The 365 Ways Blog

Michael Norton is author of "365 Ways to Change the World", which provides an issue for each day of the year, interesting facts, inspiring case studies of people doing things to address the issue and ideas for action. Originally published in the UK, versions with local content have been published in Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and the USA. To find out more visit our website:

26 March 2007

The abolition of slavery

25th March 2007 was the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the Great Britain. Slavery itself was abolished across the British Empire in 1833. In the USA, home to many of these who made the infamous Middle Passage across the Atlantic, it took the Civil War (1861–1865) for the victorious Union to end slave working.

Other dates for your diary:
December 2nd: International Day for the Abolition of Slavery
June 19th:Juneteenth, commemorating the emancipation of African American slaves:

Slavery today
Slavery continues TODAY despite the fact that it is banned in most of the countries where it is practiced and is prohibited by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1956 UN Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery.

Millions of men, women and children around the world are forced to lead lives as slaves. Although this exploitation is often not called slavery, the conditions are the same. People are sold like objects, forced to work for little or no pay and are at the mercy of their 'employers'.
Some definitions of slavery (from the Anti-Slavery Society):

A slave is:
forced to work through mental or physical threat;
owned or controlled by an 'employer', usually through mental or physical abuse or threatened abuse;
dehumanised, treated as a commodity or bought and sold as 'property';
physically constrained or has restrictions placed on his or her freedom of movement.

These types of slavery exist today:
Bonded labour which affects millions of people around the world. People become bonded labourers by taking or being tricked into taking a loan for as little as the cost of medicine for a sick child. To repay the debt, many are forced to work long hours, seven days a week, up to 365 days a year. They receive basic food and shelter as 'payment' for their work, but may never pay off the loan, which can be passed down for generations.
Early and forced marriage which affects women and girls who are married without choice and are forced into lives of servitude often accompanied by physical violence.
Forced labour which affects people who are illegally recruited by individuals, governments or political parties and forced to work – usually under threat of violence or other penalties.
Slavery by descent which is where people are either born into a slave class or are from a 'group' that society views as suited to being used as slave labour.
Trafficking which involves the transport and/or trade of people – women, children and men – from one area to another for the purpose of forcing them into slavery conditions.
Worst forms of child labour, which affects an estimated 126 million children around the world in work harmful to their health and welfare and which deprives them of education.

What you can do
Here are ten suggestions from the UN: 

1. Help to set up national commissions to protect and promote human rights, particularly those of people in the most vulnerable groups, which include children, women, indigenous peoples, and debt-bonded labourers. 

2. Encourage religious and lay organizations to be active in making their members and the public aware of the inhumane character of widely current forms of exploitation. 

3. Propose, through parent-teacher associations, that schools use various techniques, including art exhibitions and essay competitions, to bring home the damaging consequences of slavery-like practices. 

4. Organize national art competitions for school children, with the winning entries used to illustrate posters and postage stamps. 

5. On Human Rights Day, 10 December (anniversary of the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948), use the occasion to focus attention on problems of exploitation through slavery-like practices. Concerts could be organized to raise funds for development projects, for advocacy services, training programmes and the establishment of schools. 

6. Seek to interest the media-television, radio, newspapers and magazines-in dealing with the issues of exploitation in entertainment as well as in the service of information they provide. 

7. Enlist the help of public personalities in their media appearances to promote respect for human rights and to make audiences conscious of the problems of exploitation.
8. Raise the level of concern over exploitative practices and their consequences for the health and development of the people involved, among groups which defend the interests of women, consumers and the tourist industry.
9. Campaign with these and other groups for a special mark or label on certain goods to certify that they have not been produced with child labour. The same groups could help to educate consumers to demand only labelled products.
10. Campaign for the ratification of international human rights covenants and Conventions in countries where this action has not yet been taken.

