Slavery

Copy of the letter published in the Greenock Telegraph

Like many other people, I was appalled at the death of George Floyd in the USA, and I have been following the Black Lives Matter protests taking place here and abroad. Sadly, there have been many such deaths over the years, but this one has caught the public imagination. The circumstances have prompted other nations to consider their own track records on racism and their roots in slavery. Yesterday (11/6/20) Chris McEleny wrote in the Greenock Telegraph about Inverclyde’s own involvement in the slave trade and there is currently a petition on removing street names which are connected to these times. All of this is understandable, as is the desire to take down statues that honoured the philanthropists who made their money from slavery.

Like Mr McEleney, I would caution removing historic artefacts; in these street names, statues, old papers, books and other memorabilia, the truth of our human actions lies. The slave traders did not act alone and we must accept that, apart from the abolitionists, all members of society were complicit to a lesser or greater extent of profiting from slavery. Indeed, we have all benefited from this market in human misery, not only our ancestors, but also all of us, in the legacy that has been passed down to us today.

Creating plaques with accurate accounts of what happened years ago may be a more constructive way forward. As one of several campaigners for the regeneration of the waterfront in Inverclyde, we are hoping that the Sugar Sheds may become a heritage museum in due course. Should that happen our history of slavery must be told and fully included alongside the glories of ship building on the Clyde.

Might I propose a further way to harness the current strength of feeling against slavery?

Although the Slavery Abolition Act was passed in 1833, currently in 2020, slavery affects 40.3 million people worldwide – more than at any other time in history. Experts have calculated that 13 million people were captured and sold as slaves between the 15th and 19th centuries, yet there are more than 3 times that number living in some form of slavery today. Women and girls make up 72% of slaves and children account for 25% of all victims. Modern slavery takes place across the whole world and there are slaves today in the UK and here in Scotland. About 25 million are trafficked for labour which includes cleaning our houses, producing our clothes, picking our fruit and vegetables, catching our fish, digging for minerals used in our smartphones and working in tourism, agriculture and construction. Women and girls make up 94% of victims trafficked into the sex trade and sold for sexual services across the whole country, not just in the big cities. Like our ancestors before us, we are also complicit in the slave trade.

The black slaves that picked our cotton and our sugar are long since dead, but those who are alive today desperately need our help to be liberated and given a normal life. We need to be asking questions about our goods and services, about supply lines, about political accountability on how modern slavery is hidden and overlooked. We need to ask questions on the whole of the sex trade and challenge the inextricable links between trafficking, prostitution and child exploitation.

We have seen how public anger can affect political action, let us channel that in a way that makes us all abolitionists for the slaves that are amongst us today.