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Modern-day slavery in the spotlight at the University of Hull

Hundreds of people gathered at the University’s first-ever Wilberforce World Freedom Summit last week (28 and 29 September). Delegates heard from prominent speakers across business, public sector and government, who focused on contemporary slavery in its many different forms and explored ways to tackle this global human rights challenge.

His Excellency John Agyekum Kufuor

Above: His Excellency John Agyekum Kufuor, the former President of Ghana, receiving the Wilberforce World Freedom Medal

Though often considered an issue of the past, slavery continues today with forced labour existing in the domestic, agricultural, sex, construction and retail industries to name but a few. The International Labour Organisation estimates that there are at least 40 million victims of slavery in the world today. That figure includes 13,000 in the UK.

The Wilberforce Freedom Summit explored a spectrum of slavery-related issues – from retail to organised crime – and their links with slavery. The role of corporate social responsibility in tackling modern day slavery was discussed by business leaders, including Arco, the Co-op Group and the University’s Christina Talens, who works with leading retailers to help them identify and eliminate slavery in their supply chains.

Keynote addresses were delivered by Aidan McQuade, former Director of Anti-Slavery International, the UK Independent Antislavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland OBE and members of the police force. Legal solutions and ways to help slavery survivors restore their lives were also investigated.

"While the number of those trapped in conditions of modern slavery is shocking, it is heartening to hear at gatherings such as this of the determined and imaginative coordinated action being taken - and which is gaining traction - to fight this issue."  The Right Honourable Patricia Scotland QC, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations

Held as part of the summit, the Wilberforce World Freedom Dinner featured performances from local theatre groups themed around concepts of empowerment and concluded with a special address from The Right Honourable Patricia Scotland QC, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Baroness Scotland said: “While the number of those trapped in conditions of modern slavery is shocking, it is heartening to hear at gatherings such as this of the determined and imaginative coordinated action being taken - and which is gaining traction - to fight this issue.

Baroness Scotland

Above: The Right Honourable Patricia Scotland QC, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations

The Baroness added: “Modern slavery has rightly become an issue in the global spotlight. It is by working together with determination and a sense of urgency that we will be able to make progress towards a future that is more free, more fair, more equitable and more prosperous for all.”

His Excellency John Agyekum Kufuor, the former President of Ghana, returned to the University 10 years after officially opening the Wilberforce Institute which has become a world-leading research centre working towards the end of labour exploitation and slavery. Mr Kufour delivered a keynote speech at the summit which reflected on Africa’s freedom journey. During the dinner he was also presented with the first Wilberforce World Freedom Medal. The tributes were led by Lord Prescott, former Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

His Excellency said: “I find it humbling indeed that l should receive the first ever Freedom award carved in the memory of such a great personality as William Wilberforce. The work of people such as William Wilberforce gives hope to mankind that good, does indeed, eventually, triumph over evil.”

He added: “That the Wilberforce World Freedom Summit should accord me this singular honour of the first ever Freedom Award established in his memory is so over-powering that l have strongly to restrain myself from becoming emotional.”

"The Wilberforce Institute will continue to help the fight against modern-day slavery as a forum for debate and an award-winning research centre." Professor John Oldfield, Director of the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation, University of Hull

Professor John Oldfield, Director of the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation at the University of Hull, said: “The summit brought together high-profile people working across wide-ranging themes that are connected with contemporary slavery. The summit has enabled people to make new contacts, hear things they’ve never heard before and see the nature of modern slavery through different lenses. What is clear from the summit is that there is a need for further exploration through discussion and systematic, methodical research in order to fully understand the nature of the problem. The Wilberforce Institute will continue to help the fight against modern-day slavery as a forum for debate and an award-winning research centre.”

Wilberforce World Freedom Summit forum for discussion and debate

Above: Debate at the Summit

Held in the home town of the pioneering MP William Wilberforce – who dedicated most of his life to the movement to abolish the slave trade in the 19th century – the summit formed part of Hull’s UK City of Culture, bringing the Freedom season  to a close with the theme ‘Eradicating Contemporary Slavery’.

The summit was hosted and organised by the University of Hull’s Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation and held in association with the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership, Hull Children’s University and the Freedom Festival.

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