Open Forum

Claiming the moral high ground is not enough to eradicate slavery, writes Blair McPherson

As we celebrate the bicentenary of the abolition of slavery a report is published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation providing evidence that not only is slavery still a real problem in many parts of the world today, it exists in modern day Britain.

Modern slavery in the UK involves illegal immigrants lured to this country by the prospects of well paid work. Young women from eastern European countries are bought and sold by organised criminal gangs to work as prostitutes. They are effectively held as prisoners their passports are taken and threats of violence against them and their families back home are made.

Slavery, as much now as in the early 19th century, has its roots in economics, money and profit. The moral argument alone has not ensured its destruction. Abolition came about through the campaigning of people like William Wilberforce who made the moral case, but also because it became increasingly unprofitable. Basically, free men and women did a better job and didn’t keep running away.

There is a lesson here for our attempts to address the modern day issues of equality and diversity in employment. If we want to remove discrimination and prejudice against people because of their race, faith, disability, gender, sexuality and age then we need to do more than win the moral argument and recognise that changing the law is not enough. We need to demonstrate the business case for equality and diversity.

We already refer to grey power to recognise a shift in the population which means older people will make up a greater proportion of voters. Fewer younger people coming into the workforce will increase competition for recruiting staff and make it even more important to retain skilled and experience people. The successful businesses will be those that can attract and retain staff from all sections of the community irrespective of their race, gender, faith, disability, sexuality or age.

Blair McPherson is community services director at Lancashire Council

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