Cherie Blair speaks out in support of the UK’s Anti-Slavery Day

By Stephen Sumner

Cherie Blair has spoken exclusively to MM about the UK’s second Anti-Slavery Day, which was marked across the country yesterday.

Mrs Blair, who was born at Fairfield Hospital in Bury, is a leading human rights barrister and wife of the former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair.

She now heads a Labour policy group on women’s rights in the developing world.

Anti-Slavery Day is an annual event organised by ECPAT UK, a children’s rights organisation which campaigns against the commercial sexual exploitation of children in the UK.

As such, a principle aim of the charity is educate children in particular about the modern forms of slavery.

Mrs Blair said: “Children have an innate sense of justice; they know no one should be bought or sold.”

The QC was the special guest speaker at the Anti-Slavery Day Panel Discussion at Liverpool’s International Slavery Museum. 

The event explored the issues around modern day slavery, and also featured Anti-Slavery International director Aidan McQuade and artist Nicola Green.

 Mrs Blair said: “The only way to stop exploitation is to be vigilant and when we do see people taking advantage of others we take steps to stop it. We have laws in place in Britain, but across the world there is still a lot to be done.”

Slavery was abolished in the UK in 1807, but illegal practices are still prevalent across the world, and even with this country. 

The most evident case recently was the alleged bonded labour discovered at the Leighton Buzzard gypsy camp in Bedfordshire which was raided last month under the Slavery and Servitude Act 2010.

The legislation introduced last year expanded the definition of exploitation.

Thousands of people across the UK are estimated to be working as slaves, in exploitative conditions, with no rights and under threat of violence, yet figures cannot be exact and it often only comes to light when a crisis occurs.

Legislation in the UK is not enough; it is an international issue.

An estimated 126 million children worldwide are involved in work that is harmful to their health and welfare.

In association with ECPAT, Stockport Council held an event at Priestnall School in Stockport to raise awareness of slavery in all year groups. The activity was sent to all of Stockport’s secondary schools.

Stockport Councillor Stuart Bodsworth, Executive Member for Children & Young People, said: “The aim of Anti-Slavery Day is to acknowledge that despite the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade in 1807, adults and children continue to be victims of a modern day slave trade.” 

Jane Lawson, Ethnic Minority Achievement Teacher at Stockport Council said: “It would be wonderful if as many secondary school pupils as possible spend some time discussing the issue of modern day slavery and become aware of the various organisations working to eradicate the practice for one final time.”

Anti-Slavery Day was established in the UK by Chairman of the Human Trafficking Foundation Anthony Sheen to raise awareness of slavery and to promote the organisations which are working with ECPAT to end slavery, such as Stop the Traffik, of which Mrs Blair is the patron.

Slavery has undeniably played a major part in Manchester’s history, and the links are still evident today.

The profits from exploitation can be seen in the architecture of the buildings on Mosley Street, Piccadilly and Portland Street; in the many factories; and in the canals and the railways.

Direct and indirect profits from slavery fuelled the Industrial Revolution in Greater Manchester and led to the growth of towns such as Bolton, Oldham and Rochdale.

 “We’re all conscious that a lot of Britain’s greatness was built on suffering, but now we are thriving, and I take that a positive,” said Mrs Blair.

Through awareness and vigilance we can help to stamp out trafficking and exploitation, although Mia Morris, organiser of Black History Month, which coincides with Anti-Slavery Day is not convinced that solution goes far enough.

She said: “As long as there is inequality there will be slavery, as long as some people have power over others in terms of finances, employment and education.”

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