Dozens of UK educational institutions and charities have endorsed mock slave auctions for “depraved” entertainment and fundraising purposes, HuffPost UK can reveal.
As the national call for imperialist statues to fall intensifies, participants within organisations have been re-enacting a brutal element of slavery that saw buyers inspect and purchase people with the intention of keeping them in bondage to do their bidding.
Charities including Comic Relief, Marie Curie and an NHS non-profit group have all been embroiled in this scandal, as well as a number of rural grammar schools.
A newly formed campaign No Slave Auctions has compiled a list of organisations, seen by HuffPost UK, which have both staged and encouraged these events.
A spokesperson said these auctions are further proof of how entrenched racism is in the UK.
“The more we started looking into this, the more we realised that this is an ongoing thing that’s happening,” they said.
“As we started to do a bit of research, we were really quite shocked at how prevalent these events are and how many national charities are endorsing this or actively encouraging it.
“As part of the wider debate that’s going on about racism in the UK and the embedded culture of racism that is in every part of our society, we wanted to highlight this. A lot of people ask: ‘Where is the racism in our society?’ and I think this is a prime example.”
On a JustGiving page dated March 2019, Adcote School advertised a mock slave auction for Red Nose Day.
The proceeds of the event went to Comic Relief – a British charity established in 1985 in response to the famine in Ethiopia.
Louise Hudson, the deputy headteacher of the school, told HuffPost UK that the school’s staff members “apologise for any offence this has caused”, explaining that the “misguided” member of staff who created the page no longer worked there.
“We were horrified to see the JustGiving page terminology and absolutely condemn language like this,” she said.
“For our fundraising we held a ‘hire a teacher’ for the day event. The use of the word ‘slave’ was condemned from the outset by both pupils and staff and within school this terminology was never used. This particular fundraising part was eventually ‘bought’ by a group of staff ‘hiring’ their colleague to cook them dinner.”
A spokesperson for Comic Relief told HuffPost UK: “We were surprised to learn that a school had recreated a ‘slave auction’ as part of their fundraising for one of our 2019 campaigns. This is not appropriate, or acceptable, and we are contacting the school to discuss this issue and return their donation.
“Comic Relief works with thousands of schools across the UK who do brilliant things, from cake sales to sponsored walks, to raise money for charitable projects. In light of this news, we will ensure all school information packs include strong guidance on suitable events.”
The bid was £80 which will be returned by Comic relief, both spokespeople confirmed.
Up until it was approached by HuffPost UK for comment, MDS UK Patient Support Group – which supports people with a rare blood disorder – listed slave auctions as a recommended fundraising event on its site.
“The article in question was borrowed from another charity – many years ago – and we had not spotted this entry,” a spokesperson said.
“We should indeed have looked at it more closely – and we apologise unreservedly for this oversight on our part.”
The Fire Fighters Charity also listed this fundraising idea on its website.
“We are grateful to HuffPost for bringing this to our attention,” a spokesperson said on Wednesday.
“The inclusion of Slave Auctions within an extensive A-Z list of fundraising ideas on our website was wrong and we apologise unreservedly for any offence that this may have caused. We have removed the idea from the website page this morning. The Fire Fighters Charity is committed to the promotion of equality, inclusion and diversity in all that we do.”
Similarly, Sports For Charity website carried the recommendation of such auctions as a fundraising activity.
“We updated our website as soon as we received your email. Whilst it is no excuse, this is an old web page which we have now changed. This does not reflect the values of our organisation,” a spokesperson said.
Cystic Fibrosis, established in 1964, expressed regret at endorsing slave auctions on its website up until when its was recently approached by HuffPost UK.
A spokesperson for the charity said: “We apologise unreservedly for the reference and have removed the document from our website.
“The Cystic Fibrosis Trust is an anti-racist charity, and is committed to supporting all people with cystic fibrosis.”
Starlight Children’s Foundation, which runs programmes to distract and entertain sick children across the UK, had encouraged fundraisers to stage this racist practice online – but it too said the reference on its site was a historic document that had been overlooked.
A spokesperson said: “Starlight does not support or promote mock ‘slave auctions’ and we are ensuring any historical references to them are removed immediately.
