Posts Tagged ‘Anti-Slavery International’

Colston Four Now Want to Boycott Thatchers because Historic Slavery

February 12, 2022

Nigel Farage, former leader of UKIP, former leader of the Brexit Party, was on GB news the day before yesterday weighing in on a very nonsensical demand from the Colston Four. These were the four, who were acquitted of criminal damage when they threw the statue of Edward Colston into Bristol’s docks during a BLM protest. I don’t agree with such acts of public vandalism, but I appreciate the reasons for it. Colston was a slaver, and there have been demands since the 1980s for the removal of his statue. I think the best argument against its presence was from a Black woman speaking on Radio 4. She said it made her physically sick walking past it to work every day.

But if this is correct, then their latest demand is simply guilt by association. The four have apparently released a statement demanding that people boycott Thatcher’s Cider, because the present managing director is a member of Bristol’s Merchant Venturers. The Venturers are now now a charitable organisation made up of prominent businessmen. But they’re hated by a section of Bristol’s Black community because of their historic involvement in slavery. Back in the 1990s there was a terrible incident when a Black man was beaten into a vegetable by a White worker at fair on the Downs in the city. It was a racist attack. But the fair had been organised by the Merchant Venturers, and from some of the angry denunciations you could have believed that Venturers had deliberately organised the assault. Even the name ‘merchant’ can be controversial in Bristol. When the shopping centre Cabot Circus in Broadmead was being planned, one of the suggested names was ‘Merchants’ Quarter’. Black Bristolians objected to this on the ground that it was the city’s merchants who had been responsible for the city’s involvement in the slave trade. Well, they also traded in other things as well.

Bristol’s and the Merchant Venturers’ involvement in the slave trade ended over a century ago. And the Merchant Venturers themselves are not hiding their past. I found them perfectly open and polite. When I was working at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum I wrote to them to ask if we could have any materials they might have on slavery. They kindly sent me catalogues of their holdings, and the property of previous members, that had links to the slave trade and slave plantations in the Caribbean. And yet from the hatred against them you could mistakenly believe they were some kind of Klan organisation plotting to put Blacks back into slavery once more from their premises in Clifton.

The Four claim that that Thatcher’s don’t care about slavery. Actually I don’t think they do. I think they only care about making cider people enjoy and making a profit from it. Historical slavery through a tenuous connection really isn’t relevant. But it’s the Four who strike me as uncaring about modern slavery. There are 30 million enslaved people in the world today. But this is mostly outside the west, and so the supporters and believers in Post-Colonial and Critical Race Theory simply aren’t interested. To them no criticism of extra-European societies and their atrocities and evils is permissible. They are only interested when it’s done by Whites. And so the enslavement of Africans by Africans, for example, is not mentioned and definitely not fought.

When the City Museum staged the ‘Respectable Trade’ exhibition on the city’s involvement with the slave trade in the 90s it included, at the end, a piece on the charity Anti-Slavery International, complete with magazines and literature and membership forms for those wishing to join. I have seen no such engagement with modern slavery by Black Lives Matter. If Farage is right, then it isn’t Thatcher’s that is guilty of supporting slavery through a lack of concern.

It is BLM and the Colston Four.

The Experiences of Enslaved Africans in the Past and Today

January 24, 2022

One of the extremely positive features of Sean Stillwell’s Slavery and Slaving in African History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2014) is that includes short descriptions and quotations from slaves, slavers and slave masters in Africa describing their careers and situation. There was a striking variety of slave systems in Africa. In some societies, slaves were acquired for use and soldiers and could rise to high social rank through their connections to powerful chiefs., One of these was the Sokoto royal slave Dan Rimi Nuhu. The book states

‘At the end of the nineteenth century, during a civil was in Kano (located in what is now northern Nigeria) Emirate of the Sokoto Caliphate, Dan Rimi Nuhu, a powerful royal slave official, soldier, and titleholder, crowned the rebel pretender, Yusufu, as emir. Nuhu had long supported Yusufu’s cause and claim. Nuhu was a well-known and powerful slave i8n the palace, but he had joined the war camp of Yusufu early on in the struggle. When Nuhu arrived on horseback, Yusufu said, “Our trip is successful, our trip is successful since Nuhu has joined us, he has joined our camp!” Thereafter, Nuhu transformed Yusufu’s military camp into the proper seat of a rival emir. He gave Yusufu the royal regalia and insisted that he follow Kano court protocol. With Nuhu’s support the rebels later took the Kano throne. Afterward, the royal slaves and their families who supported the new emir gained a substantial amount of power.’ ( pp.89-90).

Others were not so well treated.

