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Baroness Howells of St Davids: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for initiating this debate. While recognising the titleeradicating contemporary slaveryI felt that it was important to call your Lordships' attention to the legacy on the descendants of enslaved Africans, which I hope will be taken into consideration by Ministers.
It is now common knowledge how valuable the enslaved African was to the plantation owners. However, not much is known about the cost to those who are the descendants 150 plus years later. Not being an academic I speak as a descendant of the enslaved African.
Transportation from tropical Africa to the Caribbean took its toll and left its legacy in many ways. How the slaves were sold was very much a process of genetic selection. The males had to be strong and able to produce profit for the enterprise. There was no consideration of tribal identity and the enslaved were brutally separated from their families and their offspring. Today, family breakdown can be traced to the earlier brutality of those who trafficked in human beings.
The legacy of transportation also left behind many health issues which continue today. More hypertension, more schizophrenia and the crippling disease of sickle cell anaemia have all been classed as a direct legacy of slavery and the sudden shift from one country to another. Most of those claims are merely anecdotes but writers and historians have been trying to bring to the attention of the public the role of slavery in those diseases.
Besides family breakdown, a whole dependency culture was instilled by the slave owners which still exists todaytaking charge of the islands in the Caribbean has been an uphill struggle for today's citizens. They are still dependent on the colonisers to enter into tradesugar, bananas, and so on. The story goes on. Dependency, lack of faith in the ability to do
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the task in hand, always looking for approval from the white populationthe slave mentality was carefully crafted by the slave owners and it is still alive today.
The prison of poverty is a legacy difficult to shake off. While the Caucasian speaks in billions, the black man speaks in hundreds because he was enslaved. He was robbed of his manhood and treated as a boy even when he was three score and 10. In these corridors I still hear echoes of, "When I was in Africa my boy did or did not do this", or, "I am looking forward to seeing my boys in India". Those statements are really heartfelt by me. When I hear them, I walk away.
Slavery has also left a legacy of Creolisation. I refer to the rape of enslaved women by White plantation owners. Their issue, neither African nor Caucasian, have had a not altogether pleasant effect on the Caribbean people's growth. Most of us will have read the story of Mr Rochester and Jane Eyre and of the poor Dominican woman described as a Creole. Was she demented or having a crisis of identity? Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea, helped me to understand the real crisis of Mrs Rochester. Those noble Lords who have read the book may never have grasped what was going on for that descendant of an enslaved African.
The descendants, try as they will to get out of the trap, are hamstrung even after 100 years. They still retain the "auction" mentality that brought them into the new world. The drug-dealing politics of today and other forms of weaknesses prevail and have already been inherited.
All is not gloom. The enslaved descendants have shown remarkable resilience. They have retained their skills as artisans and medicine men; they have learned to be equally at home in the cabbage patch of poor housing in Britain, in the cornfields of America and in the drawing rooms of present-day society. Previously they entered only as servants but today some of them are ownersonly a very few. They have learnt to print newspapers and even to manage the master's business. They are found among the medical professions, yet still deep down they ask themselves, "Am I good enough?" This model exists. The descendants can be found in all walks of life but still accept that those less talented than themselves, if they are Caucasian, will always be in the driving seat.
All, however, is not gloom. Again, now that we have won the bid for the Olympics in 2012, some of those descendants will no doubt bring "pride to us all", because by persistence the myth that black people cannot take their places in society is being erodedbut not quite fully.
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Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Sandwich for achieving this debate today, as it serves to bring us up to date with a very uncomfortable aspect of modern life. We all thought that slavery was abolished in 1832, and in North America at the end of the Civil War, but perhaps that always was too complacent a view.
Clearly, extreme poverty is at the root of most slavery, and the campaign to make poverty history, with its amazingly attended worldwide Live8 concerts all over the world, was a hopeful sign of people actively demonstrating their concern. It is worth reminding ourselves that that worldwide concern could only have been brought together by modern communication techniques. If ever there was a definitive example of public service broadcasting, this was it. But if poverty is a potential breeding ground for slavery, we all need also to acknowledge openlygovernments especiallythat complex modern forms of slavery are a quite distinct problem that must also be tackled directly and universally.
