Major grant awarded for anti-slavery research

Researchers at the University of Hull have secured more than £1.5 million to help the movement against modern-day slavery learn from the successes and failures of the past.

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) has awarded a major new grant to a research collaboration involving Professors Kevin Bales and John Oldfield from the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation (WISE). The grant will support research to bring into the present important lessons from anti-slavery movements of the past, translating them into effective tools to help combat forced labour today.

Kevin Bales, Professor of Contemporary Slavery at the University of Hull, who is leading the project, said: “There are approximately 30 million slaves alive across the world, and a figure seven times greater than the population of Ireland. It also includes around 1.1 million people enslaved in Europe.

“Many of us tend to think that slavery was brought to an end, and this confusion extends beyond the general public to politicians, policy makers and human rights groups. This inevitably has an impact on official responses to the slavery or human trafficking cases that are uncovered today.

“The aim of this work is try and prevent the new global anti-slavery movement making the same mistakes of the past, and we believe one of the best ways to do this is to listen to voices of survivors of slavery.”

The grant is one of three large awards announced by the AHRC under their ‘Care for the Future: Thinking Forward through the Past’ theme, which aims to generate new understandings of the relationship between the past and the future. Each of the three successful projects are highly collaborative. The University of Hull will be working closely with Professor Zoe Trodd at the University of Nottingham and Professor Jean Allain at Queen’s University Belfast, along with a number of other international partner organisations including Walk Free, Free the Slaves and Anti-Slavery International.

The result of the project will be a whole body of work including books, digital archives, an exhibition, online educational resources, conferences and seminars.

Prof Bales continues: “We hope to have a real impact on lawyers and judges, who require a legal definition of slavery, and we will also offer training for anti-slavery workers on how to learn from the past when it comes to developing effective liberation and social reintegration programmes for enslaved people.

“Ending slavery is a mammoth task, but by learning the lessons of past anti-slavery movements, it’s something that can be achieved within our lifetimes.”

The grant will run for five years and will support three PhD students and two post-doctoral researchers across the three Higher Education Institutions.

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