The Bank of England has apologized for the involvement of some of its former governors and directors in the slave trade and said it is reviewing its portraits to ensure that images of those involved are removed from display in the central bank.
Global protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd are pushing some of the U.K’s largest institutions to acknowledge their past links to slavery and racism.
Earlier this week, insurance firm Lloyd’s of London, insurer Aviva Plc, and pub company Greene King Plc all apologized for their respective connections to the slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. A college at Oxford University earlier this month, recommended the removal of a statue of colonialist Cecil Rhodes after years of criticism.
Despite past refusals to apologise, Britain has now been forced to confront some of its most brutal and embarrasing history after anti - racism protest marches throughout the country. The movement has had particular resonance in the U.K due to its track record of colonizing vast areas of Africa and the Caribbean, its central role in the global slave trade, present day inequalities, and police and community relations.
Lloyd’s of London said on Wednesday that it would offer financial support for charities and organizations promoting inclusion and it would also increase efforts to hire more Black and racially diverse talent.
“Over the last week we have listened carefully to our Black and ethnic minority colleagues in the Lloyd’s market,” the company said “We have heard their frustrations, and it is clear that we must commit now as a market to take meaningful and measurable action.”
Greene King, owned by billionaire Li Ka-shing’s real-estate company CK Asset Holdings Ltd. said it was inexcusable that one of its founders - Benjamin Greene - profited from slavery and actively argued against abolition in the 1800s.
Benjamin Greene was one of 47,000 people who received huge compensation from the government for their slave-related assets when the institution was abolished in 1833, the Telegraph reported.
Greene received the equivalent of 500,000 pounds ($622,000) in today’s money, according to the paper.
The pub firm will make a “substantial investment to benefit the BAME community and support our race diversity in the business as we increase our focus on targeted work in this area,” said Chief Executive Officer Nick Mackenzie.
The insurer and the pub company are certainly not alone.
University College London’s Legacies of British Slave-ownership Project has identified 1,201 individuals that left behind a slave-related commercial legacy. That includes docks and canals, insurance companies and banks. Katie Donington, a historian at London South Bank University who participated in the UCL project said.
While it’s “impossible” to put a figure on total revenues from slave-related industries, Britain would not have the wealth and development that it has today without its history of empire and slavery.
Insurance giant Aviva said it was likely that an earlier incarnation of the firm insured people or property that enabled the slave trade.
“Given our long heritage, there have been decisions, actions and behaviours made by our predecessors that are clearly unacceptable to us today,” Aviva said in a statement. “Acknowledging this happened and the legacy it has left is important.”
The Bank of England said it is committed to improving diversity and is working with staff to identify ways to be as inclusive as possible.
The governors of Oxford’s Oriel College voted on Wednesday to recommend removing the statue of Rhodes, one of Britain’s leading imperialists. He made a fortune after pushing the empire to seize South Africa’s diamond mines in the 19th century and co-founded De Beers, which became the dominant producer of the gems. He was a major benefactor of Oriel, which established the Rhodes Scholarship in his name.
Earlier this month, protesters in Bristol toppled a statue of the slave trader Edward Colston during an anti-racist demonstration and dumped it in the English city’s harbor.
By the mid-18th century, just three decades after Colston’s death, Britain controlled the lion’s share of the slave trade. The profits from colonialism built the Industrial Revolution and many great civic buildings across the U.K. with cities raising statues to their benefactors.
Original story – Bloomberg