Business giants in Britain have apologized for their historical role in the transatlantic slave trade, in the wake of global anti-racism protests that have toppled statues of slave traders and forced brands, such as Aunt Jemima, to replace imagery and symbols linked to slavery.
Insurer Lloyds of London, founded in 1688, is believed to be the world’s largest insurance market and insured slave ships.
The market said in a statement first reported in The Telegraph newspaper: “There are some aspects of our history that we are not proud of.
“In particular, we are sorry for the role played by the Lloyd’s market in the 18th and 19th-Century slave trade,” it added.
The U.K.’s biggest pub retailer and brewer, Greene King, also addressed their link to slavery in a statement from CEO Nick Mackenzie, who said: “It is inexcusable that one of our founders profited from slavery and argued against its abolition in the 1800s. While that is a part of our history, we are now focused on the present and the future.”
The brewer was founded in 1799 by Benjamin Greene, who owned plantations, more than 200 slaves, according to a University College London database, and was opposed to the abolition of slavery.
Both companies have committed to investing in Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities and developing diverse talent internally.
The apologies come hours after governors at Oxford University’s Oriel College agreed to take down a highly contentious statue of colonialist and benefactor Cecil Rhodes, following years of the “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign to have it removed.
Lloyds said in its statement: “This was an appalling and shameful period of English history, as well as our own, and we condemn the indefensible wrongdoing that occurred during this period.”
Up until 2015, the British government was still paying debts for the compensation to the descendants of slave owners for the “loss of human property”. The compensation began after slavery was abolished in 1833, and the U.K. government pledged £20 million ($25 million) at the time to pay the funds. Greene received about £500,000 in the scheme.
The past few weeks have forced companies and institutions to start publicly acknowledging and confronting their historical links to slavery and racism. On Tuesday, Quaker announced it would replace the Aunt Jemima pancake mix syrup criticized for being a racist caricature, while rice brand Uncle Ben, owned by Mars and bearing the ;likeness of a Black man, will “evolve”, the company said.
Black Lives Matter protests have been sustained for almost a month following the death of unarmed Black man George Floyd in police custody on May 25, with demonstrators calling for an end to racism and police brutality. The movement has spread to industries spanning food, entertainment, education and beyond, with critics and employees applying pressure on corporations to address institutional and systemic racism within the workplace and branding, and to go beyond making anti-racism statements on social media.
UK taxpayers were paying compensation to slave traders until 2015 (The London Economic)