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Slavery no more: Fact or fiction?

To encourage students to consider how their spending may link with a type of modern slavery (SEAL theme: Empathy).

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To encourage students to consider how their spending may link with a type of modern slavery (SEAL theme: Empathy).

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a leader and four readers.


  1. Leader On the first day of August 1833, a Bill to abolish slavery in the British Empire – that is, those parts of the world that were governed from London, which included more places than today – completed its passage through the House of Commons and the House of Lords. From that day on, it was illegal for anyone to own the life of another person and use them and their family for personal gain. Slavery was over.

    Reader 1 My name is Jean Pierre. I live on the Ivory Coast in West Africa. I am nine years old. Every day I start work at eight o’clock in the cocoa plantations. I cut down the cocoa pods with a machete and split them to take out the beans. The beans are loaded into sacks, which I help load on to lorries. Most of my skin is affected by a skin disease because of my work. I’ve never been to school.
  2. Leader The first region of the Empire to benefit from the abolition of slavery was the West Indies. Every slave was immediately freed and became an apprentice. Their former owners were compensated by the British Government to the tune of many thousands of pounds for the loss of what they deemed to be their property.

    Reader 2 My name is Indira and I’m from India. I was abandoned by my parents and became a street child. I was claimed by a group of men who ran a begging ring. Every day I’m forced to beg on the streets. I’m beaten if I don’t bring in enough money.
  3. Leader Initially, the driving force behind the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act (passed earlier, in 1807) and the Abolition of Slavery Act was the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, whose best-known member was William Wilberforce, a Christian MP and social reformer. In 1823, Wilberforce and others formed a new organisation called the Anti-Slavery Society. Wilberforce sadly died two days before the final passing of the Act, but knew his life’s work had been completed as it had been passed in the House of Commons.

    Reader 3 I live in Thailand. I’m 21 years old. I sew jeans for sale to the European market, in a sweatshop. Sometimes I work for 20 hours a day. I receive no pay and little to eat. I have to sleep on the floor of the sweatshop.
  4. Leader There were additional factors that contributed to the driving through of the Act of Parliament. A slave revolt in Jamaica in 1931, which resulted in serious loss of life and destruction of property, led to a Parliamentary inquiry, which highlighted the grave injustices inherent in slavery. Also, since the newly gained independence of the United States of America from the UK, the sugar trade that depended on slave labour had begun to decline.

    Reader 4 I’m also from India. I’m nine years old and make bricks from dawn to dusk, lifting the heavy clay, putting it in the moulds, then stacking the moulds in the baking sun. It’s back-breaking work. I get very hot. My whole family was kidnapped and trafficked here from over the border, where we were sold to the owner of the brick factory.
  5. Leader It’s been a long time since slavery was abolished . . . or has it? Some180 years ago it ceased in the British Empire, which was the countries we now refer to as the Commonwealth and some others that have since gained independence. Yet, the stories that we have just heard alongside the history of the Abolition of Slavery Act weren’t taken from history. They were based on real-life accounts from children around the world right now.

    Slavery is very much an issue still for thousands, if not millions, of people. Even in this country, migrant workers and homeless people have been taken and forced to work in poor conditions for little pay, virtually imprisoned each night, slaves in everything but name.

    William Wilberforce realized that the comfortable lifestyle he enjoyed was to some extent the product of the work of slaves. He was motivated to do something about this because of the guilt and shame he felt at his complicity with their slavery.

Time for reflection

Do you enjoy chocolate? I do. Do you get pleasure from buying fashionable clothes at a bargain price? I do. Do you like cheap fresh fruit and vegetables? I do.

Some of the trade in these commodities relies on the work of people who are virtually slaves, even now, in the twenty-first century. We can easily find ourselves unwitting participants in this shameful situation. We may not knowingly choose to buy goods that have been harvested or made as the result of slave labour. We’re simply tempted by a bargain.

When William Wilberforce realized the part he was playing in slavery, he decided to do something about it. So can we.

On the one hand there is the option to take passive action. It’s not difficult to identify some of the high street shops that sell goods produced by workers who are poorly paid and poorly protected. It’s also not difficult to identify shops that sell Fairtrade goods or can otherwise assure us that workers are paid fairly. By changing our purchasing habits we can put pressure on those who exploit their employees.

On other hand, we can protest more actively, writing to the shops that stock products from questionable suppliers, encourage boycotts among our friends, maybe even protest outside the shops themselves. It was by a combination of such tactics that William Wilberforce and his supporters eventually succeeded and slavery was abolished.

Sadly, slavery is still alive in the modern world, but we can change things if we have the will to do it.

Dear Lord,
Thank you for the choice we have in shops and markets.
May we be thoughtful in our purchases and active in our desire to end slavery.


‘A change is gonna come’ by Sam Cooke

Publication date: August 2013   (Vol.15 No.8)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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