Siddharth Kara

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Siddharth Kara
Siddharth Kara.jpg
Siddharth Kara
Occupation Author, Fellow - Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University
Nationality American
Ethnicity Indian
Education Duke University, Columbia University, University of London
Genre Economics, Finance, Law
Notable works Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery (2009), Bonded Labor: Tackling the System of Slavery in South Asia (2012)
Notable awards Winner – Frederick Douglass Book Award, Yale University
2010 Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery
Spouse Aditi Shankardass

Siddharth Kara is an author, activist and expert on modern day slavery and human trafficking. He is an Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy and Director of the Program on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and also a Visiting Scientist on Forced Labor at the Harvard School of Public Health. He is best known for his award-winning book, Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery (2009) and his most recent book, Bonded Labor: Tackling the System of Slavery in South Asia (2012).

Education and Career

Kara was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, USA to an Indian father raised in South Africa and a Parsi (Persian) mother raised in India. He grew up between Memphis, Tennessee, where he attended Memphis University School, and Mumbai, India, where he spent most of his summers. Kara received a BA in English and Philosophy from Duke University (including one semester at Queen Mary College, University of London), as well as an MBA from Columbia University and a Law degree from the BPP Law School, London.[1]

Kara worked as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch in New York for several years, during which time he was involved in some of the firm's largest M&A and equity financing transactions. Subsequently, he co-founded a media technology company and set up his own finance and M&A firm in Los Angeles, working and consulting for several corporations and non-profit organizations.[2]

First encounters with the world of sex trafficking and slavery

In most media interviews Kara is asked what made him decide to end his career as a young, successful New York investment banker to focus on the investigation and eradication of modern slavery around the world. Kara attributes this decision to an experience in his college years that proved to be a pivotal point in his life. While an undergraduate at Duke University, Kara co-founded the "Duke Refugee Action Project", which was the precursor to the prestigious Hart Leadership Program at the Sanford School of Public Policy[3] The project was set up to enable students to volunteer in Bosnian refugee camps in the former Yugoslavia.[4] He and a few other students obtained a grant from the University, learned basic Bosnian, and procured placements from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to volunteer at camps in the region. That summer, he lived as the refugees, in wretched conditions with barely enough to eat. During this time, he heard countless tales of brutish atrocities, including tales of Serbian soldiers who would raid Bosnian villages, execute the men, then round up the women and young girls, rape them and traffic them to brothels across Europe.[5]

During his subsequent years as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch in New York, Kara continued to be haunted by the tales of sex trafficking from the refugee camp. Subsequently, while a postgraduate at Columbia University, he became increasingly aware of the need for a more analytical finance and economics approach to understanding this unconscionable crime and eradicating this highly profitable global business.[6] The summer he graduated from Columbia, he embarked on the very first of several long self-funded journeys across the world to research human trafficking and other forms of contemporary slavery. He was struck more than ever by the insidious and pervasive nature of these human rights violations and so upon his return, decided not to resume his career in investment banking, in order to be able to continue his research and analysis of contemporary slavery.[7] He moved to Los Angeles, where he worked and consulted by day, while continuing to make research trips around the world. During this time, he wrote a screenplay as well as his first non-fiction book based on his accumulating research.[8] Subsequently, Kara obtained a law degree from London, England, all the while continuing to work, write, and travel extensively to advise on and advocate against modern day slavery.

