The statue of slave trader Edward Colston being retrieved from Bristol Harbour (Andrew Lloyd/Getty Images)
Artillery Row

BLM are right – Slavery is wrong

My manifesto to help Black Lives Matter beat slavery today

When protesters took issue with the statue of an 18th Century slave trader in Bristol they sought to rekindle an argument that was settled over two hundred years ago. It is universally agreed that 18th and 19th century slavery was repulsive. Nobody today would defend the institution of chattel slavery or indeed begrudge the efforts the Royal Navy went to to stamp out the trans-Atlantic trade. In that sense the protests were at best futile, at worst divisive and counterproductive, and most likely somewhere in between. Being thoroughly boring examples of solipsism, ignorance and contemporary self-advertisement.

While protesting an inanimate bronze slaver might play well on social media, it serves as mere pampered game playing in comparison to a genuinely important debate we could be having instead – about modern day slavery in the United Kingdom. Slavery did not end in the 19th Century, if it did there would not be an estimated 100,000 slaves in the UK today and many more around the world providing goods sold to the UK.

As the protesters are aware, antique slavery was a lucrative business that did not abolish itself. So it is today. Rooting it out should be the challenge of our time and one that should unite the country.

This is what stamping out modern slavery would require:

More and better funded police

Slavery survives in the illicit black economy. In prostitution, in the illicit drugs trade, in the shadow economy where predatory employers break the law to exploit and endanger workers. To tackle this we need more police motivated and trained to recognise and track down slavery. More powers and resources to enter premises, more resources to stop and search people suspected of being exploited in the drugs trade.

Enforcement of drugs laws

Anyone who has walked down a street in a UK city will know that laws against cannabis (and other drugs) are simply not enforced: no amount of trying to persuade one of our exceptionally busy policemen will, in my experience, convince them to do that. It has been effectively legalised, putting huge profits into a sector where there are no employment rights and which habitually relies upon the grotesque exploitation of illegal migrant labour. While the exploited are people on the margins, the customers are often the middle classes, many no doubt among those out protesting against 19th Century slavery. No more leniency, the middle classes need to play their part in stopping the exploitative illicit drugs economy and if they won’t they should go to the same prisons as their suppliers.

Crack down on prostitution

The UK’s sex industry vilely exploits many vulnerable young women, both domestically trafficked into slavery or imported from abroad by slave masters. This must end. The police should be funded and empowered to break up this industry and new powers enacted to criminalise the clientele. Slave masters/traffickers should not be allowed to escape with short sentences – such slavers ruin lives for life and should arguably face life sentences too, as deterrence and punishment.

Crack down on illegal immigration

Illegal migrants trafficked into the UK are extremely vulnerable to exploitation and slavery. But what do we expect with our current laws and policies against illegal immigration? This problem can only be resolved by reducing the numbers of illegal migrants in the UK and making the penalty for entering the country punitive and the reward nugatory.

Post abolition illegal slave trading carried the death penalty; those facilitating boats crossing the channel today with their exploited cargo should also face our toughest sentences. We should give new resources to the Home Office and border force to allow for the swift processing of illegal migrants discovered by the police. Once the incentive to traffic illegal migrants is reduced so will slavery in the UK be.

Enforcement of benefit rules

Employers forcing employees to accept illegal wages topped up by benefits should be tracked down and prosecuted. Benefit fraud should routinely capture employers and employees. If an industry is uneconomic at legal wage rates it should not be in business. The lack of prosecutions given the scale of the problem here is scandalous. And requires the blindest of blind eyes being turned by the relevant authorities. We should not be proud of this moral indifference: we are failing our forebears in showing it.

A larger Navy to conduct Anti-Slavery patrols

Slavery is an international crime that requires international enforcement. In the 19th Century the Royal Nay led the world in stopping slave ships entering not just British ports, but US and Brazilian ports. Britain used military might to stamp out the slave trade in East Africa, Rhodesia and the wider Empire.

While Britain’s ability to do good in the world is much diminished a larger Royal Navy is vital to the UK’s ability to crack down on slavery and its causes. More anti-drugs and people smuggling patrols in home and foreign waters, training and cooperation with other navies and the identification and disruption of the trade in slave produced goods. The United States under President Trump recently stopped a shipment of goods produced by Chinese prison Labour – a larger Royal Navy could help crack down on such trade internationally. Tony Blair used to talk about us having a ‘moral foreign policy’: morality would be greatly assisted in the fight against modern slavery if former British politicians weren’t so personally indulgent of repulsive foreign regimes and didn’t bank so many consultancy fees from them.

The recent protests shone a light onto antique abuses and have acted as a call to arms to end modern slavery. As with antique slavery we are all culpable to some degree in modern slavery – for the majority from the goods we buy and a minority more directly by consuming the drugs and services provided by slave labour in the UK. To eliminate this moral scourge we should empower our police and officials at home and military might abroad in a crusade we can all support.

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