When we talk of slavery we tend to imagine 18th and 19th century images; people in chains, mostly black, being shipped around the world against their will; being sold like cattle; and forced to work for a cruel, white master.
The history of slavery is ugly – a blight on humanity.
In 1789, William Wilberforce, the renowned British Abolitionist, rose in the House of Commons and said: ‘When I consider the magnitude of the subject which I am to bring before the House—a subject, in which the interests, not of this country, nor of Europe alone, but of the whole world, and of posterity, are involved.’ It was a hard-fought battle in Britain, but he won. In America, the slave traders and the plantation owners were more truculent; they were vehemently opposed to the abolition of slavery. The issue so divided the country they fought a war of the worst kind – a Civil war; brother taking- up arms against brother. It was only in 1960s that the Afro-American won their equality. Still, there are pockets of the United States where the white supremacists would, in the blink of an eye, gladly return to the ways of the past.
That the Ku Klux Klan still exists, in whatever guise, is an obscenity. There would seem to be a disinclination to outlaw its existence – in the way that Germany has legislated to be rid of Nazism.
Australia is not without a dark past. The story of the Kanakas, and their history in the cane fields of Queensland, is still to be told in all its wretched detail. Their treatment was shameful. It was Australia’s slave trade, which we are unwilling to accept.
Modern slavery is less obvious but equally insidious.
Mostly it affects women and children and is controlled by unscrupulous men. It is estimated that 40-million people in the modern world lived in some form of slaver The Guardian reports: The Queen is understood to have personally intervened to encourage the promotion of the Modern Slavery Act throughout the countries of the Commonwealth. Patricia Scotland, the Commonwealth secretary general, declined to confirm suggestions from several other sources that the Queen has expressly stated she would like to see measures similar to the 2015 act promoted in the 52 Commonwealth nations, saying it was not her place to comment.
Although the Queen’s intervention would be non-binding, it raises the profile of modern slavery, encourages Commonwealth nations’ existing efforts to tackle it, and provides a mechanism by which leaders can be held accountable for pledges they make. The next Commonwealth heads of government meeting, which takes place in the UK in April 2018, is devoted to enhancing efforts to “eradicate forced labour, modern slavery, human trafficking, and the worst forms of child labour”.Trafficking, forced labour and forced or early marriage affect many Commonwealth countries.
Sex trafficking networks are especially developed in Nigeria, and child trafficking, and child labour, is prevalent in other African nations, such as Ghana. Bonded labour persists in Pakistan, as does caste-based slavery in India.
Bangladesh is one of the worst offenders when it comes to child labour and e The Modern Slavery Act consolidated existing laws, and established the role of anti-slavery commissioner to help police forces improve their detection and prosecution of offences. According to the charity, Anti-Slavery International, Britain may have tens-of-thousands of people in slavery, in forced labour, or trafficked for sexual exploitation, domestic work, or criminal activities. There is thought to be thousands in Australia, which includes servile marriage slavery. As unpalatable as it may be, children working in fast-food outlets, and being paid minors’ wages for performing an adult task, is a blatant form of child exploitation, and is, regardless of arguments to the contrary, a form of modern slavery. Charging adult prices for work performed by a child is, by any definition, exploitative.
Women and girls accounted for 71%, or 29-million, of all modern slavery victims in 2016. The figures, from the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO), and the Walk Free Foundation, show 24.9 million people across the world were trapped in forced labour, and 15.4 million in forced marriage last year. Children account for 10 million of the overall 40.3m total. Researchers found that more than 70% of the 4.8 million victims of sex trafficking were in the Asia and Pacific region – including Australia; while forced marriage was found to be the most prevalent across African countries. It is incomprehensible that we read of forced marriages taking place in Australia.
The Queen is head of the Commonwealth of Nations, an association of 53 sovereign nations which support each other, and work together towards international goals. It is also a ‘family’ of peoples. With their common heritage in language, culture, law, education, and democratic traditions, among other things, Commonwealth countries are able to work together in an atmosphere of greater trust and understanding than generally prevails among nations.
Of the 40.3-million people estimated to be trapped in some form of modern slavery, 55% are in Commonwealth nations. One can only hope that the Queen’s determination to draw attention, will help bring an end to the abominable practice.
Roland can be heard each MONDAY morning on 3BA at 10.30.