafficked into the US, to debt-bondage child slaves in India weaving carpets, millions are forced to work for no pay under the threat of violence. But this fundamental human rights violation has gone unaddressed for years. Slaves are not intellectual dissidents. So while the human rights community has mobilized to liberate prisoners of conscience, it has generally overlooked these prisoners of commerce.

What was the single biggest obstacle?
Slavery persists with such ferocity today because it is difficult to mobilize public activism. First, contemporary slavery remains a distant problem. Despite occasional media attention, slavery seems like a vast problem in far-away lands, claiming anonymous victims from the poorest segments of society. Second, those who do learn about slavery are generally outraged and want to help–but how can they make a meaningful difference amidst their hectic schedules? Launching a successful 21st Century abolitionist movement would require making slavery an immediate problem and giving masses of people an easy way to get active.

How did you overcome it?
I realized we could make slavery as immediate as people’s computer screens via the web, with streaming documentary video, Flash presentations on products of slave labor, and webcasts of presentations by slavery survivors. We could also give busy people an email-based action network to direct simple but effective campaigns targeting governments, corporations, and leaders. We could “undercome” a lack of media coverage on slavery and unite the voices of everyday activists through e-abolitionist campaigns. Interactive presentations and individual activism could be combined on a powerful web platform–an anti-slavery web portal we dubbed iAbolish.

How have you seen results?
IAbolish activists receive email alerts, click once to edit a letter, and click again to send off that letter. In August, iAbolish e-activists targeted the Chocolate Manufacturer’s Association (CMA) about the use of cocoa harvested by child slave labor in the Ivory Coast. 20,000 people participated, and CMA representatives called to complain that we had crashed their email servers–and that they were taking action. To urge Congress to pass the Sudan Peace Act, activists took advantage of our constituent-matching and email-to-fax system to deliver thousands of faxes to their representatives. The House promptly passed the bill 422-2.