Caribbean countries are calling for reparations from European states for the crimes of the slave trade.

Reparation campaigns date back 100 years, but this is the first time countries have united under CARICOM, a grouping of 15 Caribbean nations.

On 10 March, led by Jamaica, leaders voted unanimously to adopt a 10-point plan urging debt cancellation and medical, diplomatic and developmental assistance to CARICOM members, as well as a formal apology. If EU states fail to apologize and negotiate, CARICOM says it will file a lawsuit at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

From the mid-15th to the mid-19th century, countries such as France, Portugal and Britain transported, bought and sold over 10 million Africans to work as slaves on sugar and cotton plantations in the Caribbean and America – the largest forced migration in history.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair expressed his ‘regret’ back in 2007 for the suffering caused but stopped short of an apology; while the Jamaica Gleaner reported that Mark Simmonds, Conservative MP and minister with responsibility for the Caribbean, said last year that ‘slavery was abhorrent’, but no reparations were due: ‘Do I think that we are in a position where we can financially offer compensation for an event two, three, four hundred years ago? No, I don’t.’

Britain benefited hugely from the slave trade, the profits of which helped finance the industrial revolution.

The ancestors of Prime Minister David Cameron were slave owners, one of 3,000 people to receive a cut of the $34 million in compensation paid out by the British state when slavery was abolished in 1833. (The present day equivalent of around $28 billion.) The liberated slaves did not receive a penny.

Lydia James