Author Archives: Humaira Sanders

Britain’s involvement in the slave trade

On 18 January LDCRE (Liberal Democrat Campaign for Racial Equality) hosted a very interesting and informative discussion with Dr Philip Woods about Britain’s role in the slave trade, the institutions involved in it, and issues such as reparations, education and commemoration.  We had 47 people register for the talk.  We had extensive technical and advertising help from London Lib Dems, for which we are grateful.  We were delighted to see participants from a number of Lib Dem groups.

Here is a summary of some of the issues discussed, to inspire you to think about policy responses.

Titled “Britain’s Role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade and its Abolition: some current issues.  A Discussion with Dr Philip Woods.” we learnt about the shocking scale and brutality suffered by millions of African people.  Africa could have had double the population if it hadn’t been for slavery depopulating the continent, and this would have contributed to Africa’s economic growth.  It disrupted established kingdoms in Africa, led to warfare on the continent, and diverted economic activity away from domestic uses such as growing crops for domestic consumption to coastal activity instead.

Slavery became a key part of globalisation and contributed to economic growth in Britain and elsewhere.  The Royal African Company was a key vehicle for the slave trade in the 18th century and the Company became enormously wealthy as a result.

There has been involvement by all sections of the British establishment, including the monarchy, the government, the Church of England and the City of London.  Other key institutions who have benefited from the slave trade include universities and the heritage sector such as the National Trust.  It was a key part of the industrial revolution and a key part of the growth in investment within slave-trading countries.  To end slavery in this country, the government paid £20m to 40,000 slave owners: this was an enormous sum, constituting 40% of the annual budget.  The government borrowed in order to fund this compensation, and some of this was finally repaid in 2015.

There have long been calls for reparations to be paid and the Black Lives Matter movement has reignited this desire in society.  This has been a more active topic of discussion in the USA over a longer period of time compared to the UK.  It is a complex subject but some topics discussed included the role of affirmative action such as scholarships, and the removal of monuments and street names, as well as the need for reparations.

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