‘Msatulwa Mwachitete grew up in Chitete, located in central East Africa, to the west of Lake Malawai, in the house of his father, who had twelve wives. Their home was attacked numerous times by Mkomas of the Inamwanga, who regularly carried off women and children into slavery after setting fire to surrounding villages. During one such attack, Msatulwa was captured, along with his mother and brother. He was taken some distance from his home and given as a slave to Mitano. Msatulwa was forced to grind corn, cut firewood, cook, hoe fields, and fetch water, but was eventually given to another person, who treated him better. In the end Msatulwa found his way home after running away.’

Horrifically, slavery isn’t a thing of the past. The Islamists that have seized power in one part of Libya after the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafy have reopened the slave markets, selling the Black migrants who have travelled north in the hope of reaching Europe. Slave markets have also reopened in Uganda. The book also gives the testimony of Ahok Ahok, an enslaved Dinka woman, given to Anti-Slavery International. She was captured and forced into slavery during the Sudanese civil war in the ’90s.

‘Our family was captured about six years ago [i.e., about 1994] when we were already fleeing north and had crossed into the North into Kordofan. I was captured with my son, Akai, and my two daughters, this one called Abuk … who was about eight at the time, and a younger one, about two. We were taken by a tribe called Humr [i.e. Misseriya Humr], who split the three of us up. The man who took me subsequently sold me on to some other nomads to look after cattle, for about 130 Sudanese Pounds. I had to look after their cows and spent about six years with them before I managed to escape to Makaringa village…. Meanwhile my three children had been taken by others. For six years, until I reached Makaringa village, I had no news of them. When I reached the village, my son Akai heard where I was and joined me there. He is with us at this CEAWC centre. We then contacted the Dinka Committee and they were able to find my daughter Abuk, who had been renamed Khadija. She had initially been put to work looking after livestock, but had got into trouble when some animals had escaped – she was too little to look after them. After that she was employed as a domestic servant. She hardly speaks any Dinka language now, only Arabic… I still have no news of my youngest daughter and am still hoping to find her.’ (211-2).

The book also gives the names of some of the African organisations set up to help slaves. These include Timidria in Niger, the Dinka Committee in Sudan; El Hor (Free Man), set up in the 1970s by former slaves in Mauretania; and SOS-Esclaves, set up in 1995. These organisations face continuing difficulties to fight slavery and improve conditions for former slaves, as shown by an additional piece of testimony:

‘It is uphill work…. Some of their members have been imprisoned. Seeking help through the courts is usually useless. Sharia courts maintain that slavery is legal. Since no laws have been passed, laying down penalties for enslavement or detailing the rights of slaves, other courts and local officials maintain that they have jurisdiction if slaves bring cases for custody of their children or try to establish their right to remain on the land they farm. Former owners may claim the property even of freed slaves when they die.’ (213).

These slaves are not going to get any help from the western advocates of Postcolonial and Critical Race Theory, because these disciplines are exclusively focused on White racism and the horrors of White colonialism. I’ve mentioned that feminists in India and the Middle East have been bitterly critical about the refusal of the activists and scholars supporting these forms of Critical Theory to criticise the treatment of women and LGBTQ folk in these countries. Indeed, Indian progressives have attacked these postmodern ideologies for giving support to the most reactionary elements of these societies on the grounds that, as they are part of these societies’ traditional structures and not the product of western colonialism, they are exempt from criticism. And you could see the attitude in a speech given by Barbara Barnaby, the head of the British branch of Black Lives Matter to a fringe meeting of the Labour party last summer. She criticised the resurgence of slavery in Libya, because this was a product of Blair’s colonialism. But she didn’t condemn it elsewhere in Africa, where it is the product of indigenous forces. Her demand that Britain and the other European countries was based on the abuse of the peoples of the global south during colonialism, but made no mention or criticism of the tyranny, corruption and poverty of African rulers and regimes that is behind much of the migration to Europe.

This isn’t, as Kate Maltby tried to claim in the I a few years ago, an attempt to avoid being diverted from the campaign for equality and social justice in the west into criticism and activism against non-European slavery. It is the product of a profoundly racist ideology that sees slavery and other human rights abuses as only worth fighting if they are committed by Whites.

Barnaby, Black Lives Matter and similar organisations may have the best intentions, but their exclusive focus of White racism is actively hindering real anti-racism and campaigns to eradicate modern slavery.

