Banks give you loans. Banks send you check books you never use. Banks even text you when your account is overdrawn. Banks are so important that when they get into a mess, the government bails them out, unlike the rest […]
Banks give you loans. Banks send you check books you never use. Banks even text you when your account is overdrawn. Banks are so important that when they get into a mess, the government bails them out, unlike the rest of us.
But did you know that the banks that exist today, maybe even the bank that you use, were built off the back of slavery?
How Your Banks Made Money From Slavery?
From 1619, 11 million African men, women and children were stolen from their homes and put to work on the sugar, tobacco, and cotton plantations of America and the Caribbean.
Their forced labor helped build Britain into a global superpower. And even after slave owning was abolished in Britain, the British taxpayer still paid £20 million, that’s 40 percent of the national budget, or £16.5 billion in today’s money, as compensation for slavery.
No, not to the slaves; the money went to the owners. Not a single penny was given to those who had been enslaved. The amount borrowed was so huge that the debt wasn’t paid off until 2015, which means that if you payed tax at any point before that, your money went towards compensating slave owners.
All four of the UK’s largest high street banks have been linked to the slave trade by way of these compensation payments for their loss of human property. Barclays Bank was founded out of a merger with a colonial bank that helped fund the British Empire, and several senior Barclays bankers were involved in the slave trade.
Through HSBC’s merger with Midland Bank, one of its first managers, George Pollard, received £230,000 of today’s money from British taxpayers as compensation.
In exchange, he gave up 134 enslaved people on the Caribbean island of Nevis in the 1830s. The president of Lloyds Bank, John White Cater, also received compensation for estates in Jamaica in 1835.
And 27 former members of the Bank of England were linked to slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries, including 11 former governors.
Even after Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807, we continued to profit off it. Bankers just pivoted to indirect means of making money from the exploitation and trafficking of human beings.
The City of London provided the finance for slave traders all around the world, and loans were one way of making money. So a British bank would loan money to a US plantation owner to buy more slaves or agricultural equipment.
If you think mortgages are secured against the land you own, think again.
So-called plantation mortgages, where US slave owners would borrow money from British banks, were secured against the value of the slaves they owned, not their land. The Royal Bank of Scotland offered plantation mortgages. So did Barclays.
These mortgages were then bundled into bonds and sold to investors all over the world. When the US slave owners made repayments, the people who owned those bonds made a small profit. The City of London has defined British wealth for hundreds of years.
Money comes in and money goes out to countries all over the world. And our status as a global power rests on our financial institutions. But the labor that built many of these institutions was enslaved. Iconic buildings like the Guildhall in the heart of the City of London epitomize Britain’s involvement with the slave trade.
Between 1660 and 1690, 15 Lord Mayors of London were shareholders in the Royal African Company, which shipped more African slaves to the Americas than any other institution in the history of slavery.
A statue of William Beckford Senior, twice Lord Mayor of London, still stands in the Guildhall to this day. Beckford grew rich off the toil of slaves he owned on 20,000 acres of land in Jamaica.
The Royal Exchange was the heart of the City of London, where stocks were bought and traded from all over the world. It was funded by Sir William Garrard, who helped to develop the Moroccan slave trade in the 1500s.
So the blood and toil of African slaves literally helped build the bricks of the City of London.
Following the Black Lives Matter protests, the insurance company Lloyd’s of London agreed to pay reparations to black community groups for its involvement in the slave trade.
Campaigners are calling on the banks to follow suit. So when you go to withdraw cash from an ATM, remember that it was your bank that was complicit all those years ago.
Slavery built the financial institutions we use today.
HSBC: 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 other types of discrimination.
Lloyds: 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.
Barclays: We can’t change what’s gone before, only how we go forward. We are committed as a bank to do more to further foster our culture of inclusiveness, equality and diversity.
RBS: We have recently set up a taskforce led by our BAME colleagues which will look at what more we can do as a bank.
This includes looking at making contributions to BAME groups. BoE: The Bank of England was never itself directly involved in the slave trade, but is aware of some inexcusable connections involving former Governors and Directors and apologises for them.
The Bank is committed to improving diversity and is actively engaging with staff, particularly with our BAME colleagues, to help us identify steps that can be taken now to be as inclusive as possible.