Facing Up to the Past; Liverpool's Newest Museum Will Show That Slavery Is an Ongoing Problem. Laura Davis Reports

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Byline: Laura Davis

I T IS rare that we are expected to apologise for the wrongs of our ancestors.

Foul deeds that took place a century or so in the past go unavenged upon later generations.

Yet, when it comes to the slave trade, it understandably seems that there are not enough sorries in the world to make amends for forcibly taking millions of people thousands of miles from home and selling them like cattle.

"I am of the belief that an apology in itself is just a group of words and doesn't really mean anything unless it is backed up with something," argues Dr Richard Benjamin, head of Liverpool's new International Slavery Museum.

"It's more important to open up a debate about contemporary slavery and use the past to highlight the continuing problems today."

Although most people think of slavery as a shameful period that is fortunately buried deep in the past, they are far from right. Even today, millions of human beings around the globe are sold as objects and made to work for little or no pay.

Children are trafficked between countries in West Africa, women from Eastern Europe are bonded into prostitution and men are forced to work as slaves on Brazilian agricultural estates.

Dr Benjamin, who was appointed to the role in November, believes that, by learning about 18th century slavery, we can help people who suffer it today.

"We are looking to include contemporary collections in this museumas well as objects from the past. We want to push the boundaries and make people realise that this is still going on now," explains Dr Benjamin.

Modern forms of slavery include bonded labour, when people have so little money that they take on a loan and are forced to work long hours in poor conditions to pay it back.

Human trafficking is also a major problem. Last year, during a special operation, police raided 515 properties in the UK and Ireland, rescuing 72 women and 12 children from Africa, Malaysia, Thailand and Eastern Europe.

When it opens in the former Granada Studios building at the Albert Dock in August, the International Slavery Museum will focus on these issues as well as Liverpool's part in the slave triangle. The city's economic boom in the 18th century - and many of the fine public buildings constructed around that time - were largely paid for by slave triangle profits.

The first recorded legal slave ship, the Liverpool Merchant, sailed out of the Mersey in 1699 and, in the 1740s, Liverpool overtook London and Bristol as the main slaving port.

Between 1795 and 1804, 1,099 slave ships left Liverpool - compared to a total of 184 for the other two cities combined. …