What is freedom to you?

Wilberforce Institute Webinar, Tuesday 22 September 2020

On Tuesday 22 September between 16:00 and 18:00 BST, Cristina Talens, Head of Business Risk Assessment Services in the Wilberforce Institute, will be leading a major discussion on the nature of freedom today: ‘What is Freedom to You?’

This is not a discussion between academics. Instead it involves individuals who work at the forefront of identifying exploitative practices on the ground today – you will find their details below. Cristina Talens has assembled a stellar panel of experts from a diverse range of backgrounds in the areas of ethical trade and supply chains.  Our speakers will be talking about what freedom means to them, and about the one thing they believe would have the greatest impact in ensuring that people can be free from exploitation. If you would like to join us, please click on the link at the bottom of the page.

Cristina Talens – Head of Business Risk Assessment Service at the Wilberforce Institute. Cristina Talens has more than 20 years’ experience in ethical trading, sustainability and supply chains. She has worked with migrant workers on modern slavery issues in the UK, France and Italy. In 2000, she joined the United Nations (UN) Global Programme Against Trafficking and Smuggling of Human Beings, and today she regularly conducts social audit assignments and risk assessments on behalf of major UK supermarkets.

Alfonso Herias Garcia  – an Ethics and Human Rights specialist currently heading the Ethics team at G´s Fresh, one of Europe’s leading fresh produce companies. He has over 10 years’ experience in the fields of social sustainability, and is responsible for the strategic direction and delivery of G´s Fresh Human Rights Programme, covering over 10, 000 direct workers in places such as the UK, Spain, Eastern Europe, Senegal, and the United States. Alfonso has been an active member of the Food Network for Ethical Trade and the Spanish Ethical Trade Forums. He holds a degree in Political Science and a Masters in International Relations.

Sam Ludlow Taylor– Ethical Trade Manager at the John Lewis Partnership with a focus on the Waitrose brand, a role she has held for 2 years. Sam began her career working as a merchandiser at Homebase and then joined Debenhams where she moved into ethical trade and human rights about 12 years ago. Sam also spent time working for a UK based clothing agent and a soft drinks brand, looking at Tier 1 factories, raw material and commodities sourcing.

Rosey Hurst – founded Impactt in 1997 to make what works for workers work for business. She founded Sedex and launched the Benefits for Business and Workers Programme which links improving productivity with a better deal for workers. She is passionate about re-humanising the workplace, serves on the Ecovadis Technical Committee and is a member of the Responsible Investment Advisory Council at BMO Global Asset Management. 

David Camp – Founder and Chief Executive of allianceHR, a not for profit/profit with purpose consultancy. He delivers collaborative programmes to drive systemic human rights improvements in global supply chains. This includes Stronger Together, a multi-stakeholder collaborative initiative supporting organisations to tackle modern slavery; Fast Forward, a next generation supply chains labour standards audit and improvement programme; and the Responsible Recruitment Toolkit, a one-stop capacity-building online toolkit to support supply chains to embed responsible recruitment management systems. David is the Chief Executive of the Association of Labour Providers and received the 2018 Marsh Award for Outstanding Contribution to the fight against Modern Slavery.

Nick Kightley  – Strategic Lead for Food, Farming and Fisheries at the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI). His overseas working experience includes 13 years in the rural Southern Philippines supporting small farmers and their communities and setting up his own rural enterprise there. He worked for 12 years at Traidcraft Exchange as Asia Programme Manager, promoting fair trade businesses, and for 8 years with the Waste and Resources Action Programme, working with SMEs and community based environmental sustainability enterprises. In his ETI role, Nick is able to influence the way business is done and industry functions on a global scale.

Steve Gibbons – Co-founder of Ergon with over 25 years’ experience in labour and human rights issues. He has provided consultancy for the International Labour Organisation, the World Bank Group, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Commission, London 2012, the ETI, the UK Department for International Development and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Steve has particular expertise in facilitating stakeholder dialogue and in devising and managing grievance and dispute resolution mechanisms in line with the UN Guiding Principles. He is an expert member of the Independent Complaints Mechanism of the sustainable investment company DEG, and FMO, the Dutch development bank. He is a UK-qualified lawyer, a regular conference speaker and the founder of the UK’s leading online training company for lawyers, CPDCast®.

