Will today's modern slaves get an apology ?

Tue, 19/03/2013 - 15:00
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By Ian Bell-The Past

In 2006 Tony B-liar expressed his "deep sorrow" for Britain's part in the slave trade.

This followed in the wake of well-funded campaigns by anti-slavery groups, breast-baring campaigns by groups like English Heritage (who wanted to feel guilty that many of the houses in their charge were partly financed by money from slave labour), and by academics and politicians from former slave trade ports like Bristol and Liverpool.

Britain was the first country in the world to outlaw slavery (1807 Slave Trade Act, which outlawed the trade and forbade British ships from being involved in slaving, although slavery was not actually outlawed within the empire until 1833).


One might have thought this would be a cause for self-congratulation rather than self-abasement. Britain's record on slavery compares favourably with that of other countries.

There is no evidence that other countries put in Britain's position of prominence would have behaved any better, and considerable evidence that they might have behaved very much worse.

Slavery is as old as humanity, and has been carried out by most peoples whenever they had the opportunity. Sir Samuel White Baker, who helped to discover the sources of the Nile, said of his travels in the Sudan region between 1862 and 1865, "The institution of slavery is indigenous to the soil of Africa, and has not been taught to the Africans by the white man" (quoted in John Baker: Race, OUP, 1974).

Slavery was sanctioned by classical authorities in all civilizations and by major religions, and was carried out by enthusiastic black and Arab intermediaries (one Arabic word for 'black' is adb, also meaning 'slave') who merely sold them on to Europeans.

Over the centuries, an estimated 1 million Christian slaves were carried off from Europe by pirates from the north African coast, who raided occasionally as far north as Cornwall and Cork.

But that is the whole point. There is much more to this than simple polite apology, so as to clear the metaphorical air. The agitation to compel the government to apologise for slavery, and to make wealthy families feel guilty about the possible sources of their family fortunes, is merely part of an ethnic power-play, a decades-long attempt to demoralise Britain's indigenous inhabitants so as to grant 'legitimacy' to relatively newly-arrived, insecure-feeling minorities.

The Present

A report published on Monday 11th March from think tank The Centre for Social Justice termed Britain's efforts to stop human trafficking as 'in a state of crisis and need a complete overhaul'.

"Politically, I'm afraid ministers are clueless about the scale of British slavery" says head of CSJ, Christian Guy. It wants an 'anti-slavery commissioner' established and the UK Border Agency to be stripped of certain powers.

Researchers found from construction sites to brothels, large numbers of trafficked people were being exploited, but their fate never appears in official statistics.

Its researchers also found "unacceptable levels of ignorance" among police, social services and the UK Border Agency. Nothing new there then!

"There is an immigration aspect to the whole issue, but it is not the key thing," says Andrew Wallis, head of the anti-trafficking charity Unseen UK who chaired the group that investigated the issue.

"For us, the key thing is there is a crime that has taken place, we have a victim of crime so let's respond accordingly."

Nowadays, the vast majority of perpetrators and most victims of slavery in the UK come from abroad, with Eastern Europeans, Nigerians and Vietnamese figuring prominently.

The CSJ report highlights in particular the plight of British children. In 2011, it says, almost half of UK citizens who were trafficked were girls trafficked for sexual exploitation.

It highlights the case of a school girl who, under the control of a group of young men, was raped by 90 men over the course of a single weekend.

The report's authors say the scale of the problem and the lack of understanding of the issue mean that major changes are needed. They are calling for creation of an 'anti-slavery commissioner', similar to the children's commissioner, to oversee and co-ordinate the country's response and the passing of a modern slavery act to tighten current disparate legislation.

If the British had to apologise for the 'slave trade' why shouldn't black Africans, Arabs, Asians, and Eastern Europeans apologise for their part in the modern slave trade?

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