Work and World

How Banks Made Money From Slavery | Empires Of Dirt

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? Empires of Dirt, a show about
Europeans getting rich at the expense of everyone else. [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.“]
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