Hannah Davis  – more than 15 years’ experience managing international development programmes, with a focus on sustainable and ethical supply chains and the empowerment of smallholder farmers. She has worked with cocoa, coffee, sugar and nut producer organisations across sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America to support improvements in agricultural practice, product quality, market access, governance and women’s participation. Since 2018, Hannah has worked for UK charity the Lorna Young Foundation, developing and promoting its Farmers’ Voice Radio initiative. This brings together smallholder farmers, agricultural experts and supply chain partners to share their knowledge, experience and expertise.

Pins Brown – Head of Ethical and Sustainable Sourcing at The Body Shop. Her working life has involved both suits and muddy boots and has focussed on improving labour conditions in supply chains especially for the least powerful. This has seen her involved in a wide variety of ventures from Mali to Kazakhstan, from agriculture to oil and gas and ASOS to Oxfam, working with large and small businesses, NGOs, trade unions and international organisations. She has also served on advisory panels on UK prison labour and for the Better Cotton Initiative. 

Register here for the webinar

Cristina Talens in the field

What would you do to survive? Voluntary enslavement and the fear of death

Dr Judith Spicksley

Lecturer in Economic History

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

judith.spicksley@hull.ac.uk

The arrival of COVID-19 has not only delivered us a sharp reminder that human existence is fragile and impermanent, but raised it to a new level of priority, as politicians in many parts of the world privilege the survival of their citizens in ways that only a few months ago would have been unimaginable. From the opposite perspective, we as citizens expect it. The role of government is in the first instance to protect those it serves from external threat.   The classic statement of this is perhaps Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, which describes a world of unrelenting insecurity in the absence of a government able to protect its citizens from each other as well as from foreign attack. As we now know only too well, that attack can take biological as well as military form.

I’ve been trying for a long time to understand why societies in the past not only allowed the enslavement of some of their citizens but legislated for it. Roman civil law is interesting in this context. It ruled that slaves, or servi, were given this title because generals in war did not kill their prisoners but allowed them instead to survive (from the Latin servare). This linguistic derivation may have been spurious, but it seems that those who were saved from death were understood to owe their lives to those who spared them, and as a result became slaves for the rest of their lives.

This brings me back to today. Though there is no sense that we owe our government a debt for saving our lives, those who leave hospital having beaten COVID-19 are keen to reveal how much they owe to the medical staff who brought them through. There is no understanding that such a debt requires repayment, however, nor would the medical staff expect it: the utterance is an expression of gratitude rather than a recognition of obligation. Those who feel particularly strongly have been known to act, usually by engaging in money-raising ventures for organisations that saved their lives or the lives of their children, but we all know that a life debt can never be adequately repaid.

Or do we? What if we were able to offer up our lives in exchange for the opportunity to survive? What would that look like? In reality, as the Roman example above reveals, we already know – enslavement.  The idea of slavery in exchange for survival is a consistent theme throughout the period in which slavery existed as a legal institution. Those taken in war tended to have slavery thrust upon them, but there were also cases in which such actions were undertaken voluntarily. Some of this, as we might expect, took place in a religious context. In the demotic papyri of Ancient Egypt we find a woman offering herself, her children, and her children’s children to a deity to secure her good health, for example. But illness could also encourage individuals to enslave themselves to healers as a way to access the medical care they needed.  Chanana, who examined slavery in Ancient India, found stories in the ancient texts of a mother who offered herself as a slave in return for the cure of her eye disease, and a sex-worker who did the same to save her life. Widespread episodes of infectious disease could also instil such high levels of fear that individuals were prepared to give up their freedom for the chance to stay alive. ‘People caught in an epidemic offer themselves to Jivaka, the famous physician, if only he were to treat and cure them.’ (See D.R. Chanana, Slavery in Ancient India, New Delhi; People’s Publishing House, 1960, 67.).

Such practices offer a whole new slant on the fear of death and the power of medical knowledge, as well as a reflection on the distance we as a species have travelled.  Not all the stories have concrete evidential bases in the form of contracts or agreements, but they point to the existence of an idea in which control over the life of an individual could be exchanged for the opportunity to live. And it’s not just that; such stories indicate that in life-threatening circumstances, a transfer of this sort could have been expected, even demanded. For much of human history, it seems that a loss of authority went hand in hand with survival, and those who faced death with no power to evade it often had little alternative but to accept enslavement, if they wanted to remain alive.

Image: Anthony Wildgoos, In Divine Meditations on Death (1640) https://search.proquest.com/docview/2240871183?accountid=11528 (accessed July 25, 2020).