Monday, January 01, 2007

"few people in England know what slavery is"

posted by k

An announcement has been made. This year we shall commemorate the 200th anniversary of Britain's abolition of slavery. At least, that's how it's being presented.

But Britain didn't abolish slavery 200 years ago.

The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act of 1807 was not the end of slavery in the British empire. The 1807 Act simply banned capturing and transporting new slaves. It imposed a penalty of £100 per slave on captains of British slave-ships. Captains under threat of being stopped by the British navy often cut their fines by ordering their crew to throw slaves overboard - a scene dramatised in Turner's painting, "The Slave-Ship". Meanwhile, those who were already slaves or who were born in slavery were unaffected. It was only in 1833 that the Slavery Abolition Act made slavery illegal - with generous compensation for the slave-owners.

The 1807 Act still deserves celebration. Perhaps we could look at modern instances of slavery within Britain, such as the limits placed on workers from overseas. Or we could address the detention of asylum seekers with their children - or other ways in which the vulnerable are exploited and ill-treated today. Self-congratulation seems out of place.


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