The Bank of England has apologised for links to slavery and pledged to ensure that no images of former officials linked to the trade are on display.
A database published by University College London shows that 27 former members of the Bank of England benefited or had links to the slave trade, including 11 former bank governors and 16 early directors. The Telegraph first reported the story.
The BoE said: “As an institution, 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 list includes 19th century bank governors and directors Benjamin Buck Greene, a merchant and shipowner; Timothy Abraham Curtis, a London merchant awarded compensation for the enslaved people on Cane Grove in St Vincent; and Richard Neave, a London Merchant. At his death, Sir Richard left to his sons all his interest in “a certain plantation, negroes premises with their appurtenances in the island of St Vincent (..) and his property and enslaved people on Dominica”, according to UCL.
Following the death of George Floyd in the US last month and the growing Black Lives Matter movement, institutions have come under increasing pressure to be more transparent about their links to colonialism and slavery and to address them.
The bank announced it had started “a thorough review of its collection of images of former governors and directors to ensure none with any such involvement in the slave trade remain on display anywhere in the bank”.
“The bank is committed to improving diversity and is actively engaging with staff, particularly with our Bame colleagues, to help us identify and shape concrete steps that can be taken now to progress the bank’s efforts to be as inclusive as possible,” it added.
All four of the UK’s largest high street banks have also been linked to the compensation payments made to slave owners after the abolition of slavery, through historic companies that eventually merged to create the modern groups.
Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds Banking Group and Barclays all said this week that they were not proud of their roles in the slave trade but were committed to doing more for black and ethnic minority employees and communities in future. HSBC declined to comment.
RBS, which first acknowledged its links to the slave trade in a report more than a decade ago, said: “Black Lives Matter is having a profound impact on us as an organisation,” adding that “we know we have a substantial role to play in tackling these inequalities.”
RSA, the insurance group, said it was also working on several initiatives including donating to charities that address racism and improve awareness of black history.
“We know that much of the wealth and power of Britain was built on the transatlantic slave trade,” said Jabeer Butt, chief executive at the charity Race Equality Foundation. “It is important to recognise the moral and political failures that brought it about, and the lasting damage it has done.”
The UCL database, created at the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership with the support of the Hutchins Center at Harvard, includes nearly 50,000 individuals who are classified as beneficiaries to some extent of the slave trade, including nearly 100 clergymen from the Church of England.
The Church described its links as a “source of shame”.
This week, the governing body of Oxford university’s Oriel College recommended the removal of a statue of Victorian imperialist Cecil Rhodes, that had been the target of protests.
The movement has been given impetus by a greater health and financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on ethnic minorities. Data published on Friday by the Office for National Statistics showed that since the start of the pandemic to May 15 the rate of deaths involving Covid-19 for black males was 3.3 times greater than that for white males of the same age, while the rate for black females was 2.4 times greater than for white females.
“Adjusting for socio-economic factors and geographical location partly explains the increased risk, but there remains twice the risk for black males and around one and half times for black females,” said Nick Stripe, head of health analysis and life events at the ONS. “Significant differences also remain for Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian men.”