During his extensive travels across six continents, Kara has witnessed firsthand the sale of human beings into slavery, interviewed over one thousand former and current slaves of all kinds, and confronted some of the individuals who trafficked and exploited them.[9]


Kara has published the first two of his contemporary slavery book trilogy, three non-fiction books that provide his pioneering approach to all forms of contemporary slavery.[1] The third and final book of the trilogy is due for publication in 2016. The three books are a culmination of over twelve years of research, during which time Kara traveled to thirty countries across six continents to investigate these vicious crimes.[9] Most of the research for Kara's books has been self-funded, though he has also received research support from major charitable foundations such as Humanity United and[2]

Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery (2009)

Kara's first non-fiction book on contemporary slavery, Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery was published by Columbia University Press in January 2009. In May 2010, a second edition was published in paperback. The book won the 2010 Frederick Douglass Book Prize, a highly prestigious award that is given to the most outstanding nonfiction book on the subject of slavery and/or abolition and antislavery movements. Since the inception of the Award in 1999, numerous books on the subject of modern-day slavery have been submitted, but Kara's book was the first to be awarded the prize.[10]

The book has been recommended by the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.[11] It has been lauded by academics, policy-makers[12] and the press, with the Financial Times describing it as an "eloquent and campaigning book",[13] and slavery experts heralding it as "groundbreaking"[11] and the "best book yet on the enduring problem of modern-day slavery".[14]

In the book, Kara draws on his background in finance, economics and law to provide what is widely considered to be the first ever comprehensive business, economic and legal analysis of contemporary slavery worldwide, focusing on sex trafficking, its most profitable and barbaric form.[15] He provides a riveting account of his journey into this unconscionable industry, sharing the moving stories of its victims and revealing the shocking conditions of their exploitation. He describes the local factors and global economic forces that gave rise to this and other forms of modern day slavery across the last two decades and quantifies, for the first time, the size, growth, and profitability of each slave industry.[16] Finally, he recommends the legal, tactical, and policy measures that would target vulnerable sectors in these slave industries, and help to abolish slavery, once and for all.[1]

Bonded Labor: Tackling the System of Slavery in South Asia (2012)

Kara’s second non-fiction book on contemporary slavery, Bonded Labor: Tackling the System of Slavery in South Asia was released by Columbia University Press in October 2012. It is Kara’s second explosive study of slavery, this time focusing on the pervasive, deeply entrenched, and wholly unjust system of bonded labor. While sex trafficking is the most profitable form of modern-day slavery, bonded labor is the most prevalent form.[17]

The book has received high commendations from scholars, activists, non-profit organisations and governments, and was covered as part of a three part series on the CNN International primetime news program Connect the World with Becky Anderson.[18][19] It has been lauded as "a necessary book for all those concerned with the struggle against contemporary forced labour and slavery" by the International Labor Organisation of the United Nations, "perhaps the most ambitious and reasoned treatment of this form of slavery in the modern era" by Humanity United, "a must-read for all those who work against modern day slavery" by award-winning activist Ruchira Gupta, and a book "instinct with a passion for a world free from exploitation and for all to enjoy dignity and fulfilment" by noted social activist and leader Swami Agnivesh.[20]

In the book, Kara delves into bonded labor to provide one of the first thorough economic, historical and legal overviews of this ancient and ever-evolving mode of slavery, which ensnares roughly six out of every ten slaves in the world. Kara travels to the far reaches of South Asia to uncover the brutish realities of bonded labor in such industries as hand-woven-carpet making, tea and rice farming, construction, brick manufacture, and frozen-shrimp production. He describes the violent enslavement of millions of impoverished women, children, and men who toil in the production of numerous products at minimal cost to the global market. He also follows supply chains directly to Western consumers, vividly connecting regional bonded labor practices to the appetites of the world. Kara's concludes with ten specific initiatives to eliminate the system of bonded labor from South Asia once and for all.[21]

Tainted Carpets: Slavery and Child Labor in India's Hand-Made Carpet Sector (2014)

Kara was the lead investigator and author of the report, Tainted Carpets: Slavery and Child Labor in India's Hand-Made Carpet Sector, which was released through the Harvard School of Public Health in January 2014.[22] This report is the largest single first-hand study of slavery and child labor conducted to date, and also the largest single study of slavery and child labor in the supply chain of any commodity. Spanning hundreds of productions sites across nine states in northern India, the study found appalling working conditions endemic to India's carpet sector, including estimated prevalence rates of 45% for forced labor, 28% for bonded labor, and 20% for child labor. Production sites of over 172 exporters of carpets from India were found to be tainted by these offences. These same exporters are directly linked to the sale of carpets at some of the largest retailers in the United States. The report makes concrete recommendations on how to improve the disturbing conditions that were found.

