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
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 City 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]

Kara has also published several articles in legal and academic journals such as the Northwestern Journal of International Human Rights,[10] Harvard International Review,[11] Solutions Journal,[12] and World Politics Review.[13]

Film and TV

Kara has been a featured contributor on several other primetime programs, including CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight [14] and CNBC's Crime Inc.[15] He also appeared in 2010 as a panelist on the BBC News primetime current affairs program BBC World Debate, held in Luxor, Egypt.[16]

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.[17] 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.[18] It stars Ashley Judd, Elisabeth Röhm, Anne Archer, Patrick Duffy, Sean Patrick Flanery, Jason London, Courtney Gains, Brian Thompson and Efren Ramirez.[19]

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.[20] 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.[21] The launch of his book was subsequently covered in a three part series on the same news program.[22][23]


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.[24] In the Spring of 2013, Kara became an Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy[25] 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.[26] Kara also sits on the editorial board of the Cambridge University Press book series Slavery Since Emancipation, which is sponsored by Historians Against Slavery.[27]

University of California, Berkeley

In the Spring of 2016, Kara became a Lecturer in Global Poverty and Practice[28] 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.[29][30] 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.[31][32]

Kara serves on the board of several antislavery organizations,[33] 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.[34] 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.[35]

In September 2011, Kara was sent by the U.S. Department of State to discuss anti-trafficking initiatives with the governments of Singapore[36] and Malaysia.[37] 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.[38]


  1. ^ a b c Book Details: Main, Sex Trafficking, Columbia University Press
  2. ^ a b c d 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. 
  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. ^ a b Fighting Modern Slavery, TED Fellows Friday with Siddharth Kara
  9. ^ a b Worldview with Jerome McDonnell on Chicago Public Radio
  10. ^ Designing More Effective Laws Against Human Trafficking, Northwestern Journal of International Human Rights, Spring 2011
  11. ^ Supply and Demand: Human Trafficking in the Global Economy, Harvard International Review, July 2011
  12. ^ Twenty-First-Century Slaves: Combating Global Sex Trafficking, Solutions Journal, March 2011
  13. ^ Sex-Trafficking: A Global Overview, World Politics Review, August 2010
  14. ^ Attacking the demand for child sex trafficking, CNN, April 2011
  15. ^ Crime Inc.: Human Trafficking, CNBC, June 2011
  16. ^ Can Human Trafficking Be Stopped, BBC World Debate
  17. ^ Trafficked, Internet Movie Database
  18. ^ Cinestory Screenwriting Contest, Winners
  19. ^ Trafficked (2016), The Internet Movie Database
  20. ^ Ending Modern-Day Slavery, The CNN Freedom Project
  21. ^ On the trail of human trafficking, Siddharth Kara Blog, CNN
  22. ^ Bonded Labor Stretches from Third to First World, CNN Freedom Project
  23. ^ Shrimp Exports to West Tied to Bonded Labor, CNN Freedom Project
  24. ^ Faculty, Staff and Affiliates, FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University
  25. ^ Adjunct Lecturer Siddharth Kara, New Faculty Feature, Harvard Kennedy School
  26. ^ About Us, Program on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery, Harvard University
  27. ^ Slavery Since Emancipation, Historians Against Slavery
  28. ^ Interview with Lecturer Siddharth Kara, Blum Center, UC Berkeley
  29. ^ Human trafficking raises health and economic concerns, UN Briefing, 22 February 2010
  30. ^ UN International Criminal Law Conference on Sex Trafficking, Syracusa, Italy
  31. ^ Web Features, Columbia University Press, Sex Trafficking
  32. ^ Siddharth Kara Bibliography, Carr Center, Harvard Kennedy School
  33. ^ Stanford University, California
  34. ^ Apology Update, Kirk Douglas' Blog, June 2009
  35. ^ Meet the TEDIndia Fellows, TEDIndia Fellows 2009
  36. ^ Today talks to Siddharth Kara, Today Interview, October 2011
  37. ^ Into the Lair of Traffickers, The Star Interview, October 2011
  38. ^ TED Talk by Aditi Shankardass, TEDIndia 2009

External links

  • Interview with Siddharth Kara, "How to End Sex Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery" in Forbes
  • Interview with Siddharth Kara, Business Daily on BBC Radio
  • Talk by Siddharth Kara, Columbia University, New York (Video)
  • Lecture by Siddharth Kara, Harvard University, Cambridge (Video)
  • Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery
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