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Quick facts

The racist ideology that the slave trade promoted must be confronted, understood, and eradicated for good. 

How was Britain involved in the transatlantic slave trade?

Britain was one of the most ‘successful’ slave-trading countries. Together, Britain and Portugal accounted for about 70 per cent of all Africans transported to the Americas.

Enslaved people were introduced to British cotton and sugar plantations to make them more profitable. As the British Empire grew, so did the demand for crops grown in the plantations and more enslaved people were brought in.

Britain grew rich on this trade in people and the cheap and plentiful goods they produced. Many people directly or indirectly benefited, for example: investors, including monarchs; shop owners, who sold sugar and tobacco from the plantations; dockworkers, shipbuilders, and owners in the port towns; bankers who lent money to traders.

Britain was the most dominant country in the transatlantic slave trade between 1640 and 1807. By 1770, British traders were transporting around 42,000 enslaved Africans across the Atlantic every year. Port towns where the ships came in, such as Glasgow, Liverpool and Bristol, grew into large cities. Factory owners also made huge profits, due to the cheap cotton, crucial to the rapid industrial revolution which provided many jobs. Britain became one of the richest and most powerful countries in the world.

It is estimated that Britain transported 3.1 million people from Africa (2.7 million arrived) to the British colonies in the Caribbean, North and South America and to other countries.

The transatlantic slave trade was abolished by Britain and other countries from 1807 onwards, although illegal trading continued for a further 60 years.  

What are the consequences?

Millions of people of African descent live across the world and don’t know their ancestral roots.

Much of the prosperity that Britain, the Americas, and other European countries still enjoy today is built on the back of lost lives and histories.

Meanwhile, in Africa, the loss of millions of people was compounded by colonial exploitation, with effects that last into the present day.

The racist ideology that the slave trade promoted – the idea that Black African people were inferior to white Europeans, used to justify exploiting them – is still with us. It must be confronted, understood, and eradicated for good.

Discussion

Were you aware of this history and the role that Britain played in the transatlantic slave trade?

Do you think others around you know about this?

Can you recognise the consequences?

Share your thoughts and reflections with other learners in the comments section below.

© Amnesty International UK
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