An article in the Indie at the weekend has – almost certainly unwittingly – added to our recent discussion about how far back to go with due diligence enquiries, and in particular into a client’s original source of funds. You can read the article yourself, but in short it reveals something that, had we thought much about it, we could probably have guessed: “More than 100 country houses and estates across the country benefited from the millions of pounds given in compensation to slave owners in the 19th century.” So as you wander around Harewood House (saying to your spouse, “Of course, it all looks lovely, but just imagine the upkeep – I’d rather stay where we are” – that’s known as a juicy rationalisation), you are looking at the fruits of a most distressing trade.
I’ve been talking quite a bit about slavery in recent AML training sessions, mainly because of the recent criminal emphasis on people trafficking. (Indeed, only yesterday morning on Radio 4’s “Today” programme they were interviewing people affected by people trafficking and kidnapping in Sinai.) One of the issues facing those who work to relieve the problem of slavery in the world today is one of terminology. We (quite rightly) laud William Wilberforce, and (quite wrongly) call him an abolitionist. He might have wished to abolish slavery, but he did not succeed: he abolished the legal trade in slaves, but not slavery. And yet the name of his movement (the Abolitionists) and the Act that they worked to pass (the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833) suggest that the whole concept of slavery has been removed. Sadly, as demonstrated by the continuing work of campaigning organisation Anti-Slavery International, this is far from the truth: it is estimated that today there are 30 million slaves around the world – far more than at the height of the famous slave trade that brought us Dodington Park and Alton Towers.