News - February 2016

Life-changing slavery research gets the royal seal of approval

26 February

His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall have presented the University of Hull with a medal for its pioneering research into historic and contemporary slavery.

His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall presented the University of Hull with a medal for its pioneering research into historic and contemporary slavery

The Queen’s Anniversary Prize was presented to Professor Calie Pistorius, Vice-Chancellor of the University, and Professor John Oldfield, the Director of the Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation, at a Buckingham Palace ceremony, on February 25.

The University of Hull was one of only 21 UK universities and colleges honoured with the prestigious award.

The Wilberforce Institute was selected after a rigorous procedure, which examined the transformational research carried out into both historical and contemporary forms of slavery.

The Institute’s work to highlight how many people are enslaved in the world today was also noted by the judging panel.

An estimated 35 million people are enslaved worldwide in an illegal trade worth £150 billion, more than at any point in history.

The Institute helped to establish the Global Slavery Index (GSI) with the Walk Free Foundation, in Australia, in order to establish the scale of the problem.

Staff from the Wilberforce Institute, which is based next to the birthplace of abolitionist William Wilberforce in High Street, Hull, now advises governments around the world on tackling the problems highlighted by the GSI.

The Institute has helped the UK Government revise its estimate of the number of adult and child slaves working in the UK today - a number which now stands at 13,000. Along with this, academics from the Wilberforce Institute took a major role in shaping the Modern Slavery Act, which was passed by Parliament last year (March 2015).

The Wilberforce Institute also serves as the hub for a new five-year project bringing the lessons of the past to bear on issues of modern-day slavery.

Professor Calie Pistorius, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Hull, said:

The University is extremely proud to be receiving this honour. It is a reflection of the vision and hard work that has taken place, the impact of the Institute and its life changing work. The Institute was established ten years ago and many people have been involved over that decade in doing important work that is now helping to transform legislation to address the growing issue of modern day slavery.

The Institute’s Director, Professor John Oldfield said:

It is my firm belief that only by studying the past can we imagine a future that is different. The Wilberforce Institute is both studying the past and using this study to help to imagine a future that is significantly different. Receiving this award is recognition of the Institute’s cutting-edge research, not least in revising estimates of those enslaved today. Winning the Queen’s Anniversary Prize not only confirms our global reputation in the field of slavery studies but puts us in a position to attract the levels of funding that will allow us to go on producing research that informs public practice and policy, at local, national and international levels.


The Queen's Anniversary Prizes are awarded every two years to universities and colleges who submit work judged to be beneficial for the institution and for people and society generally. They are regarded as the most prestigious form of recognition for UK academic and vocational institutions.

An independent assessment process is administered by the Queen's Anniversary Trust, involving individual review by assessors drawn from a wide range of professions and expertise.  At the conclusion of the process, entries meeting the exacting standards sought by the Prizes are recommended to The Queen for approval on the advice of the Prime Minister.

The Institute is named after William Wilberforce (MP for Hull and later Yorkshire). He was the leading parliamentary opponent of the slave trade, a campaign that lasted nearly 20 years, from 1787 to 1807.  He withstood fierce opposition and was deeply unpopular among pro-slavery interests in the UK. His death in 1833 coincided with the passage of the Slave Emancipation Act of the same year; it is said that Wilberforce received news of this victory on his deathbed. He was a major political figure who devoted nearly 50 years of his life to the struggle against slavery and the slave trade.

The Institute was established with the help of Hull City Council a decade ago.

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