Slavery past and present

leg irons

Liverpool, the Americas and the transatlantic slave trade

From about 1500 to about 1865, millions of Africans were enslaved and transported across the Atlantic by Europeans and Americans as a labour force to work, especially on plantations.

Liverpool ships carried about 1.5 million enslaved Africans across on approximately 5000 voyages, the vast majority going to the Caribbean. Around 300 voyages were made to North America - to the Carolinas, Virginia and Maryland.

The ships returned to Europe with goods such as sugar, cotton, coffee and tobacco. Liverpool grew rich on the back of trading in enslaved people.

The resistance of enslaved Africans and the abolitionist movement brought the British slave trade to an end in 1807. However, Liverpool's connections with slavery continued through cotton and other trades that were dependent on slave labour for much of the 19th century.

The International Slavery Museum explores issues linking the Americas with Liverpool using our outstanding collections of artefacts and archives.

Find out more about the history of the transatlantic slave trade on this website.

Contemporary slavery

Today, millions of men, women and children around the world are forced to lead lives as slaves. Although this exploitation is often not called slavery, the conditions are the same. People are sold like objects, forced to work for little or no pay and are at the mercy of their 'employers'. Slavery exists today despite the fact that it is banned in most of the countries where it is practised. It is also prohibited by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

What is slavery? A slave is forced to work - through mental or physical threat; owned or controlled by an 'employer', usually through mental or physical abuse or threatened abuse; dehumanised, treated as a commodity or bought and sold as 'property'; physically constrained or has restrictions placed on his/her freedom of movement.

Bonded labour affects at least 20 million people around the world. People become bonded labourers by taking or being tricked into taking a loan for as little as the cost of medicine for a sick child. To repay the debt, many are forced to work long hours, seven days a week, up to 365 days a year.

Trafficking involves the transport and/or trade of people, women, children and men, from one area to another for the purpose of forcing them into slavery conditions. Worst forms of child labour affect an estimated 179 million (UN estimates) children around the world in work that is harmful to their health and welfare.

Reproduced with permission from Anti-Slavery International.

Links to websites with further information about contemporary slavery are available on this website.

Books about slavery and its legacy

Books about the transatlantic slave trade and its legacy are available from the online bookshop.