Earlier this year, the Modern Slavery Act 2015 became the second of its kind in the UK since the early 19th Century to address slavery. Its passing reflects two years' worth of discussion and debate, during which some of the magnitude of what is now termed 'modern slavery' has been exposed through harrowing videos, images and stories.
Yet, shocking as the facts of slavery may be, the extent of its reach remains immeasurable. The parameters of slavery may never be fully defined so long as it remains hidden by both the individuals and societies that perpetrate and capitalise from it. On October 18th, Anti-Slavery Day incentivises us to combat this through learning and open discussion.
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Julia O'Connell Davidson on Anti-Slavery Day 2015:
'On Anti-Slavery Day, we will be called on to reaffirm our opposition to slavery and our commitment to freedom. These calls will be well received, and supported by political leaders of every hue. But in a world where no person is legally ascribed the status of chattel slave, what exactly are we being asked to condemn? My new book, Modern Slavery: The Margins of Freedom, argues that the term ‘modern slavery’ provides a highly selective lens through which to view restraints on human freedom in the contemporary world.
In talk of ‘modern slavery’, transatlantic slavery is taken as the historical comparator for contemporary forms of injustice, exclusion, abuse and violence that bear little or no resemblance to it. For instance, people making the perilous sea crossing from North Africa to Europe are described as victims of a ‘modern slave trade’, when they in fact want to travel, as recent media articles have drawn attention to, but are denied the visas that would allow them to use safe forms of transport.
Here, and in other examples, the metaphor of slavery deflects attention from the political and economic structures that make certain groups vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, and focuses it instead on the morality of individual ‘bad guys’ who take advantage of that vulnerability. At the same time, talk of ‘modern slavery’ disregards contemporary forms of injustice, exclusion, abuse and violence that do connect directly back to transatlantic slavery. Transatlantic slavery was intimately entwined with the emergence of ‘race’ as a system of domination, a system that lives on to create societies in which black lives are still devalued and imperiled, and whiteness is still valued and privileged.
This Anti-Slavery Day, let’s look beyond the individual perpetrators of slavery and focus on the role played by contemporary states in producing, and often violently imposing, heavy restraints on the freedom of certain groups of people.'
In the weeks surrounding October 18th, events will be held nationally to raise awareness of modern slavery. Visit http://www.antislaveryday.com/events/ to find out how you can get involved.