Thanks to the heroic efforts of William Wilberforce and a huge numbers of supporters, the barbaric practice of transporting slaves was banned in 1807. Today the trade thrives in failed states and we should not shy away from military intervention to tackle the problem.
The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was a monumental piece of legislation. The subsequent efforts that Britain made to stop other countries from permitting the trade should be remembered as one of the finest achievements of the British Empire. Sadly today is not a celebration of how Britain ended the slave trade but a day which highlights the plight of current trafficking victims – World Day against Trafficking in Persons.
Right now there are an estimated 2.5 million people currently being subjected to sexual or labour exploitation as a result of being trafficked. In recent years radical revolutions in the Arab world have left failed states and power vacuums. We, in turn, should be looking for radical solutions to solve the problem of human trafficking, especially in these places where lawlessness thrives.
The US department of State helpfully publishes a report which categorises the level of legislation different countries have towards tacking the issue. This year Libya made Tier 3 which means that the government does not meet the minimum standards in tackling human trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so.
What should be done about the issue? The huge problem of trafficking in Libya, which has often been the gateway to Europe for illegal immigration, cannot be solved by legislation or strong local campaigners like Wilberforce. The prevalence of guns, the huge number of competing tribal factions, or the fact that safety concerns have left the Libyan parliament meeting on a boat will not be solved by a well-targeted social media campaign. Niall Ferguson once quipped that the Libyan people did more than un-friend Colonel Gaddafi.
The abolition of the visible slave trade across the British Empire was effective because British territories followed the rule of law and, if need be, were prepared to back it up with force of arms. That is why the Royal Navy had a task force devoted to tracking down slave ships headed to South America, much to the annoyance of its European rivals. It is naive to think that we can eradicate modern-day slavery and other global issues without sometimes using our military strength. Lawless nations are breeding ground of all kinds of sin and it’s no surprise that pirates operate from a country where the government exercises no effective control outside of the capital.
After the George-Bush era it is far, far less popular to make these kind of calls. However, we should be considering radical steps to try and tackle the issue rather than just retweeting an anti-trafficking status to feel better about the whole thing. We might have the Will to end the slave trade today, but are we prepared to have the Force?