‘Financial Times’ Review of Book on Real, Modern Slavery

August 1, 2020

This is another old clipping I’ve kept in my scrapbooks from the Financial Times, from May 29/30th 1999. It’s a review by their columnist, Ben Rogers, ‘Forced into human bondage’, of Kevin Bales’ Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global  Economy. This is another book that the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol had in its library. It’s an excellent book, but obviously very, very grim reading in its truly harrowing accounts of the brutality meted out to real, enslaved people across the world. I’m posting the review here because, while Britain and America are re-evaluating the legacy of slavery following the Black Lives Matter protests, real slavery and its horrors still exist around the world and I am afraid that this is being overshadowed by the debates over historic European slavery.

Rogers begins his review with the subtitled ‘Slavery today may be illegal, but it is still rife’. The review then goes on

It is tempting to think of slavery as a thing of the past. Its legacy lives on, disfiguring relations between Black and Whites everywhere, but surely the practice itself has gone?

This sober, well-researched, pioneering study shows that this, alas, is far from the case. Bales, an American social scientist who teaches in London at the Roehampton Institute, is careful to distinguish slavery from other forms of exploitation: the Pakistani child labourer, the Burmese agricultural worker, although paid a subsistence wage, are not necessarily slaves. Nevertheless, he argues that there are still, on a conservative estimate, perhaps 27m slaves in the world today – a population greater than that of Canada.

Most are located in the Indian subcontinent where they work as bonded labourers, but they exist in almost every country in the world. Paris harbours as many as 3,000 household slaves, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Arab states many more. In the Dominican Republic, enslaved Haitians harvest the sugar that we eat. In Brazil, child prostitutes are forced to service the miners of the metals we use.

Of course, modern slavery is different from the old variety practised in ancient Athens or the American South. But in certain respects, Bales persuasively argues, the new variety is worse. In the traditional version, slave holders owned their slaves, who were almost always of a different race or religion from their masters; slaves were relatively expensive “capital” goods and usually kept up for life. Nowadays legal ownership is outlawed in every country of the world (Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, after all, states that “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude”), so modern slavery is disguised and “ownership” is replaced by manipulative debt bondage or fictive long-term “contracts”. Modern slaves tend to be taken from the same ethnic group as their holders and, because they are cheap, they are often used for only months or a few years before being discarded. Another difference is the size of the profit slaves produce. Agricultural bonded labourers in India generate not 5 per cent, as did slaves in the American South, but over 50 per cent profit per year for the slave holder; a Thai brothel owner can make 800 per cent on a new teenage girl.

To illustrate the nature of the new slavery, Bales has travelled around the world to investigate five cases in detail (often at some risk to himself): that of an enslaved prostitute in Ubon Ratchitani, Thailand; a water carrier in Mauritania; charcoal burners in the camps in Matto Grosso do Sul, Brazil; brickmakers in the Punjab, Pakistan; and bonded agricultural labourers in Uttar Pradesh, India.

The cases varied in significant ways. Ironically the one that most resembles old-style slavery – that of the water carrier from Mauritania – proves perhaps to be the least vicious. Slavery in Mauritania represents a lightly disguised continuation of a centuries-old practice; there slaves are kept for life and many slave families have been working for the same masters for generations. The cruellest example, by contrast, is provided by “Siri” the Thai prostitute, who was sold into slavery by her parents aged 14. Her debts to her owners are manipulate to ensure that she will continue to work until she is too tired or ill to be profitable.

Despite the differences, however, two continuities run through all the cases Bales so  graphically describes. In every case the worker is tricked or forced into bondage; in every case he or she is provided with the barest means of subsistence and sometimes not even that. In the charcoal camps of Brazil the men are often denied medication and left to die – on the principle that it is cheaper to acquire a new worker than repair an old one.

The western world has been slow to recognise the problem of the new slavery – in part because it is carefully disguised. The slave holders hide it from their government, governments hide it from the international community. The result is that, unlike, say, torture or censorship, slavery has yet to become a major human rights issue. The main international organisation dedicated to the abolition of slavery, Anti-Slavery International, has only 6,000 members. And without grass roots pressure, the World Bank, IMF and national governments are not inclined to show much concern.

“What country,” as Bales asks, “has been sanctioned by the UN for slavery? Where are the UN inspection teams charged with searching out slave labour? Who speaks for the slaves in the International Court of Justice? Governments and business are more likely to suffer international penalties today for counterfeiting a Michael Jackson CD than for using slaves.”

Modern slaves face the same conditions as the poor of the third world – they are the victims of industrialisation, population explosion and government corruption. Where labour is abundant, wages low, bribery rife, workers often face a stark choice between enslavement and starvation. Slavery, however, calls for its own particular solutions. Bales shows how strict enforcement of existing laws combined with programmes aimed at enabling slaves to set up on their own, have had some effect in diminishing debt bondage in northern India – although, as he reminds us, unless steps are taken slavery is set to grow.

