New York City to Acknowledge Slavery in its Past

From 1711-1762, thousands of men, women, and children were sold as chattel to help build New York City. African slaves helped erect iconic landmarks such as Wall Street, City Hall, and Broadway. While these symbols of American growth and democracy remain, there has yet to be a marker for those upon whose backs they were built. That will change soon.

According to WNYC, on June 19th city officials will unveil a plaque marking the site of Gotham’s slave market at Wall and Pearl Streets. It will be a public acknowledgement of the role slavery played in creating what many consider to be the world’s epicenter of culture and finance. It will go far towards dispelling the common misconception that the American slave trade was confined to the Confederacy.

It will also provide an opportunity to dispel another myth: that slavery came to an end in the age of Lincoln.

In modern day New York, throughout America, and across the globe, slavery persists. It has adopted a new name for a new era, but it functions off of the same principle, that those who place human beings into forced servitude can reap immense profits. Human trafficking earns an estimated $150 billion per year for its perpetrators. At any given moment, more than 20 million human beings, including children, are the victims of forced labor, debt bondage, or the sex trade.

Many of the titans of New York finance and industry were built upon slave labor. Prominent firms financed plantations, insured slaves, or profited from the transport and trade of slave produced goods. Today, firms benefit from forced servitude, unknowingly profiting while criminal networks take advantage of supply chains, launder money through legitimate financial institutions, and subject innocents to a life below the law.

This year, as we mark the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 13th Amendment, modern business must take an active role in defying slavery, not thriving from it. As part of a multi-sectored approach to disrupting the business of human trafficking, private industry must implement measures to prevent or disrupt illicit activities in labor recruitment and commit to principles that will ensure that they are not unintentionally contributing to the world’s fastest growing criminal enterprise.

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Published on April 16, 2015

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