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Putting an end to modern slavery

Date: 27/03/2015

There are an estimated 35 million slaves alive today. The Modern Slavery Bill introduced yesterday will ensure tougher sentences for traffickers as well as officially appointing Kevin Hyland OBE, who lead the London Metropolitan Police's Human Trafficking Unit, as the first Anti-Slavery Commissioner.

Contemporary slavery remains a difficult concept for many to understand, especially as the slave trade has officially been abolished since the early 1800s. But, now researchers are helping to inform how we address modern slavery – with reference to historical slavery debates.

Professor Kevin Bales (University of Hull), who has been advising on the Modern Slavery Bill for the past two years, is hopeful that this law and growing public awareness will mean the issue can now be addressed in a fair way:

The Modern Slavery Bill brings the UK into the top drawer of government responses. It places the crime squarely in the remit of the Home Office, and calls the crime by its true name – slavery. The appointment of an Anti-Slavery Commissioner will help to coordinate the many moving parts of antislavery work.

Already the Home Office has been improving the methods for calculating the number of hidden slaves in the UK and now leads the world in this regard. There are also appropriate provisions that will help remove slavery from the products we buy and consume.

Beyond these new measures, continuing research into this area is crucial to tackle slavery and provide support and protection for victims of this travesty. In order to help prevent mistakes from the past being repeated in the modern day, a five year project funded by the AHRC under the Care for the Future theme, ‘The Anti-Slavery Usable Past’, is uncovering how the policymakers and campaigners from our history succeeded in overcoming great barriers.

The project brings together experts from the University of Nottingham (Professor Zoe Trodd), University of Hull (Professor Kevin Bales and Professor John Oldfield) and Queen's University Belfast (Professor Jean Allain) who are working with international partner organisations, including Walk Free and the International Slavery Museum. Professor Zoe Trodd said:

We have a chance to end slavery within our own lifetimes and to do so by learning the lessons of past antislavery movement. In the wake of the 200th anniversary of the ending of the transatlantic slave trade, we seek a usable antislavery past and remember the words of the great African American abolitionist and former slave, Frederick Douglass: ‘We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.’

For further information contact Dr Philip Pothen (AHRC) on 01793 41 6022 or p.pothen@ahrc.ac.uk

Notes to editors

  • The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class research in a wide range of subjects: ancient history, modern dance, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, English literature, design, the creative and performing arts, and many more. Each year the AHRC spends approximately £98m to fund research and postgraduate training often in collaboration with partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public fundsprovide considerable economic, social and cultural benefits to the UK. For further information on the AHRC, please go to: www.ahrc.ac.uk


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