Slavery spans history. From days of old through to modern day, the enslavement of people has been present as a form of trade in human life and labour. In ancient times, enemies would be captured and made to work as slaves – something widely celebrated in combat. Moving into the middle ages, slavery became normal practice in rural England; those who were destitute would offer themselves, and their families, as slaves to landowners. Many think this is now confined to the history books however, although moments in history have brought breakthrough in the battle against the crime, slavery still exists in modern society.
The Journey to Slavery
Once captured, slaves were made to walk for miles to the coast, sometimes chained to one another by the neck. Before boarding the ships, slaves would then be placed in coastal forts - these were overcrowded dungeons with appalling conditions, where revolts and conflict were commonplace. Finally the slaves boarded ship - their home for up to 10 weeks.
Men were separated from women and children. Crews on ships would use iron muzzles and whips to ensure control over their captives, and often inflicted physical and sexual abuse to those on board. People were chained together and placed in the shelves of cargo holds with so little space that they were forced to either crouch or lye flat. Many did not survive the voyage. Disease and psychological trauma claimed countless lives. Some illnesses caused blindness and in these instances slaves were simply thrown overboard.
Once landed, people were sold or auctioned. Those deemed unfit for work were either sold for little, or left to perish. Once enslaved, the violence continued. Abuse was used as a way of enforcing labour or as a means for masters to entertain themselves, with continual sexual abuse inflicted on women.
The money made from the slave trading business attracted many. Individuals were lured by the hope of profit. Numerous people joined and henceforth the growing slave trade flourished. People invested in slave ships – monarchs, merchants, craftsmen and even shop owners put money into the system of slavery. Approval from the monarchy led to backing from the government.
Those in Parliament were often presented with a false picture of life on board the ship as accounts given by captains would dramatically differ to accounts of captives. Yet parliament soon legislated the expansion and regulation of the slave trade. The slave trade became another form of oceanic trade. It was a carefully arranged system of buying and selling; arms, metal goods and textiles were exchanged for African slaves.
The abolitionists faced a huge task – there was heavy opposition in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords for the majority were in favour of the trade since it grossly benefited the economy.
The work of the abolitionists was the world's first grassroots human rights campaign, in which men and women from different social classes and backgrounds volunteered to end the injustices of others. They led a huge propaganda campaign reaching countless members of the public. They interviewed sailors and those working in slave ports, collected vital witness testimonies and pieces of evidence that could later be used to fight for freedom in Parliament.
Pleased to welcome Dame Sara Thorton @UKAntiSlavery to @coopuk today for the #BrightFuture300 summit discussing preventing #slavery supporting victims and the importance of business pic.twitter.com/rVyE5hhL5Q
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