Supporting the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and Abolition Act 1833, 23rd August
As part of Rise, one of Co-op's diversity groups, my goal is to help increase cultural awareness and ethnic diversity within the Co-op. I think it is important to educate colleagues on key events of the past, but also look forward to what more needs to be done. We think of slavery as an injustice from long ago. But the reality is, there are more people in conditions of slavery today than ever before.
Year 1772 Mansfield Case, was pivotal in starting the movement to end slavery, as the verdict of the case stated that slavery is unsupported in English Law, any slave that set foot in England or Scotland was legally free. Events leading on from that came to head with the Baptist War of 1831 and soon after on August 23, 1833 the law to abolish slavery was passed in the House of Commons and House of Lords but not enforced until August 1st 1934. On this day, we honor the men and women who fought and all other victims of slavery. It’s also a chance to highlight the fight against all present-day forms of enslavement.
Since the official abolition of slavery, enslavement no longer revolves around legal ownership but around ‘illegal control’. Estimates suggest that 40 million people worldwide are victims of modern slavery. Modern slavery is the severe exploitation of other people for personal or commercial gain. It is all around us, but often just out of sight. Modern slavery takes many forms. Some of the most common are human trafficking and forced labour.
Campaigning on modern slavery
At Co-op's 2017 AGM, members voted overwhelmingly in support of us campaigning on modern slavery and better victim support, and that’s what the Co-op has been doing since. Shortly after, in partnership with City Hearts, Co-op launched its Bright Future Programme, which has now grown into the biggest employment programme for survivors of slavery in the world. Working with every major charity that supports survivors, and 25 businesses, the programme provides a pathway back to paid employment for survivors. In May 2020 the Bright Future partnership was reconstituted as an independent co-operative enterprise – the Bright Future Co-operative.
Co-op's work didn’t stop there. We worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the issue of slavery, putting advertisements in national newspapers and working with major newspapers to put the voices of survivors' front and centre. Moreover, many people aren’t ready or legally entitled to work because of their emotional or personal situation, so the business campaigned to help these victims by lobbying the Government to increase the statutory support provided to victims from 45 days to 1 year.
The campaign led the Co-op to be the first British business ever to be recognised with the global Thomson Reuters Stop Slavery Award - whose previous holders have been Adidas, Hewlett Packard and Apple. In 2018, and last year, the campaign won two more major national awards.
I’m proud to help educate my colleagues and to work for a business with a long history of addressing social injustice and supporting workers’ rights.