Slavery past – slavery present – working towards a slave free future

beth lunn blog

The University of Glasgow’s slavery past matters. That’s why the university has an ongoing commitment to reparations, which will add up to a whopping £20 million, leading to the development of a new learning centre between the University of Glasgow and the University of the West Indies. The report by the History of Slavery Steering Group, ‘Slavery, Abolition and the University of Glasgow’ (2018) in its Preamble commits to “study and teaching about all forms of slavery and trafficking in the past and present”.

Here at #SlaveFreeCampus, we believe that part of the University’s commitment to addressing the history of slavery in the University of Glasgow, which received so much money from the slave trade historically, must address the issue of modern slavery and forced labour in the supply chains of the campus shop. Against the backdrop of good that the University of Glasgow are seeking to do with regards to historic slavery, we seek recognition that slavery did not end with abolition. There are still 25 million people in forced labour globally today (IJM UK). We have a unique opportunity to create spaces that are inhospitable to modern slavery, so we call for the University to send a strong message through their modern slavery policy and their purchasing power that slavery was not ok two hundred years ago, and it’s not ok now.

The history of transatlantic slavery is difficult to confront because it is viscerally bloody. For every person who was transported away from their home in Africa, either to die at sea or to work for a short, awful time in the Americas before dying at sea, we recognise our part in this story, that the University of Glasgow was one enabler of transatlantic slavery, and they are equally complicit in enabling forced labour and modern slavery.

Human Rights Watch released a report in December 2019 entitled ‘Fashion’s Next Trend’, which details the current move towards transparency in the garment industry’s supply chain. Many of the garment industry’s top brands have moved forward in transparency by publishing the names and addresses of all Tier 1 suppliers. This action is all voluntary – there is no obligation to do this – but perhaps that should not matter. As a student at the university, I would feel more trusting of the campus shop if I knew the University was using its power to pressure the brands that they buy from to be more transparent, in order to better care for vulnerable workers’ rights in the supply chains.

 

History of Slavery Steering Group, (2018) ‘Slavery, Abolition and the University of Glasgow’. Accessed on 10/02/2020. (https://www.gla.ac.uk/media/Media_607547_smxx.pdf).

Human Rights Watch, (2019) ‘Surge in Garment Industry Transparency’. Accessed on 15/02/2020. (https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/12/18/surge-garment-industry-transparency).

University of Glasgow, (2018) ‘Modern Slavery Act 2015 Statement’Accessed on 15/02/2020. (https://www.gla.ac.uk/legal/modernslaveryact/).

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