“A historic fundraising PDF from 2010 was discovered on our website and brought to our attention. The document listed a number of activities that supporters could consider as a way to raise funds for Starlight. It was uploaded to our site 10 years ago and, as a small charity without a dedicated digital team, we were unaware of its existence.
“It is not promoted or available directly from our website. Starlight does not support or promote mock ‘slave auctions’ and we do not associate with or accept donations from any events like this.”
St John’s Ambulance Wales has also apologised for what it describes as a “historic” endorsement of mock slave auctions in a fundraising guide.
Chief executive officer for St John Ambulance Wales, Helen Smith, told HuffPost UK: “We are deeply sorry and apologise for any offence caused by the suggestion of a ‘slave auction’ in one of our historical fundraising guides.
“As soon as we were made aware of the document, it was immediately removed.
“The fundraising suggestion is against everything we stand for as a charity and we wholeheartedly regret the use of the idea. It does not appear in any of our current fundraising materials.
“As an organisation, we pride ourselves on inclusivity and we strongly believe racism has no place in society.
“We stand with the Black community and other ethnic minority groups across the world to end racism. We are working hard to educate ourselves about racism and how we can do better for our staff, volunteers and the communities we support.”
A spokesperson from PKAVS, a charity that supports unpaid carers, people recovering from mental illness and minority communities, has admitted to HuffPost UK that the organisation made a mistake in listing mock slave auctions as a fundraiser up until recently.
“It is absolutely not in keeping with our values as an organisation and when alerted to it, we removed it immediately,” they said.
Devon NHS hospital charity Over and Above, Helen’s Trust, Capability Scotland, Royal British Legion, James Hopkins Trust, National Robin Day and Befriend A Child charities have suggested these events in fundraising materials or carried them out. All have been approached for comment but have not responded.
Research by No Slave Auctions and findings from HuffPost UK suggest mock slave auction fundraisers are something of a tradition across parts of the country, spanning at least 15 years.
In 2011, one was held on behalf of Marie Curie in Bath.
A spokesperson from the charity told HuffPost UK said the event was organised by a supporter and the organisation does not always have a relationship with those who raise money on its behalf.
“It was not an official Marie Curie event. It was inappropriate and deeply offensive then and now. No Marie Curie staff were involved in organising or promoting it,” he said.
“It was independently organised by a supporter. We would never encourage anyone to raise money from an event like this that is so clearly wrong. We are always learning and our charity is committed to being diverse, inclusive and accessible to all.”
Spifox, which raises funds to support children’s charities in Scotland, held slave auctions in 2005 alongside casino nights for two years running and raised over £100,000 each time.
A spokesperson said: “Spifox is clear that the use of this phrase is wrong, and we regret using it in this manner over 15 years ago. We are sincerely sorry to anyone that we offended. We are clear that we have run different and appropriate events since that time, and our charity has also moved with the times.”
Tŷ Hafan, one of the UK’s leading paediatric palliative care charities, has endorsed and received money through a mock slave auction held at Porthcrawl Comprehensive school in Wales.
Neither has responded to HuffPost UK’s request for comment, but the charity tweeted when approached by No Slave Auctions: “Fundraising activity of this kind is not encouraged at Tŷ Hafan, nor does it align with our values.”
It also said a fundraising pack that suggested such auctions was out of date and would be removed from its website.
This practice have taken place across a number of UK schools.
All Hallows Catholic School in Farnham held one in 2011 which received positive coverage by Farnham Herald and indicates institutional acceptance of the event.
Pocklington School has held several student slave auctions over the years. It was initially referred to as such but has since been renamed as a “butler auction”.
A spokesperson said: “We sincerely apologise for our misguided and offensive fundraising activity in the past, using slave auctions to raise money for charity, and can confirm that these outdated and inappropriate events no longer occur at our school.
“We support the campaign to eradicate slave auctions. We realised some years ago that we must stop this inappropriate practice which is not aligned with our school values.
“In more recent years, our butlers and superheroes, et cetera, have raised money for charity under strict rules regarding expectations on their behaviour. We will consider the appropriateness of this fundraising activity for the future.”
On its website, Portsmouth-based Admiral Lord Nelson School references the purchase of teachers in a slave auction as a fundraising activity.