"Tragically slavery and the violation of human rights are still with us in the 21st century. The Institute will be a beacon that will continue to throw a light on issues that too often are overlooked".
My noble friend's choice of this subject for debate has made me aware of a quite remarkable, self-researched book, also applauded by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy. The author, Kevin Bales, writes that,
How many of our children, for example, are taught that it still exists today? Does the issue of slavery form part of today's school curriculum in the UKnot as history, but as current affairs, perhaps within the citizenship agendaas an example of human rights abuse, alas still continuing today?
In one or two places we are beginning to wake up to that. When I went with your Lordships' Select Committee on the BBC Charter to Bristol a couple of weeks ago, I was delighted to learn that at least in that citywhose historic prosperity was generated by the slave tradethe BBC has recently presented that aspect to schools. They produced an excellent programme, with the help of well-known local artists and of children, who researched the background of Bristol's most famous citizen, Edward Colston, the local merchant from two centuries ago. His huge wealth, of which he gave most generously to support many needy Bristol projects, came substantially from slave trading. The programme acknowledges, on the other hand, that much of multi-racial Bristol's multi-culturalism, of which they are rightly proud today, stems directly from that period.
But do those of us living in our developed world really have any idea of the conditions under which the estimated 27 million slaveswhich some put as high as
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200 millionexist today? Their conditions, as Bales says, are far often worse than when slavery was legal. The types of slavery that he describes range right across the globefrom Thailand, Pakistan and India to Mauritania and Braziland are complex. Slave dealers are often involved in other criminal activities, not least drug-trafficking.
I find one other element particularly disturbing. As population has increased so dramatically in poorer countries, today's individual slaves are of much less cash value to their owners than in Wilberforce's time. Today, buying a slave is no longer regarded as a major investment. That does not mean that the trade is not hugely profitable. The value of individual slaves has fallen so low that the aim of their owners is to exploit them ruthlessly, to get as much work out of them as quickly as possible, and then quite literally discard them.
All slavery is abhorrent, but today I want to mention the particularly appalling abuse of women and children. First, children: we know something about war slavery, the kidnap and brutalisation of children to be child soldiers. Indeed, we have heard about that today and know about it from many press reports. Quite distinct from that, Bales tells us that in India there are between 65 and 100 million children under 14 years of age who are working more than eight hours a day. Of these, at least 15 million are literally child slaves. Anti-Slavery International puts the number of children in "unconditional" forms of labour at 8.5 million. It goes without saying that schooling, that lifeline to a better future, is probably not available to any of those children.
Turning now to women; as we know, many remain second-class citizens in their own countries. It is unsurprising, then, that two-thirds of those trafficked for labour are women and girls. Worse still, almost all of those trafficked for sexual exploitation are women. Worldwide, that is a highly profitable trade and expanding rapidly. There are even examples beginning to appear in this country.
I wish there was time to discuss in detail the slavery that Bales describes, of an increasing number of young, 14 year-old, Thai girls who are bought from their parents and find themselves working in brothels and subject to extreme violence if they perform inadequately or try to escape. They are also given impossibly large, completely phoney debts to pay back before they have any hope of release. The result, of course, is that the debt is never paid and they are never freed.
A country like ours, which acts strongly to uphold the human rights of children, with our proud record of legislation and policies to promote equal opportunities between the sexes, surely has a particular duty to give the abolition of all slavery a far higher profileespecially where women and children are concernedin our international responsibilities.
This debate gives us the opportunity to ask exactly where action against slavery stands on our own Government's list of priorities. As my noble friend Lord
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Sandwich has asked, what action are Her Majesty's Government taking to promote the UN protocol to prevent, suppress and punish the trafficking of persons, especially women and children, which was passed as recently as 2000?
With our Prime Minister's chairmanship of two important powerful international organisations this year, I hope that the Minister can assure the House that slavery features specifically on these agendas. It is surely time for us to acknowledge explicitly that the continuing stain of slavery shames every single one of us and that we are all partly responsible. Rather than leaving superb organisations such as Anti-Slavery International to fight the battle alone, we must all join in this great crusade.
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