179 years ago today the British Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act, outlawing the slave trade after years of courageous campaigning by William Wilberforce and others who spoke out against the exploitation of men and women and opposed the vested economic interests in this vile business.
Unfortunately this trade continues today, here in Europe. Last week the British Embassy hosted a conference with the International Organisation for Migration on the theme of human trafficking. We had senior representatives of the Romanian parliament and Government, prosecutors, NGOs and other Ambassadors from Turkey, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands. The discussions showed clearly a worrying phenomenon – an increase in the trafficking of men, women and children from eastern Europe to other countries in Europe, for sexual exploitation and to work as slave labour in areas like construction, agriculture, restaurants and bars.
It is truly shameful that this is happening in our society today. Our response needs to be complex and determined. The UK Government’s approach is set out in its Human Rights Strategy 2011. Here in Romania we are offering training to prosecutors, working with the police, and partnering with international organisations and NGOs to raise awareness of the issue and improve protection and support to victims and their families.
William Wilberforce made a famous speech in the House of Commons on the subject. He said:
“Never, never will we desist till we have wiped away this scandal from the Christian name, released ourselves from the load of guilt, and extinguished every trace of this bloody traffic, of which our posterity, looking back at these enlightened times, will scarce believe that it has been suffered to exist so long a disgrace and dishonour to this country.”
That was 1789, 223 years ago. His campaign is not over yet.
To mark the European Anti-Trafficking Day, I’ve accepted the challenge of the Ratiu Center for Democracy and took 4 minutes to discuss the worrying issue of modern slavery. You can see below the results. Please let me know what you think and please take 4 minutes as well to think about what you can do to support the action.