Simon Schama's Rough Crossings on BBC2 this evening was history at its best - the forgotten story of the African-American slaves who fled the plantations to fight behind British lines in the American War of Independence and went on to establish Freetown in Sierra Leone. Not an all-white tale, as some have complained of Amazing Grace, nor a revisionist's version erasing the contribution of British abolitionists, as was the case with Moira Stewart's In Search of Wilberforce, but a shared story involving black and white from three continents.
The way the drama intercut with present-day scenes constantly emphasised the continuity between the problems of the past and present, forcibly reminding us that slavery remains a global issue. Not just for the 2.4 million people caught up in human trafficking throughout the world, but for at least 12 million who are forced to work and treated as property to be bought and sold.
As Beth Herzfeld of Anti-Slavery International writes in The Difference Magazine, in her piece "Will we finish what the abolitionists started?":
"In the Philippines, young girls are used as domestic slaves, boys as young as four years old are abducted from their families in South Asia to be used as camel jockeys in the Gulf, in Niger people are born into a slave class; young men in Brazil are used as forced labour to clear the Amazon, and women are trafficked to western Europe and forced to work in food-processing factories.As Beth goes on, the problem isn't something "out there" and demands action: "You too can harness the abolitionist spirit and demand an end to slavery once and for all." So, what will you do?
"In Niger at least 43,000 people are enslaved as a result of being born into an established slave class. They are used as herders, agricultural labourers and as domestic servants. Many are subjected to torture and other forms of violence, including rape. They are inherited over generations as property, some are given away as gifts or as part of a dowry. They work every day without pay and are denied the freedom to make choices, whether it is deciding when to eat and sleep or whom to marry."