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 Aamer’s column for Scottish Sun on Sunday 24th February

It’s unlikely that anyone who watches the outstanding film  ‘12 Years a Slave’ could disagree that slavery was mankind’s most abhorrent act.

12-years-a-slave-2341180But I wonder why so many people leaving the cinema are in tears about what happened hundreds of years ago, yet have little concern for the estimated 29 million living in slavery today.

An insatiable demand for slaves led to more than 30 million Africans being taken from their homeland on an industrial scale. No film could ever show the true horror.

Our children are taught that white men such as William Wilberforce or Abraham Lincoln were responsible for abolishing slavery yet there is nothing about black slaves forcing abolition onto the agenda.

Nowhere will you find a mention of slave General Toussaint Louverture the first slave leader of French colony Haiti, which in 1791 rose up against the Plantation owners.  Ironically now one of the poorest countries in the world, at the time it was one of the world’s richest, producing 2/3 of Frances GDP with its cotton, tobacco and sugar.

Within a few months the slave army defeated the French, taking over the North of the island, but the French Revolution very quickly threw its weight behind calls and abolished slavery in the colonies, long before the British ever did.

The British response was to send in the Navy to crush the slaves, only to lose 80,000 men, more soldiers than they lost in the US war of independence. By 1798 Toussaint had taken control of Haiti, turning the British expedition into one of its greatest military disasters ever.

Napoleon Bonaparte was in power and turning his back on revolutionary declarations of freedom sent in the army to crush the rebels only to lose 10,000 of his men in 1802.

Toussaint tricked with an offer of a truce was taken hostage and died in a French Prison, but his army fought onto victory declaring Haiti independent as the world’s first freed slave country in 1804.

Twenty seven years later 60,000 slaves were to rise up in Jamaica to challenge their British masters burning their plantations to the ground.

Of course British abolitionists like William Wilberforce had a role to play, but African slaves were not passive victims waiting to be saved.

The writing was on the wall, unless they enacted laws which guaranteed freedom then the slaves would take it anyway. The words of Toussaint ‘I was born a slave, but nature gave me the soul of a free man’, encapsulate a spirit that no army could ever hope to crush.

What about Modern Slavery?

Fast forward 210 years later, starved and beaten child labour and sex slaves are the norm. Our mobile phones wouldn’t function unless the slave miners of the Congo produced essential ingredients, whilst young children and women are enslaved to an Asian garment industry just so that we can wear cheap t-shirts.

In this country right under our noses modern day slaves work in farms, brothels, cannabis factories and restaurants.

When caught they are incarcerated, threatened with deportation whilst ‘gang masters’ remain untouched with their multi-million pound lifestyle.

Modern day equivalents of global plantation owners need stripped of their illegal profits. Our Governments are not so shy in criminalising those who commit illegal acts abroad such as terror, so why can’t they send corporate directors to prison for employing slave or child labour abroad?

There is nothing inevitable about 21st Century slavery but the failure to break the supply chains implicates and shames us all.

Oh and if Spielberg is reading this what about a blockbuster about General Toussaint Louverture?