Learning from the past
Shaping the future.

The Wilberforce Institute aims to advance fundamental knowledge of slavery and emancipation, informing policy, business practice and public debate at local, national and international levels
Founded in
Understanding the
Past & Present
Advancing the cause of
The Challenge
Despite being prohibited in international law, slavery continues to exist today.

What we do

The Wilberforce Institute brings together experts in humanities, law and social sciences to help tackle this global problem head on. Through our research and practice, we give leaders and communities the tools they need to help shape a better future.

We actively partner with governments, NGOs, communities, businesses and other organisations to inform policy, practice and public participation at a local, national and international level.

Our work

Our work
Our pioneering research seeks to understand the global origins of slavery and exploitation
Our work
#BreakTheChain - Exposing the hidden human cost in our food
Our work
Our committed researchers drive the agenda on tackling modern slavery. And our PhD students conduct life-changing research which informs policy and practice.
Our work
We helped shape the Modern Slavery Act which forces the UK’s biggest companies to report annually on their work to eradicate modern slavery from their supply chains.
Our work
Working with businesses and other organisations, including one of the UK’s largest supermarkets, we help eliminate slavery from supply chains, through risk assessment.
Kevin Hyland
C Talens Peru


The Institute's team includes a range of scholars, research fellows, postgraduate students and affiliates, committed to the eradication of slavery in all its forms.

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Our partnerships

The Institute works in partnership with a wide range of individuals and organisations. 


Our History

The Wilberforce Institute is based in Oriel Chambers, in the heart of Hull's historic Old Town, and aims to follow in the footsteps of the city's most famous son, William Wilberforce, who was born next door.

Transforming the three-storey property, designed by the renowned Victorian architect William Botterill, into a research institute was a major undertaking between the University and the local city council, with financial help from Yorkshire Forward, the European Regional Development Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

We opened our doors in 2006, ahead of the bicentenary of the Slave Trade Abolition Act 1807, for which Wilberforce had fought so hard.

But despite the act, and the later Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, approved in the year of Wilberforce's death, the fight to eradicate slavery remains as relevant as ever. 

The Wilberforce Institute is a unique centre of research into historical slavery and leads the fight against contemporary exploitation, winning the Queen’s Anniversary Prize in 2016. Our work is led by director, Professor Trevor Burnard, working closely with institute staff and research associates.

We work with governments, NGOs, communities, businesses and other organisations to inform policy and practice – locally, nationally and internationally – in our ongoing work to raise awareness of slavery and to root it out wherever it appears.

In the words of William Wilberforce himself, ‘you may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know’.