Edward Colston, slavery and moral ambiguities

First published 11th November 2014

On MondayI spoke at the annual Charter Day service in Bristol Cathedral to a gathering of young aspiring people. Some of my words about Bristol Merchant Edward Colston have been seized upon, particularly regardingthe morality of Colstons business dealings.

I stand by what I actually said at the Merchant Venturers Charter Day service yesterday, but not by what some have inferred from what I said.

I am equally clear that I am against all forms of slavery, both at the time Edward Colston made his money and today. To suggest otherwise is both untrue and unkind.

As we have seen in recent years, capitalism carries with it all kinds of moral ambiguity. This is self-evidently true today and has been so throughout its history. This means that some earnings are certainly ill gotten gains.

With the benefit of hindsight, those moral ambiguities become clearer. At the same time, it is difficult to see why people seemed oblivious to their complicity in wrongdoing, which seems so clear to us today.

The ambiguity lies in this. The many who are deemed to have derived their money from immoral systems, such as slavery, child labour, greedy banking and the sex workers industry, often use those monies to serve the common good. This remains true today.

I am committed to addressing these ambiguities and, as I said at the Charter Day service, working with all who see the big picture of a bigger world where all human beings can flourish.

+Michael Bristol

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