the friend online
16 November 2007

QPSW conference
Slavery: What can Friends do now?

This was the title of the Autumn Quaker Peace & Social Witness conference, held at The Hayes, Swanwick, Derbyshire, on the weekend of 2 to 4 November. I went as the representative from West Kent Area Meeting and volunteered to write an article for the Friend. Where to start? There was so much going on, throughout the whole weekend.
We started on Friday evening, with the first speaker, Andrew Clark, a previous general secretary of QPS, who is now the chair of Anti Slavery International. He gave us a brief introduction to slavery and what the Bible had to say on the matter (not much), before drawing a very interesting parallel between the 18th century anti¬slavery campaign and modern civil liberties and human rights campaigning. He pointed out that one of the reasons why the earlier campaign was so successful, was because ordinary people worked under such dreadful conditions that they were able to empathise with the slaves and genuinely want to aid their freedom.

He added though, that he didn't think the logo of the 18th century campaigners was very accurate (the slave with his hands raised in prayer, saying 'Am I not a man and a brother?') and he thought that something like the painting of Toussaint L'Overture as a victorious general on a prancing horse was much more accurate, bearing in mind the number of revolts and escape attempts made by the slaves themselves. (Although Toussaint himself died in prison and Haiti was still paying reparations to the French government well into the 20th century).

Our second speaker on Saturday was David de Verny, an Anglican minister, who is very much involved in supporting migrant workers in Lincolnshire. Migrant workers come into this country quite legally, usually from the newer EU states in Eastern Europe. He told us that the average worker in Lithuania earns just £90 a month, whilst the average wage in the UK is £650 a month. They are also seduced by TV programmes which show all Britons and Americans as wealthy and living in beautiful homes. So, it isn't surprising that Eastern Europeans want to come and work in the UK.

However, once they get here, they are in for a very nasty shock. Quite often, they have been asked to pay £60 to £180 to an 'employment agency' in their home countries which they are told they can work off, so that they arrive here already in debt. Migrant workers also have to have a licence from the Home Office in order to work and they have to send their passports to London to get the required stamp. The Home Office often take six weeks or more to deal with applications and by the time the passport has been returned, the migrant has been moved to another job in a different town and their passports are then sold on to criminals at a vast profit. That is just one of the unpleasant experiences a migrant worker can face and it is not surprising that many of them develop metal health problems, which they do not have the vocabulary, either in English or in their native language, to ask for help.

The final speaker was Carrie Pemberton, also an Anglican minister and founder of the charity, CHASTE that is, Churches Alert to Sex Trafficking Across Europe. Although both men and women can be trafficked as sex workers, as far as is known only women are being trafficked to the UK, at least 4,000 of them every year. The definition of Sex Trafficking is: 'the movement of human beings across borders for the purposes of enforced prostitution' and often if a woman is asked if she is in this country, or doing that particular job, voluntarily she will say 'yes', this may not actually be so. The reason is that people do not run from danger, they run to safety, so that, if the women cannot see a safe place to go, they will agree with whatever their trafficker says, in order to save themselves from a beating.

We were told of a couple of horrific incidents in which women were treated as objects, sold on from one 'owner' to another, brutalised and expected to service up to 30 'clients' on a busy day. CHASTE also find that they have difficulty in getting major funding as many groups who normally give generously to charities are made up of people who are either 'clients' of trafficked women, or move in similar company. We also had three workshops, the last one about CHASTE itself, the second about FAN groups. This is a Welsh initiative, where people meet and talk about a subject (any subject) selected by one of their number. Because they use constructive listening, with only one person talking at once and confrontational arguments not allowed, they are able to get to know one another very well.

The first workshop was on the legacy of slavery and was given by Joyce Trotman, a Guyanese lady from Demarara, whose family have always been involved in producing sugar. Sugar was the main reason for Caribbean slavery and the wealth it produced went to fund Britain's lead in the Industrial Revolution.

Anti-Slavery International
Quaker Peace & Social Witness

Dana Adler, West Kent Area Meeting


This week's .pdf
In this week's online edition... rss edition
Is Liberal British Quakerism under threat?
simon gray

QPSW conference
Dana Adler, West Kent Area Meeting
News round-up
Beth Allen & Trish Carn
Peasants’ long march
Kuldip Nayar
The fourth plinth
Rowena Loverance
Simply experiencing God in the moment
Jennifer Kavanagh, London West Area Meeting
‘You have to work very hard and lose all your friends’
Jamie Wrench
What makes God laugh?
Peter Fishpool

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