Kara has also published several articles in legal and academic journals such as the Northwestern Journal of International Human Rights,[23] Harvard International Review,[24] Solutions Journal,[25] and World Politics Review.[26]

Film and TV

Kara has been a featured contributor on several other primetime programs, including CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight [27] and CNBC's Crime Inc.[28] He also appeared in 2010 as a panelist on the BBC News primetime current affairs program BBC World Debate, held in Luxor, Egypt.[29]

Trafficked (2016)

Kara's screenplay, Trafficked, based on his research into sex trafficking worldwide, is being made into a film, directed by Will Wallace, and produced by Kara along with Will Wallace, Conroy Kanter and Alexandra Malick.[30] The screenplay won the CineStory Screenwriting Award, and was shortlisted for the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting.[31] It stars Ashley Judd, Elisabeth Röhm, Anne Archer, Patrick Duffy, Sean Patrick Flanery, Jason London, Courtney Gains, Brian Thompson and Efren Ramirez[32].

The CNN Freedom Project: Ending Modern Day Slavery (2011 - present)

Kara is a regular contributor to The CNN Freedom Project: Ending Modern Day Slavery, CNN's major year-long initiative, launched in 2011, to expose modern-day slavery around the world and highlight the efforts being made to eradicate it.[33] His unique journey across South Asia to research for his second book on bonded labor was covered as a ten-week series in 2010 on the CNN International primetime news program Connect the World with Becky Anderson.[34] The launch of his book was subsequently covered in a three part series on the same news program.[18][19]


Kara currently teaches a course on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery at both Harvard University and University of California, Berkeley.

Harvard University

In the Fall of 2009, Kara became the first Fellow on Human Trafficking with the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.[2] In the Spring of 2012, Kara taught the first course on human trafficking at the Harvard Kennedy School. He also accepted a joint appointment as a Visiting Scientist on Forced Labor at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard School of Public Health.[35] In the Spring of 2013, Kara became an Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy[36] to continue to teach the only course on slavery and trafficking at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He also accepted an appointment as the Director of the Program on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.[37] Kara also sits on the editorial board of the Cambridge University Press book series Slavery Since Emancipation, which is sponsored by Historians Against Slavery.[38]

University of California, Berkeley

In the Spring of 2016, Kara became a Lecturer in Global Poverty and Practice[39] at the Blum Center for Developing Economies at the University of California, Berkeley, teaching the same course on slavery and trafficking that he teaches later in the year at Harvard University.


Kara speaks and consults extensively on contemporary slavery and human rights around the world.[1] He advises the United Nations, US government and several other governments on antislavery policy and law.[40][41] He also advises several international and non-governmental organizations, including the Clinton Global Initiative and Humanity United.[2] He has spoken at numerous conferences and institutions and has been interviewed on over fifty radio and television shows in the US, Europe, South Asia and East Asia.[42][43]

Kara serves on the board of several antislavery organizations,[44] and also serves on the committee founded by Kirk Douglas that is lobbying the US Congress to provide an official apology for pre-bellum slavery.[45] He has testified several times in international forums as an expert on human trafficking, including in 2005, before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus of the United States Congress.[8] In 2009, he was selected as a Fellow for the acclaimed TEDIndia conference.[46]

In September 2011, Kara was sent by the U.S. Department of State to discuss anti-trafficking initiatives with the governments of Singapore[47] and Malaysia.[48] The Singapore government subsequently invited Kara to be the guest speaker at the launch of the country’s first National Plan of Action on human trafficking in March 2012.


