26 Sep 2017

Modern-day slavery in the spotlight

As the Freedom season draws to a close, Professor John Oldfield, director of the Wilberforce Institute at the University of Hull outlines how the city can and will continue to pioneer the fight for freedom.

Hull is quite rightly proud of being central to an abolition movement. As the home city of William Wilberforce MP our city will forever be associated with one of the most significant emancipation movements in history: the British Slave Trade Abolition Act of 1807. But though we tend to think of slavery as a problem of the past, it remains a persistent threat in modern society.

Recent estimates put the number of people trapped in slavery across the world today at 40 million. The Home Office estimates there are 13,000 people trapped in slavery in the UK alone. The areas of our lives it touches are widespread, with forced labour existing in the domestic, agricultural, sex, construction and retail industries to name but a few.

Recent estimates put the number of people trapped in slavery across the world today at 40 million. 

Yet many people remain unaware of the scale and significance of this global and pressing human rights issue. Our study released on Anti-Slavery Day last year showed fewer than one in 10 people strongly believe the true scale of slavery in the UK.

It is clear that there is still a critical amount of work still to be done to increase awareness of what is happening all around us – our city is uniquely placed to continue to pioneer the fight for freedom.

We will be putting modern-day slavery in the spotlight with the city’s first ever Wilberforce World Freedom Summit on Thursday 28 and Friday 29 September.

The third season of our City of Culture year has explored freedom in all its forms with a jaw-dropping suite of spectacular culture. Borne out of the Wilberforce 2007 commemorations the annual Freedom Festival continues to highlight and explore emancipation issues.

A fantastic example of the how Hull has the power to place the issue of freedom centre stage is the recent Wilberforce lecture delivered by perhaps one of the greatest freedom fighters of the modern age, former Secretary-General of the UN Kofi Annan. Speaking to a full house, Mr Annan delivered a powerful meditation on freedom in the 21st century and a timely reminder that the fight against slavery is far from over.

As the Freedom season draws to a close, we at the University of Hull’s Wilberforce Institute will be putting modern-day slavery in the spotlight with the city’s first ever Wilberforce World Freedom Summit on Thursday 28 and Friday 29 September. As a world-leading research centre, the summit is just one of the ways we are working towards the end of labour exploitation and slavery worldwide. We conduct award-winning and life-changing research that helps inform policy; we played a major role in shaping the UK Government’s 2015 Modern Slavery Act for example. We also work with businesses, including one of the UK’s largest supermarkets, to identify slavery in their supply chains and help them eliminate it.

As a world-leading research centre, the summit is just one of the ways we are working towards the end of labour exploitation and slavery worldwide. 

Over two days, the Wilberforce World Freedom Summit will explore a spectrum of slavery-related issues – from retail to organised crime – and their links with slavery. The role of corporate social responsibility in tackling modern-day slavery will be discussed by business leaders from Arco, the Co-Op Group and the University of Hull’s Christina Talens, who works with leading retailers to help them identify and eliminate slavery in their supply chains.

Our city must and will continue to pioneer the fight for freedom. We can all help by familiarising ourselves with the signs of modern-day slavery and what to do about it. Our hope is that if businesses, the public and government work together, then the lives of the most vulnerable people in society will improve.

The Wilberforce World Freedom Summit is free but booking is essential.

To discover more on the work of the Wilberforce Institute, visit www.hull.ac.uk

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