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The blindness of using venture capital to fight human trafficking

The blindness of using venture capital to fight human trafficking

The blindness of using venture capital to fight human trafficking

Over the past 20 years, philanthrocapitalism has shown a predilection for quick, sensational, and often tech-driven approaches to addressing many of society’s biggest social issues, including human trafficking. This has benefitted a vocal faction of the anti-trafficking movement, one that primarily focuses on carceral (law and order) responses and victim ‘rehabilitation’. This funding tactic often comes at the expense of other parts of the movement that are oriented more towards prevention, justice, and rights.

Why has philanthrocapitalism shown interest in shaping the anti-trafficking movement in this particular direction? First, and perhaps most importantly, philanthrocapitalism’s modus operandi comes from venture capital finance. Some would argue that any large-scale private philanthropy constitutes philanthrocapitalism, but the term more accurately describes a subset of private and corporate philanthropy that is based on a venture capital theory of change – one that supports the use of business models in the non-profit sector and focuses on ‘social return’ on investments.

Crucially, venture funding is not long-term funding. The whole idea is to make a short-term investment in an entrepreneur’s concept or initiative. In the business world, this sometimes helps a start-up grow to the point where it can obtain liquidity from other sources. Applied to anti-trafficking initiatives, or indeed to the non-profit sector more generally, venture money tends to favour quick and quantifiable measures over structural change. At Open Society, our philanthropic origins are in private capital but we have avoided venture finance ‘solutions’ to worker exploitation. Instead, we have focused on supporting movements of workers to organise for justice, health, and safety in the workplace.

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