Black Lives Matter
Earlier this month, Traidcraft's Mission and Transparency Lead, Robin Roth, defied Government advice and joined the Black Lives Matter march in Newcastle. Here, he tells us his motivation behind joining the march.
"Before I go a step further, I wish to assure you that I kept a safe distance from other demonstrators, but it was impossible not to be drawn into the passionate and heartfelt energy of a thousand people demanding justice. It’s just not possible to demonstrate on one’s own – it’s a communal thing and its effectiveness comes in numbers and the ability to encourage one other that we are not alone.
We listened to speeches, we knelt, we were silent, and, of course, we marched. “No justice, no peace.”
I have been privileged in visiting many producer organisations in the past and I have always been vaguely aware of the general background of corruption and political violence in which our suppliers live. It was most obvious for the organic sugar producers in the Philippines, some of whom had lost family members to state sponsored violence during protests over land rights, and with the tea communities in Sri Lanka emerging from years of insurgent and government fighting. Nor will I be able to forget the terrors of everyday life in Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala. In these countries, it is frequently the Government or its proxies that have perpetrated many of the worst atrocities.
The effects of violence on any community are deep and generational, but one of the common threads is that when things get violent, it gets turned on the minority communities first. No matter how poor the overall population may be, there is always a sub-group or an outlier village of refugees, migrants, Rohinga, H’mong, Indiginos, Tamils or other less powerful families to attack.
The key to protecting these groups is, of course, a legal framework that is colour blind and we used to pride ourselves that we have just such a system in place here in the UK. Clearly, we don’t. The Windrush scandal should have opened our eyes to the discrimination we have preferred not to see for generations.
When slavery was abolished in Great Britain, most families who owned slaves were richly compensated by the Government for their economic losses, and the sums ran into the equivalent of millions of pounds in today’s money. In fact, when the British Government paid out £20m to some 3,000 slave owning families for the loss of their “property” when slavery was abolished in Britain’s colonies in 1833, this sum amounted to 40% of the Treasury’s annual spending and equates to about £16bn in today’s money. The slaves who were freed were less munificently treated and received nothing apart, astonishingly, from the right not to be enslaved. This injustice, incorporated into British law, remains at the heart of our system. A roll call of families who profited from this “compensation program” reads like a who’s who of the best of British society.
It was good to be a part of a demonstration, and to be vocal in calling for justice. Many of you who have fought for economic justice for over 40 years must have felt a similar sense of revulsion back in the 1970s and 1980s and you have been fighting for decades. I am encouraged that there is another wave of justice fighter, just as appalled, just as determined and just as focused. There is hope.
We stand at an interesting moment. In the aftermath of the pandemic there will be choices to make. What sort of an economy and what sort of a society do we want to have? What will our Government invest in? There is, it would seem, always enough money if there is a will. That was the case in 1833 and in 2009 when the banks got their slice of the cake.
I know that you all share a deep desire for justice. If ever there was a time to stand up and be counted, whether in demonstrations, in campaigning or in personal witness, then it is now. I pray that our church communities and our civil society will find the courage to fight for justice, because without it, there is no peace.
Incidentally, the 6th WFTO Principle is a “commitment to Non-Discrimination, Gender Equity and Freedom of Association.” If it’s about justice, then it’s in Traidcraft’s DNA to fight for it."
*please note that all views are my own and not those of Traidcraft.