Incredibly, Bales’ study is about the first to explore slavery in its modern international guise. The picture it offers remains patchy, given the limited resources at Bales’ disposal. He makes much of the west’s role in aiding and abetting slavery, yet most of the cases he studies belongs to local economies. This remains, however, a convincing and moving book. One can only hope that it will draw some attention to the terrible phenomenon it describes.

Although this was written 21 years ago, I’ve no doubt that it’s still acutely relevant and the situation has got worse. Since then there have been a series of scandals involving the enslavement of migrant workers in Britain and eastern European women trafficked into sex slavery. And, as the book Falling Off the Edge, shows very clearly, poverty around the world and the consequent exploitation of the poor has got much worse due to neoliberalism and globalisation. One of the programmes due to be shown on the Beeb – but I can’t remember whether it’s on TV or radio – is an examination of global terrorism. One of the groups looked at are Maoist terrorists in India. They’re a horrifically violent outfit, but they’re the result, according to Falling Off the Edge, of the horrific poverty and exploitation foisted upon the agricultural workers of central India.

And then there’s the increasing poverty and mounting debts of the British poor, thanks to Thatcherite welfare cuts, wage freezes and the replacement of loans for welfare payments and services. I wonder how long before this morphs into something very much like debt bondage over here.

More on Saudi Slavery and Arms Sales

January 20, 2016

I got a few more great comments from people for the posts I ran on the Saudi arms trade and their plans to acquire nukes, and their continuing enslavement of poor migrant workers from other parts of the Developing World.

Michelle Thomasson in particular sent a number of very interesting links to newspaper articles and TV videos about these topics. She provided the following links.

Petition for the UK to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia: https://www.caat.org.uk/get-involved/act-now/petition/stop-arming-saudi

Further information on ‘Saudi arms sales: Court threat by campaign group’ 17th Dec 15 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-35118296

and about a hospital in Yemen, run by Medecin Sans Frontieres, which was destroyed by Saudi airstrikes: http://www.msf.org.uk/article/yemen-msf-hospital-destroyed-by-airstrikes.

She also commented on the modern Saudi slave trade

Saudi”s system of jurisprudence promotes slavery, from Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International, ‘Is Home Secretary Theresa May covering up a slavery inquiry into the circumstances of nearly 20,000 whose visas are sponsored by subjects of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates?’ Short video with McQuade and Afshin Rattansi (18th Jan 16):

This last video is about the way British law ties foreign servants to their masters by allowing them to come in on their masters’ passports. The result of this is that those slaves, who try to flee risk being deported. They also cover the strong-arm tactics the Saudis have used in order to stop Britain putting pressure on them over this issue. When the government threatened to do something about this previously, the Saudis said that they would not share intelligence on terrorism with us if we did so, thus leaving us vulnerable to attack. So this is what are allies in the region are like – spoilt, petulant bullies, getting in a huff and threatening to play elsewhere when they can’t get their own way.

She also provided further links to interviews with modern days slaves describing their plight and exploitation, writing

Interviews with modern day victims of slavery in the UK, especially from rich Saudi households, the victims are even more trapped due to changes in UK visa system in 2012: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/video/2016/jan/11/i-was-just-a-slave-the-foreign-domestic-staff-living-a-life-of-five-star-serfdom-in-london-video

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/video/2016/jan/11/i-was-just-a-slave-the-foreign-domestic-staff-living-a-life-of-five-star-serfdom-in-london-video.

Despite these horrors and flagrant human rights abuses, Mike today has blogged a piece about a report in the Independent that Britain’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia has increased by 100 x in the last three months of last year, when we managed to sell £1 billion worth of arms to them. See Mike’s article at
http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/01/20/british-arms-companies-ramp-up-bomb-sales-to-saudi-arabia-by-100-times-despite-air-strikes-on-civilians/

Here’s Kyle Kulinski from Secular Talk discussing the Saudis’ bombing of the hospital.

Kulinski also reports that the Saudis have also bombed weddings and schools, including a school for the blind. These bombings are also contributing – what a surprise! – to a hostile attitude towards America. Why? because the weapons dropped come from the US, and have ‘Made in USA’ printed on them. And when these don’t go off, like many of them don’t, this can be read, and the Yemenis informed who is selling armaments to their attackers.

And the weapons dropped on the Yemenis are very nasty indeed. They include clusterbombs, which remain in fields, killing and maiming after wars and fighting have officially ended. They are illegal under international law.

Kulinski states that it’s clear that America should stop selling arms to these butchers. Not least because America is having problems spending money on issues at home, like the water crisis in Michigan. He’s right, and it’s about time we stopped selling arms to the Saudis too.