Kara spends his time between his homes in Los Angeles and Boston. He is married to award-winning neuroscientist Aditi Shankardass, daughter of celebrity lawyer Vijay Shankardass and granddaughter of Ambassador Shanti Swaroop Dhavan.[49]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Book Details: Main, Sex Trafficking, Columbia University Press
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Carr Center Fellows, Carr Centre for Human Rights Policy, Harvard University
  3. Siddharth Kara, Hart Leadership Alumnus, Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University
  4. Kara, Siddharth (Jan 2009). Sex Trafficking – Inside the Business of Modern Slavery. CUP. ISBN 978-0-231-13960-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Foreign Exchange with Daljeet Dhaliwal on PBS
  6. Marketplace with Kai Ryssdal on American Public Media Radio
  7. The Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC Radio, New York
  8. 8.0 8.1 Fighting Modern Slavery, TED Fellows Friday with Siddharth Kara
  9. 9.0 9.1 Worldview with Jerome McDonnell on Chicago Public Radio
  10. 2010 Frederick Douglass Book Prize, Gilder Lehrman Center, Yale University
  11. 11.0 11.1 Book Details: Reviews, Sex Trafficking, Columbia University Press
  12. About Siddharth Kara, Idea Project Dinner with Siddharth Kara
  13. Sex Trafficking, Financial Times, 24 January 2009
  14. An unconscionable business, Stanford Social Innovation Review, January 2009
  15. Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs, New York (Video)
  16. Northwestern University, Chicago (Video)
  17. Bonded Labour, Anti Slavery International
  18. 18.0 18.1 Bonded Labor Stretches from Third to First World, CNN Freedom Project
  19. 19.0 19.1 Shrimp Exports to West Tied to Bonded Labor, CNN Freedom Project
  20. Book Details: Reviews, Bonded Labor, Columbia University Press
  21. Book Details: Main, Bonded Labor, Columbia University Press
  22. Tainted Carpets Report, FXB Center, Harvard University
  23. Designing More Effective Laws Against Human Trafficking, Northwestern Journal of International Human Rights, Spring 2011
  24. Supply and Demand: Human Trafficking in the Global Economy, Harvard International Review, July 2011
  25. Twenty-First-Century Slaves: Combating Global Sex Trafficking, Solutions Journal, March 2011
  26. Sex-Trafficking: A Global Overview, World Politics Review, August 2010
  27. Attacking the demand for child sex trafficking, CNN, April 2011
  28. Crime Inc.: Human Trafficking, CNBC, June 2011
  29. Can Human Trafficking Be Stopped, BBC World Debate
  30. Trafficked, Internet Movie Database
  31. Cinestory Screenwriting Contest, Winners
  32. Trafficked (2016), The Internet Movie Database
  33. Ending Modern-Day Slavery, The CNN Freedom Project
  34. On the trail of human trafficking, Siddharth Kara Blog, CNN
  35. Faculty, Staff and Affiliates, FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University
  36. Adjunct Lecturer Siddharth Kara, New Faculty Feature, Harvard Kennedy School
  37. About Us, Program on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery, Harvard University
  38. Slavery Since Emancipation, Historians Against Slavery
  39. Interview with Lecturer Siddharth Kara, Blum Center, UC Berkeley
  40. Human trafficking raises health and economic concerns, UN Briefing, 22 February 2010
  41. UN International Criminal Law Conference on Sex Trafficking, Syracusa, Italy
  42. Web Features, Columbia University Press, Sex Trafficking
  43. Siddharth Kara Bibliography, Carr Center, Harvard Kennedy School
  44. Stanford University, California
  45. Apology Update, Kirk Douglas' Blog, June 2009
  46. Meet the TEDIndia Fellows, TEDIndia Fellows 2009
  47. Today talks to Siddharth Kara, Today Interview, October 2011
  48. Into the Lair of Traffickers, The Star Interview, October 2011
  49. TED Talk by Aditi Shankardass, TEDIndia 2009

External links