TUC Regional Conference
rd March 23
I’m delighted to be at this illustrious gathering with such a range of
businesses; government agencies as diverse as the World Bank and
Yorkshire Forward; and trade unionists from as far apart as South
Yorkshire and Sierra Leone. I understand that there are even people
here from East Hull – truly amazing.
thWe are here to commemorate the 200 anniversary of the Act for the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire.
Despite the passage of time, we must never forget our nation’s role in
one of the most shameful episodes in humanity’s history.
Last year, the Prime Minister expressed his deep sorrow for Britain’s role
in the slave trade.
Over hundreds of years, millions of young African men and women
were captured, kidnapped and forced to undertake a journey which only 80% survived.
Today, we all accept that slavery is abhorrent and repugnant.
But, for hundreds of years, the transatlantic slave trade was central to
the international economy: financing industries, building palaces and
amassing huge fortunes on the back of it.
Powerful commercial interests overpowered moral considerations.
Personal compassion was sidelined by convenience. Abuse was
justified by prejudice.
And the view prevailed that slavery was such a central part of our
global labour market that its eradication could destabilise the world
economy, during the fragile first stages of industrialisation.
None of this deterred Wilberforce, Equiano or all those members of that
brave coalition of radical progressives drawn from the world’s religious,
voluntary, commercial and political sectors, on the quest to eradicate
that evil trade.
We should never forget what they achieved.
th That’s why the Government has put its weight behind the 200
anniversary commemorations with John Prescott in particular urging us
to do more.
As far as my Department is concerned, we have announced that the
whole issue of the slave trade will be a part of the History curriculum at
Key Stage 3.
We know that these issues are difficult to teach. And we are putting
place measures to give teachers additional training for this subject,
working with the Understanding Slavery project and the Historical
Association to produce resources and guidance.
Here in Hull, we’ve played a leading role in the commemorative
I pay tribute to the tremendous work of Hull University who were the
driving force behind the establishment of the Wilberforce Institute for
the Study of Slavery and Emancipation. This is the first academic
institution dedicated to the study of past and modern day slavery; it will
be one of the most important parts of the legacy of the bicentenary; it
is situated next door to the house where Wilberforce was born - now
one of our finest museums - situated in the old town in my constituency.
Numerous events are taking place across the city throughout the year.
These commemorations do not only require us to take a closer interest
in yesterday’s world. They also require us to take a long, hard look at
There could be no greater tribute to those who suffered so horribly
through the slave trade in the past or those who fought for
emancipation than to ensure the torch of social progress continues to
shine brightly today.
stIt is a tragedy that slavery continues in the 21 Century. Despite
successive international declarations and conventions, millions of
people remain enslaved: men, women and children; in a range of
situations; but all of them dehumanised and mistreated.
Around 4,000 illegally trafficked women are thought to be working
against their will as prostitutes in Britain today.
In our Presidency of the EU, we spearheaded efforts to focus Europe
more closely. We’ve strengthened our enforcement activity: with the
new Human Trafficking Centre and Serious Organised Crime Agency.
We also introduced the Sexual Offences Act 2003 since when there
have been a number of successful convictions for sex trafficking,
resulting in sentences of up to 20 years.
And later today the Home Secretary will sign the Council of Europe
Convention against trafficking in human beings as well as launch a UK
Any attempt to eradicate slavery will be futile without a simultaneous
assault on global poverty: and the TUC has been a stalwart partner on
our quest to “make poverty history.”
For all the progress of the last 200 hundred years, a modern day
Dickens could still write of our planet as “a tale of two worlds”.
One world enjoys unprecedented prosperity, new technologies, IPODs,
DVDs, mobile phones…
The other has been in abject poverty, ridden with disease, suffering
More than a billion people, one in four of the world’s population, live
on less than a dollar a day. Millions suffer with AIDS; and hundreds of
thousands of mothers die in pregnancy and childbirth every year.
As social progressives, our commitment to social justice does not stop
at the mouth of the Humber. Our concern for people in Britain should
be matched with a compassion those around the world.
Since 1997, we’ve doubled spending on aid. I won’t steal Hillary’s
thunder but neither will I spare his blushes for the groundbreaking work
that he and his department is doing to fight poverty and establish
schools, hospitals and sanitation facilities across the developing world.
Aid on its own is not enough. The British Government has been a
leading advocate for change in the Doha Development Round being
conducted by WTO.
When the process commenced in September 2001, it was described as
a development round because of the necessity to create a safer, more
But, as time passed, goodwill reduced and positions became more
We need a deal that is biased in favour of the developing world. Now,
with the formal negotiations restarted, after being suspended last
Summer, it is crucial that we make the most of this opportunity to
achieve an ambitious pro-development outcome.
Any developed country which is not motivated to act constructively
because of compassion for the vulnerable might do so out of
enlightened self interest.
The consequences of global poverty are found in mass migration.
The Chinese cockle-pickers who drowned on Morecambe Bay. The
refugees found dead at our ports in sealed lorry containers.
We must work harder to eradicate global poverty but, as the TUC has
valiantly argued, we must also do more to protect those vulnerable
people who do come to Britain.
Here in Hull, last year, we welcomed around one hundred refugees
from the Congo. Local businesses, trade unions and government
agencies played a huge role in helping them to settle in. The people of
Hull were overwhelmingly welcoming as befits this great trading port.
There is much nonsense talked by those who seek to use the arrival of
refugees and migrants to provoke division and hatred. It’s important
that we challenge their views head on – pitching myth against reality.
The myth of an over-crowded Britain being “swamped”, against the
reality of a population growing more slowly than most other European
The myth of migrants being “spongers”: compared to the reality that they have played a huge role in driving up economic growth in Britain
in recent years.
We must talk less about “tolerating” migrants and more about enthusiastically embracing them. The NHS would collapse without
Caribbean and South Asian doctors and nurses. So would many of our
Today’s refugees can be tomorrow’s wealth creators.
Deloitte – one of the biggest businesses in the world - was formed by
the grandson of a refugee who arrived here in Hull in the late
eighteenth century, fleeing persecution in the French Revolution.
One of the best ways to change attitudes is to transform our approach
in schools. That is why we are strengthening citizenship lessons, so that
today’s children are at ease with the multi cultural society around them.
The bi-centenary of the abolition of the slave trade must leave a lasting
legacy by inspiring today’s leaders to work together in shaping a better
world. Finding international solutions to the great issues of the day
climate change, energy security, world trade and the eradication of
We could do no better than to make it our modern day mission to
eradicate the different kind of slavery which remains endemic two
hundred years after Wilberforce’s great achievements.