Watching Amazing Grace, you’d be forgiven for thinking that slavery in the UK was abolished singlehandedly by William Wilberforce.
Fortunately, the story isn’t quite so simple. Wilberforce wasn’t alone. He was part of a community that later became known as the ‘Clapham Sect’. They were a group of God-fearing activists who lived close to each other and rallied each other up for causes like abolition.
It’s this community that provided Wilberforce with the support he needed to last through the 18 years it took to get his Private Member’s Bill through parliament.
Had Wilberforce stood alone, he may not have persevered all those years.
The Ongoing Fight Against Slavery: Fairtrade
When I was a kid, back in the ’80s, the Fairtrade label hadn’t yet been invented. But the movement had already begun.
Depending on the congregation, after church on Sundays you’d find several old ladies peddling goods at the back. These goods were usually labeled ‘Tradecraft’, and had been produced somewhere in Africa or South America.
The items were often expensive and lower quality than you’d find in a supermarket, but the message was compelling: these goods are not produced by slaves.
Soon students got behind this movement, and injected it with extra energy. The message spread quickly from student union to student union, as this other group with time on their hands and energy to focus got behind it.
In time, the ethically produced chocolate started tasting better than the mass-market chocolate.
It turns out that if you pay a farmer a fair price, they are inclined to give you higher quality beans.
Today in the UK thinking as an ethical consumer is becoming normal. That doesn’t mean that the work is finished – there’s still a lot of unethical aspects to the consumer market. In some areas, like electronics and the car industry, we’ve barely scratched the surface. But the foundational idea that we consumers have power and can ‘vote’ with our money is firmly established.
The importance of community
If it wasn’t for communities like the Clapham Sect, Anglican grannies, or activist students, these important messages would never have spread. Their message wouldn’t be any less important, but they would never have made a difference in the world.
Some call these communities Tribes, others Hives. Whatever you call them, we need them to spread ideas effectively and to catalyse the kind of change that we want to see in the world.