Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Slavery Today

Today, 26 March 2007, is the 200th Anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade throughout the British Empire.  The role of William Wilberforce and other British Christians in this struggle is the subject of the new film, Amazing Grace, named after the famous hymn composed by John Newton, former slave trader converted to Christianity and abolitionism.  But in many different forms slavery continues today in many parts of the world, although the brutal chattel slavery of Africans by which Europe built the nations of the “New World” in North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean has long been ended.  A slave is , by definition:

  • Forced to work — through mental or physical threat.
  • Owned or controlled by an ’employer’, usually through mental or physical abuse or threatened abuse.
  • Dehumanised, treated as a commodity or bought and sold as ‘property’.
  • Physically constrained or has restrictions placed on his/her freedom of movement.
  • Many forms of slavery exist today: hereditary, kidnapped children who become child soldiers, kidnapped children (mostly girls, but some boys) sold into the sex industry, other forms of coerced sex trade, many forms of child labor, coerced work in prisons (often for high profit and cheap goods), slavery in mines for minerals that fund wars and terrorism (as in the highly accurate film, Blood Diamond), slavery in the drug trade, coerced labor in developing nations by transnational corporations based in rich nations, and much more.  The International Labor Organization estimates that as many as 12 million people are enslaved in some form of coerced, unpaid, labor. Various forms of (usually covert and illegal) slavery exist on every inhabited continent of the globe.

    Anti-Slavery International has been working for the complete and PERMANENT abolition of slavery since it was founded in the U.K. in 1789. (Although open to people of all faiths from the beginning, Anti-Slavery International’s founders were prominent British Christians, especially Quakers, Baptists, and Methodists.) Consider joining, donating, or volunteering to work on one of their many campaigns, today.  200 years after the end of the Transatlantic Slave Trade in 1807, 174 years after the abolition of slavery throughout the British empire in 1833, 169 years after Parliament abolished the “Negro Apprentice System” in 1838, 134 years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all slaves in Confederate-held lands, 132 years after the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution (abolishing Slavery) in 1865, 86 years after the passage of the international Convention on the Abolition of Slavery in 1926 and 51 years after the passage of the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery in 1956, this kind of call to action should be COMPLETELY unnecessary. Sadly, it is not.  The struggle continues–only these days most Christians in the developed world are completely ignorant that the problem exists.  To our everlasting shame, there STILL are Christians who defend slavery “biblically” and who justify the chattell slavery of Africans(and Native Americans) for the colonization of the Americas as God’s way of introducing Christianity to pagans! (Don’t tell me no one argues this. I have heard conservative U.S. ministers make such arguments as recently as 5 years ago.)

    Preach a sermon, write an op-ed or letter to the editor of a local paper, do what you can to raise awareness of the continuing plague of slavery and slave-like coerced labor. Investigate to find out how many goods you consume are produced under conditions of coerced labor and boycott them. Organize, contribute, speak out, speak up. Silence equals consent. 

    Update: Melissa Rogers notes that the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is today holding hearings on “Legal Options to Stop Human Trafficking.” The timing couldn’t be better. Contact the members of the Judiciary committee and urge them to forge strong legislation on this issue and to tackle the many forms of slavery/coerced labor today and put into place strong penalties for any nation or corporation which knowingly buys or sells goods made with coerced labor, any company engaging in “sex tourism,” etc.  Again, raise the profile of these issues in churches, your local papers, and other outlets.  The public should not be so blissfully unaware of the extent of this great evil, today.

    March 25, 2007 - Posted by | economic justice, human rights.


    1. Great post. Seems to me that most of us just assume that slavery is a dead issue. Thanks for reminding us otherwise.

      Comment by Kerry | March 26, 2007

    2. The thing is, Kerry, it SHOULD be a dead issue, but the world has turned a blind eye while newer forms of slavery have emerged.

      Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | March 26, 2007

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