Here’s another video from Kulinski and Secular Talk, in which he comments on the Saudis bombing of Shi’a mosques in Yemen. This seems to have been done as part of a campaign against the Shi’a population as a whole in a deliberate act of ethnic cleansing.

Historical Drama: The Mill on Channel 4, Sundays 8.00 pm

July 23, 2013

Channel 4 begins another historical drama, The Mill, this Sunday at 8.00 in the evening. In contrast to the medieval chivalry and power politics of BBC’s The White Queen on an hour later, The Mill is set amongst the factory slaves of the northern cotton mills during the Industrial Revolution. It’s based on the real history of Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire in the 1830s. This was the period when the new factory masters bought children from the workhouses to work amongst the machines in the mills. The working day was 13 hours long with accidents common. The apprentices were unpaid, and could only look forward to a few shillings if they completed their apprenticeship when they turned 18. The Mill dramatizes the events and controversy of 1833 when the government of the time attempted to introduce the 10 Hours Act, limiting children’s working day to those hours.

The blurb for The Mill on page 62 of the Radio Times runs as follows

‘A glowering, brutal mill foreman yells at a clutch of young female workers, women he’s frequently pulled from the dusty, hellish cauldron of the factory floor to indecently assault in a privy: “You’re apprentices, orphans, bastards! No one’ll listen to you, so say nothing!’ New Tricks it ain’t.

But if you like your dramas bleak, visceral and raw, sticky with the blood of dead and injured workers in the scarred and cauterised landscape of Britain during the Industrial Revolution, then The Mill will be your weekly treat. John Fay’s script is sweatily powerful as misery is piled upon misery. Children are frequently badly injured by unsafe, unguarded machinery and everyone works long hours in hideous conditions. And they are powerless and without hope.’

Two of the female stars of The Mill were talking about their roles in the series on breakfast TV on BBC 1 yesterday. Unfortunately I missed most of it. They did, however, mention that they ended up working 13 hours days shooting the series, and talked about the heat, noise and the dangers of the machines on which they were filmed. As lurid as it sounds, the series appears to be historically accurate. The evidence gather by contemporary reformers, such as Lord Shaftesbury, religious campaigners such as George Muller in Bristol, presented to the government’s commissions of inquiry and published in works like Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor, present a grim picture of appalling poverty, despair and degradation. In Britain and the rest of Europe, legislation was passed by successive governments first limiting their hours and then outlawing child labour. There are still concerns about child labour in Britain even now. Back in the 1990s the anti-slavery charity, Anti-Slavery International, published a pamphlet discussing violations of the child labour legislation in Britain. Even though it is carefully regulated in Britain, it is still used throughout the developing world, in conditions very similar to that of 19th century Britain.

This is the world the authors of Britannia Unchained are harking back to with their spurious complaints that Brits are too lazy and need to work longer hours. Greg Palast, the American radical journalist, attacked this claim in his book, Armed Madhouse. Palast found that rather than making the West more competitive, it encouraged Developing Nations to raise their working hours even more, until you reached the long hours and appalling conditions of Chinese forced labour camps.

Channel 4 as Radical, Alternative Broadcaster

I can’t say that I’ll watch The Mill. It’s going to be far too grim for me. I prefer television that’s much less visceral and more escapist. It is, however, important. Channel 4 has been criticised of late for broadcasting mass-market programming that could be shown on any channel in order to improve its ratings. The channel was originally set up to show material of minority interest, as a kind of alternative BBC 2. As a result it broadcast opera, foreign movies, and documentaries on left-wing or radical issues. Jeremy Isaacs, its first head, said he aimed to broadcast northern miners’ oral history, amongst other subjects. It also showed material aimed at racial minorities. This included All India Goldies, a series of Indian films, and a massive TV version of the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. Much of its output was also fairly sexually explicit. It also included programmes on homosexuality, before this became more acceptable. AS a result the Daily Mail regularly attacked it, and hysterically dubbed Michael Grade, its director-general of the time, ‘Britain’s pornographer-in-chief’. More recently, Quentin Letts, the political sketch writer for the Mail and very definitely a man of the right, has attacked Channel 4 for not keeping to its original raison d’etre. He points out that its opera broadcasts introduced the art to a mass audience, attracting hundreds of thousands of viewers. It’s also supposed to have confounded the Leaderene’s husband. Denis Thatcher thought that by ‘alternative programming’, Channel 4 would be screening things like yachting. Well, it’s been several decades, but it looks like Channel 4 might be trying to reclaim its position as the channel of intelligent, radical broadcasting.