Saturday, September 22, 2018

Slavery is back

Credit: Wikimedia
A past evil comes to life

Do you think that slavery is a past evil? Let me show you something that’s bound to change your mind.

Their heads were shaved. They were forced to perform long hours of labour on an inadequate diet. They lived in squalor, bedding often covered in excrement. They were rarely given an opportunity to wash. They were threatened with violence, even death, if they attempted to escape.

Where are we? Is this Nazi Europe? Is this the 1940s? Is this Dachau or Buchenwald? No, it is not: it’s England in 2012; it’s the county of Bedfordshire, one of the most prosperous in the country. There, near the town of Leighton Buzzard, vulnerable men were kept in conditions that one described as akin to a concentration camp.

Six years ago Tony Blair, then Prime Minister, apologised for England’s role in the slave trade. He said that we should all express deep sorrow and “rejoice at the better times we live in today.” We now know this is not true. We now know that slavery is still alive in the modern world, our world. Last week, in the first case of its kind since slavery was abolished two hundred years ago, a husband and wife were sent to jail for their part in a slavery racket run by Irish gypsies.

In sentencing James and Josie Connors, Judge Michael Kay described them as ‘pure evil.’ The couple had been in the practice of picking up homeless men at soup kitchens or job centres on the promise of accommodation and paid work. In reality the accommodation was wretched and the pay non-existent.

For these people, men with no family or contacts, life turned into a round of “beatings, starvation and work.” On the rare occasions when they were allowed to wash they were taken to a shower at a local leisure centre, their heads kept down as if in a chain gang. They had been brutalised to the point where most had lost the capacity for independent action.

In defending themselves the Connors said that they were the victims of racism, targeted by the police. In rejecting this claim the judge said that “It’s not about racism or the way of life of Irish travellers. It is about the capacity to be inhumane to fellow human beings.”

During the trial, which lasted some twelve weeks, the victims described how they had been forced to work under threat of violence and had slept in overcrowded, dilapidated trailers or a shed once used as a dog kennel. When the police raided the site last September the men were found to be emaciated and in desperately poor health.

The Connors, along with accomplices from the same gypsy community, were convicted under anti-slavery legislation. There is an interesting paradox here. Although slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire in the early nineteenth century the status of slave never existed under English common law. Holding slaves was therefore never specifically illegal until the passing of the Coroners and Justice Act of 2009. “So it is that nearly 200 years after slavery was officially abolished,” the Judge said, “four defendants have stood trial over a period of three months and been convicted of holding their fellow human beings in servitude.”

Sadly cases like this are not unique. Slavery does exist in the modern world and Blair’s smug congratulatory note was wholly out of place. Over the past decade it has been estimated that cases of human trafficking in any given year have soared from just over a hundred to around 4000. A great many are foreign women lured here on the promise of paid work only to be ensnared in the sex industry. But now, as the Bedfordshire case demonstrates, native English people are entering the mix.

Slavery is back; slavery, sad to say, has never gone away.

About the Writer

Anastasia is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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4 comments on Slavery is back

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By ColonialBoy on July 18, 2012 at 02:34 am

Ana, a sad but relevant article, although quite frankly, only the most naive or misinformed really think that slavery actually ended across the world after the British Empire outlawed it in the 1830s and the the US in the 1860s.

It seems to me that there's no difference at all between "slaves" and people who are compelled to work (under duress) by various African, Hispanic, or Asian warlords. Another large group of people may have started as POWs, but were never repatriated after the official end of the specific conflict, and worked until their deaths (e.g. German soldiers in Siberian work camps). Of course, a more widespread current day problem are the sex slaves. They exist all around the world, even recently in the Midlands of your own island!

"... arrests in Rochdale, Greater Manchester took place shortly before Christmas and are the result of a major inquiry into the sexual exploitation of teenage girls by men since 2008.

They come just days after a nationwide investigation was launched following a string of disturbing cases across the Midlands and the north involving men of Pakistani heritage grooming mainly white girls."


This and other newspaper accounts described the sickening way these young girls were seduced, imprisoned, and mistreated (not to mention the official indifference to their plight). :-(

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By Uttam Gill on July 18, 2012 at 09:52 pm

Anastasia I am certainly surprised, that in country like yours, such practices are in existence…It is outrageous and shocking… Slavery is a curse and who so ever indulge in this is highly condemnable. I really wonder, how one human being can be so cruel to other human being...Anastasia the most disturbing truth is about organized slavery, where under the centuries old practices human being are subjected to extreme cruelties...

Are you aware of bonded labor…This is also a one form of slavery…Over here in India in spite of THE BONDED LABOUR SYSTEM (ABOLITION) ACT…This practice is still going on unabated

Anastasia thanks for sharing this information with us…I certainly see you hold genuine concern about such people, who are being treated inhumanly

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By Anastasia on July 19, 2012 at 05:46 pm

CB, thanks. You are quite right; that’s an absolutely shocking story. Perhaps the most shocking thing of all is what might be referred to as ‘reverse racism’ on the part of the police.

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By Anastasia on July 19, 2012 at 05:49 pm

Uttam, yes I knew about the problem of bonded labour in India, though as a practice it’s clearly much more widespread. It’s one thing to pass legislation against abuses of this kind, quite another to ensure that the legislation is enforced.

Yes, I am concerned about this issue, a concern that I’m delighted to see that you share.

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