Banks historical links to the slave trade

Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, and NatWest Group have all been identified as having historical links to slavery.

A new project from University College London has tracked the beneficiaries of the 1837 Slave Compensation Action, which paid £20 million in ‘compensation’ to slave owners for the abolition of slavery – worth billions in 2020 terms.

It has found that an estimated 10-20% of the UK’s wealth has significant ties to slavery, including that of many UK financial institutions.

Individuals involved in predecessor banks that merged to form Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, and NatWest Group were among those listed as having received compensation for their slave ownership.

NatWest Group (formerly Royal Bank of Scotland) published a report in 2009 which found that directors of NatWest Group’s predecessor banks had owned slaves, as well as providing loans and other support for plantation owners.

Eighteen directors of NatWest’s predecessor banks are identified in the UCL database as having links to slavery.

NatWest Group said:

We have a strong multicultural network across the bank and have recently set up a taskforce led by our BAME [Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic] colleagues which will look at what more we can do as a bank. This includes looking at making contributions to BAME groups.”

HSBC merged with Midland Bank in 1992, a predecessor of which – the London Joint Stock Bank – has clear links to slavery. Its first manager, George Pollard, jointly received equivalent to £230,000 today for giving up 134 slaves in Nevis.

HSBC said:

We are committed to learning from the past and, in particular, anything that would be inconsistent with our values today. HSBC has zero tolerance towards racial discrimination, or any other type of discrimination.”

Eight former companies associated with Lloyds Banking Group have links to those who claimed or received compensation for the banning of slavery. In the 1860s, the bank merged with several other institutions. John White Carter was director for one of these and received compensation for owning 80 people enslaved over five estates.

Lloyds said:

A lot has changed during the 300-year history of our brands and while we have much within our heritage to be proud of, we can’t be proud of it all.

We stand against racism, slavery and discrimination in all its forms and truly believe that by reflecting, understanding, promoting, and valuing the diversity of our colleagues, we will deliver better results. We can do more, we can do better and we will do it together.”

 

Barclays is made up of 250 predecessor banks, one of which - the Colonial Bank - clearly indicates its role in the British Empire.

Two managers, a subscriber, and three directors have been named on the UCL website as either having been involved in the slave trade or having received compensation. Barclays told The Guardian:

The history of Barclays, like other institutions, is being examined following recent events. We can’t change what’s gone before us, only how we go forward.

We are committed as a bank to do more to further foster our culture of inclusiveness, equality, and diversity, for our colleagues, and the customers and clients we serve.

It is interesting to view the banks’ fine words about making things better going forward in the context of three of them being listed as having ongoing financial connections with the US private prison providers, discussed in our feature.

See our guides to ethical banking and ethical business banking

Calls for reparations

Caribbean nations are calling for reparations from firms that profited from the slave trade. An alliance of 12 countries, which includes Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados, has said that leading British institutions should take part in a “negotiated settlement” to return some of the wealth back to the Caribbean.

Hilary Beckles, chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Commission, representing the alliance, says,

“Unfortunately, one cannot go back and remake the history but you can make atonement: it is not enough to make your apology as a public spectacle, it is not enough to present it as public relations exercise.

It is not about public relations – it is about a negotiated settlement whereby everyone finds closure within a moral framework. To say sorry and issue a press release is disrespectful – it does not fly with the people who were victimised.”