London’s finance district, steeped in slavery, confronts its past By Reuters
© Reuters. FILEPHOTO: This is a person walking past the Bank of England at the City of London’s financial district in London, Britain on June 11, 2021. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File photo
Carolyn Cohn, Huw Jones
LONDON, (Reuters) – British ships carried more than 3 million enslaved Africans across the Atlantic Ocean. Lloyd’s of London insured many of those vessels, the people chained below deck sometimes categorized as “perishable goods”, alongside cattle, by the market’s underwriters.
Although Lloyd’s participation in trans-Atlantic slavery trade isn’t included in the permanent market’s exhibition in its modernistic City Tower, it is being considered.
The legacy of slavery has been racism. “You can’t make slavery work without making the slaves less human than you are,” stated Nick Draper (ex-JPMorgan (NYSE:), banker) and founder director of the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery at University College London.
We did this on the basis ethnicity, skin color and race. It’s embedded in British and European culture – that’s what we are working through now.”
After last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, London’s insurance industry was forced to confront its racism along with other London-based financial institutions.
Each of Lloyd’s Bank of England and Bank of England has hired historians to investigate their respective roles in slave trading. They plan on making public the findings in the coming year.
The exhibitions will shine a light on the fortunes coined off a barbarous system and the role played by some of the City’s most venerable grandees in keeping it afloat, including people such as John Julius Angerstein, known as ‘the father of Lloyd’s’.
Lloyd’s claims that the 18th century industry giant was the chairman of the market at a time when large parts of it’s business were based upon the slave trade. Lloyd’s also suggests that he may have been a trustee for Caribbean estates holding enslaved persons.
His portrait hangs in the market’s HQ.
Chairman Bruce Carnegie-Brown wants Lloyd’s to be upfront about its past but he doesn’t want paintings removed.
He told Reuters that he would rather tell the story, than have them cancelled.
African-Caribbean Insurance Network(ACIN) disagrees. It was established to improve Black and minority-ethnic representation in London’s market for insurance. According to London Market recommendations last year, it recommended that firms review their “organizational artifacts” and eliminate any which have racist connotations.
Junior Garba (ACIN founder) is Lloyd’s Underwriter. He said that it’s more beneficial to keep artifacts in museums.
We can’t forget the past. It is possible to explain and educate it.
London’s famous institutions have deep roots in the slavery trade.
Angerstein’s art collection which includes works by Rubens Raphael and Rembrandt formed the foundation of London’s National Gallery at its founding.
Angerstein’s connections to slavery are not mentioned in the gallery. However, it does state that Angerstein was part of the Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor (an organization representing abolitionist causes).
The National Gallery sent an email to Reuters stating that it is working with LBS in order to clear up the connections between slavery, British art collection, and philanthropy. Initial results will be published later in the year. Angerstein will also be part of that research.
Draper research has shown that Angerstein was “a beneficiary” of slavery within the marine insurance industry, which is where he built his fortune and career. It is not clear that Angerstein was a slave dealer.
Victoria Lane has finished her review and will make a decision about the portraits Angerstein’s and other Lloyd’s people.
Lane began working at Lloyd’s in the last month. She is now looking for art, silverware, and other documents. Lloyd’s declined to make her available for interview.
According to spokesperson, the Bank of England has removed 10 portraits of and busts of directors and governors who were involved in slave trading earlier this year. They plan to display their contributions at an exhibition next year.
Two statues of political figures with links to slave trade are set to remain at Guildhall.
The financial district’s municipal authority will this week discuss a report that recommends retaining monuments of twice Lord Mayor William Beckford and merchant John Cass, both of whom made fortunes off slavery, with “explanatory plaques or notices” placed next to them.
Two consultations with over 2,000 people resulted in “low demand” regarding the removal of statues.
Europe’s sugar colonies in the West Indies were built on slave labour from Africa during the 17th and 18th centuries and the City of London was the financial centre of the trans-Atlantic trade in humans.
One-third to two-thirds of British marine insurance markets were built on slavery trade. This included the insuring vessels returning from Europe using produce from plantations.
Lloyd’s was just one of three British 18th-century maritime insurers. Royal Exchange and London Assurance were also later merged into the insurers AXA or RSA.
AXA apologized for being associated with slavery trade and stated that it is working towards making its workplace more inclusive.
RSA said there were aspects of its history which “don’t reflect the values we hold today”, adding that the firm was committed to tackling injustice.
Experts say that slavery’s legacy is not going away.
According to the discussion paper that was published in July by UK regulators, less than 10% of financial service management positions are held by Black or Asian people.
Bank of England has established a target of 18-20% of top managers from Black, Asian, or minority-ethnic backgrounds in February 2028. That’s compared to 8.2% in November 2020.
Financial Conduct Authority is under pressure to take action because of the lack of progress on diversifying the City. In July, it stated that the pay for senior managers may have to be tied to better hiring.
ACIN suggests that insurance companies set goals for representation of ethnic minorities at senior level.
Blacks account for only 22% of London’s nearly 50,000-strong insurance market. There is an “ambition” that a third (of all) new hires will come from ethnic minority groups.
Oliver Kent-Braham co-founder Marshmallow’s digital insurance company, said “Legacy”
It is important that employers ensure that they conduct fair and impartial interviews that do not favor junior employees. This will help companies to hire from all walks of the company.