Two heroes of the anti-slavery movement

Olaudah Equiano was a freed salve who became an Anti-Slave Activist and married Susannah Cullen (from Fordham) at St Andrew's Church, Soham (the Cambridgeshire village recently became better known as he home of Ian Huntley, the infamous child murderer).

Olaudah Equiano composed the first-ever slave autobiography which became a huge best-seller in its time, both in England and America, and gave a voice to the fast-developing anti-slavery movement. Equiano was born in a gold-coast African village of Isseke in today’s Nigeria. His father was one of the village chiefs. In 1756, aged 11, Equino and his sister were kidnapped by two men and a woman, sold as slaves to another village, moved to yet another village still as slaves, and finally captured and sold to European slavers. In his autobiography he tells of his experiences as a slave in Africa and his sea-passage to America. Equiano eventually ended up in the West Indies. As a slave, he travelled up and down the coast of America moving goods. While employed doing this, he became a small-time merchant himself and raised enough money to buy his freedom. On being manumitted, he travelled to England where he composed his autobiography.

Read “The Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa the African” (which is still available on Amazon).

Thomas Clarkson was the driving force behind the antislavery movement in the UK and one of the founders of the organisation known today as Anti-Slavery International. Today he is far less known than William Wilberforce, the parliamentarian that the anti-slavery movement enlisted to promote their cause.

In his day, Clarkson was a man of huge reputation. The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge described him as 'a moral steam engine' and a 'giant with one idea'. This is how he got started. Whilst studying at Cambridge University, he entered a Latin essay competition, the subject of which was: “Is it lawful to make slaves of others against their will?” To research the subject, he read a book about slavery by an American Quaker, Anthony Benezet. "In this precious book, I found almost all I wanted", Clarkson later wrote. And what he found shocked him. "It was one gloomy subject from morning to night. I sometimes never closed my eyelids for grief."

Clarkson's essay described scenes of violence and desolation in Africa, kidnapped slaves chained hand and foot, men and women dying from dysentery in dark and overcrowded ships' holds. It won first prize.

Clarkson decided to devote his life to the abolitionist cause. Through his vigorous campaigning he turned it into the foremost political issue of the day. He translated his essay and published it. He bought manacles, leg-irons, whips, thumbscrews and a speculum orbis, a vice used to wrench open the jaws of slaves who refused to eat . At inns and in private drawing rooms, he described the ghastly day-to-day conditions on the ships. He used the implements of torture to show the brutal realities of the trade in people.

This is what a group of school students at Holbrook High School in Suffolk have done to give greater recognition to the life and work of Thomas Clarkson: “Welcome to the S.C.A.R. (Society for Clarkson's Achievements Recognition) website. This website is designed to raise awareness of Thomas Clarkson, a forgotten hero. We have produced this website because we truly believe in the achievements of Clarkson. Anyone who has researched the transportation of slaves across the Atlantic could only feel in debt to the man who ended it:”

Further information
Find out more about Equiano and Clarkson on Wikipedia:

Find out more about Anti-Slavery International, the world's oldest international human rights organization:

Read the stories of slaves in the USA at the Library of Congress site, “Born into Slavery: Narratives from the Federal Writers Project”:

Find out about Juneteenth at:

The world’s first fair trade campaign
English abolitionists urged consumers not to purchase sugar from the West Indies but rather from the East Indies where it was produced by free labour. This tactic was used in the 1790s during the campaign to abolish the English slave trade. This was achieved with the abolition Act in 1807. The campaign was revived in the 1820s as campaigning focused on the abolition of slavery in the British colonies. Campaigners distributed thousands of pamphlets to persuade British consumers not to buy West Indian sugar.

English pottery manufacturers produced sugar bowls inscribed with anti-slavery slogans so purchasers could proclaim their abolitionist views and support for a boycott of sugar produced in the West Indies. One had this slogan:

“East India Sugar not made by Slaves. By Six families using East India, instead of West India Sugar, one Slave less is required.”