A spokesperson said: “The event you have referred to in 2007 had no intention to cause offence despite an insensitive use of language. It was a way of raising funds and having fun at the same time. Students would bid for a member of staff who would buy their lunch, clean their tables, et cetera, at lunch time.
“It was in no way intended to be disrespectful to anyone impacted today by racist attitudes and did not intend to dismiss the trauma of slavery and its legacy.
“Our inclusive ethos is fundamental to every aspect of our work as a school and we have been celebrated for this. However, we have made mistakes in the past and we are always learning.”
Box Hill School donated the proceeds of its 2013 slave auction to Nelson Mandela’s Children’s Fund. Mandela was a descendent of slaves and remains an internationally renowned figure in the end of colonial apartheid regime in South Africa.
A school spokesperson has apologised to Mandela’s charity and expressed regret at having “got this so wrong”.
“It is a source of great regret that we used the term ‘slave auction’ for a fundraising event – there can be no excuse for this,” they said. “It was deeply culturally insensitive and wholly inappropriate.
“Our community values are built around inclusion and diversity so it is particularly painful that we got this so wrong.
“Racial prejudice and injustice has no place in our institution and we especially have a role to play in society to educate and tackle the issues around race and racism. We apologise unreservedly to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and those we know there.”
In 2016, both Southend Girls School and Porthcawl Comprehensive School held auctions. Both have been approached for comment.
Up until last week, mock slave auctions were suggested within the constitution at Worcester College, Oxford University, which was last amended in 2016.
The document encouraged students to “help to organise charity events each term aided where appropriate by the relevant JCR [junior common room] committee members, including a slave auction in Hilary term in aid of an international aid or development charity”.
The file has since been removed from the website.
A college spokesperson told HuffPost UK: “The college and the JCR committee were shocked to learn of a reference to a mock ‘slave auction’ in an outdated version of the JCR constitution. We certainly would not permit an event of this nature to take place in the college now. We abhor the idea of a ‘mock slave auction’ and deeply regret that this racist practice ever happened here.”
Dr Michael Siva, a historian, described mock slave auctions as “problematic”.
“Schools staging slave auctions are very problematic because slavery itself was a brutal institution. Schools need to approach the subject of sugar, slavery and the slave trade as a genocide, much like the Holocaust,” he told HuffPost UK.
“Staging a slave auction trivialises the brutality suffered by African slaves on British West Indian plantations. These Africans were ripped away from their families, and they were displayed, naked and oiled up, for the British sugar planters to inspect. These inspections were intrusive, and often involved the planters feeling the private parts of the displayed African, and using other methods to check their fitness for the upcoming brutal work on the plantations.
“Charities that encourage the practice of slave auctions as fundraisers are obviously not aware of the brutal history of slavery itself. Until the British Empire, and in particular sugar and slavery in the West Indian colonies, is made compulsory in the history curriculum of British schools, then the widespread British ignorance of the brutality of British slavery will persist.”
Dr Katie Donington, senior lecturer in history at London South Bank University, echoed Siva’s stance.
“The practice of reenacting the buying and selling of African people in schools is completely unacceptable. These instances highlight the acute need for teacher training on the history of slavery and race so that the subject is approached in a way that respects the dignity of Black life both then and now,” she said.
Asking people to play-act traumatic history trivialises the experiences of the enslaved
Dr Katie Donington
“Asking people to play-act traumatic history trivialises the experiences of the enslaved, turning them into a spectacle to be consumed by the audience. We would not expect to see the reenactment of historical scenes related to the Holocaust. We must show the same historical regard for the painful memory of those who suffered and died under slavery and their descendants.”
In the meantime, No Slave Auctions continues to call out companies that uphold this practice on social media, asking for accountability.
Its aim is to see legislation introduced that will ban this practice for good.
“Our overall is to stop these events – to have them banned, ideally in legislation – but at the moment the journey towards that is a process of collecting evidence and showing that to organisations, schools and charities, asking them if they are going to stand for this, if they will accept people raising funds in their name using these methods,” said the spokesperson.
“These auctions are a re-enactment of the most dark, traumatic and evil part of British history. They shouldn’t be revered, they shouldn’t commemorated and they certainly shouldn’t be re-enacted. This is not an educational exercise – this is a form of entertainment for predominantly middle class wealthy white people.
“It is not acceptable and has to end.”