William Hague: Despite what we are taught, slavery still exists

From the Abraham Lincoln address by the former leader of the Conservative Party, at the Centre for Social Justice
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The Independent Online

At school, we have all been taught that slavery is a thing of the past, and that Wilberforce and Lincoln were among the heroes who eradicated its evils. Yet the harrowing truth is that today, in a new form, there are an estimated 27 million slaves around the world, generating $13bn a year for their owners. In fact, there are more slaves today than all the people sold from Africa in the transatlantic slave trade.

At school, we have all been taught that slavery is a thing of the past, and that Wilberforce and Lincoln were among the heroes who eradicated its evils. Yet the harrowing truth is that today, in a new form, there are an estimated 27 million slaves around the world, generating $13bn a year for their owners. In fact, there are more slaves today than all the people sold from Africa in the transatlantic slave trade.

Who are the millions of slaves in the modern world, and why are their numbers growing? Many are held in bonded labour, particularly in South Asia, having been tricked into taking a loan. To repay it, they are forced to work long hours, often seven days a week, every day of the year. They receive basic food and shelter, but may never pay off the loan, which can be passed on to further generations, even though the value of the work is invariably greater than the original sum.

In addition, modern slaves are the victims of forced labour - illegally recruited by individuals, governments or political parties and forced to work under threat of violence; those forced by early marriage into lives of servitude, often accompanied by violence; those born into a class or a group that society views as suited to slave labour; and those trapped in child labour, including working in mines, with chemicals, or with dangerous machinery.

It is a challenge for us all to think of innovative solutions to this problem, based on personal independence, tackling the problems at source, rather than relying on a heavy-handed state to suppress its symptoms. For it is clear that population expansion, concentrated in some of the least developed areas, with tens of millions of people displaced to urban centres where they feel powerless, in societies where government corruption allows slavery to go unpunished, means that this evil will grow rather than shrink in the years ahead.

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