Slavery is not just something of the past

Speech given at the Haringey Freedom Breakfast, 21 March 2007

Firstly – thank you to Pastor Nims – whose work to bring the world together in peace with events like these always makes us remember our better selves and what we need to strive for as human beings for the good of all in what is sometimes a very negative world.

This morning’s news about the gang fight in Wood Green yesterday with up to eighty youths involved and four stabbed reminds us sadly of how very far we have to go.

So – thank you Nims for this opportunity to say a few words about freedom; what freedom means in the ongoing fight against modern slavery; and the importance of celebrating the bicentenary of the abolition of slavery here today.

I am so thankful that Britain was at the forefront of the abolition of slavery – but so ashamed that we ever were part of it.

And yet it goes on today. Slavery is not just something of the past. Today – here in the UK there are still other forms of slavery in the UK.

Human trafficking is not relevant to the UK, but also to Haringey.

There has been enormous increase of trafficking into Europe, particularly in Britain and especially related to prostitution.

Some 4,000 women, girls and boys, some as young as 10, are trafficked into Britain alone every year for sexual exploitation.

And the problem is closer to our homes that most people probably think.

In Haringey, a two year undercover operation exposed a sophisticated criminal network that charged thousand people between £3,000 and £5,000 for a ticket into Britain. On arrival in the UK the ‘clients’ were sold into the sex trade.

Senior officers considered the network to be one of the largest, if not the largest, people trafficking gangs they have encountered in the UK. Thankfully, in this case eight members of the gang were prosecuted.

But in most cases, they remain undetected.

These terrible facts are a call for action. Finally, we have a decision by the Government to sign the European Convention Against Trafficking. This is great news.

It is great news for personal freedom.

But I now urge the Government to ratify and implement the document without hesitation. Implementation, implementation, implementation.

We need to send out a message to say that human trafficking is unacceptable in the UK. We all have a duty to safeguard personal freedom.

And the important point is that behind the word trafficking is a human being. The minute we lump people together under labels they lose their humanity. The lesson of slavery is that man’s inhumanity to man knows no bounds, it continues and it is beholden on every one of us to speak out and act against it – whether state or personal – and to remember the value and worth of each human being that lies behind a newspaper headline.

This is why I am so happy to be here to celebrate the bicentenary of the abolition of slavery today.

Because the 25th March 1807 was a beautiful day for personal freedom.

Each of you here in this room may have different reasons for why slavery is such an affront to human dignity.

But – by sharing our insight, experience, information, and expertise- we can together continue to develop a strategy to take the next step in stamping out slavery so that on the 25th March 2207, the Freedom Breakfast might truly celebrate the abolition of slavery. We’ve come a long way, but there is still a long way to go.

(c) Lynne Featherstone, 2007

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