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There are British businesses built on slavery. This is how we make amends | Catherine Hall | Opinion

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The news that major British institutions, from the Bank of England, a number of universities and Oriel College Oxford, to companies such as Lloyds of London and the brewery Greene King, have acknowledged their links to the slave trade, slavery and empire is most welcome. They have announced that they will interrogate the place of portraits and statues, provide money to redress inequalities, and be more inclusive in their practices.

It has been a long time coming. The scale of the George Floyd demonstrations, and the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue, alongside public recognition of the disproportionate number of the deaths of south Asian and black people due to Covid-19, have compelled responses from institutions and companies that have had the information available as to their shameful histories for years, but have chosen to ignore it.

The Legacies of British Slave-ownership (LBS) database was made public by University College London in 2013, and we have been adding material to it ever since. The database invites the nation to actively engage in reparative history, by which we mean exploring and understanding wrongs of the past in order to address the ways in which injustices may be acknowledged and put right.

The initial research concerned the £20m paid in compensation to slave owners when their human property – enslaved men and women across the British Caribbean, Mauritius and the Cape – were emancipated in 1834. Slave owners were paid a proportion of what was deemed to be the market value of these 670,000-plus persons. People who had been bought and sold were now for the last time priced as commodities, and the money went to the owners. They invested their spoils on a whole range of economic, political and cultural activities – from building railways and developing merchant banks to buying artworks, some of which now grace our national collections (helping to refurbish country houses preserved by the National Trust and English Heritage). They also invested their capital, both human and mobile, in the development of the new colonies of white settlement in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Emancipated men and women, meanwhile, struggled with their varied degrees of freedom.

Our subsequent research has focused on the Britons who owned property in land and people in the Caribbean from the mid-18th century to 1833 – opening up the long histories of white families who lived off the exploitation of enslaved people over generations. Our aim has been to provide unequivocal evidence of the ways in which white Britons have benefited from the slavery business, and how practices of racial injustice are historically embedded in British society and culture – how the past lives on in the present.

We use the term the “slavery business” to encompass the range of economic activities associated with British slavery. There is confusion in many people’s minds between the slave trade – the capture of men, women and children, mainly in west Africa, their sale to European traders in exchange for guns, textiles etc and their terrible forced crossings of the Atlantic and sale in the New World – and slavery. The latter refers to the condition of being enslaved, regarded as property, with that status passed on generationally. It meant working on plantations, in stock-breeding pens and as urban workers in the Caribbean, producing the sugar which had become part of British life, treasured not least for that iconic English cup of tea.

Both the slave trade and slavery were supported by a host of other activities which were crucial to the development of the British economy in the late 18th and early 19th century. Merchants provided the credit lines for both traders and plantation owners; the metal industries produced guns, fetters, bolts, nails, and all manner of iron work necessary for the plantation economy; the famous engineering firm Boulton and Watt sent some of its earliest steam engines to Jamaica; the shipbuilding industry, the dockworkers, the sailors; the sugar refining industry; the grocers who sold to the consumers – and so it went on.

Colston Street in Bristol, named after slave trader Edward Colston.



Colston Street in Bristol, named after slave trader Edward Colston. Photograph: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

None of this stopped after emancipation, when British capital moved into cotton and fed the massive expansion of slavery in the US south, the extensive use of indentured labour on the tea plantations in India and for sugar in the Caribbean. Contrary to the myth, Britain’s economy became more dependent on slavery after emancipation than it was before.

The history of Greene King gives a glimpse into some of these entanglements. Benjamin Greene started off as an apprentice to the leading brewing firm Whitbread in London, and would go on to inherit estates in the island of St Kitts, becoming one of many absentee slave owners living off their Caribbean property. Once emancipation happened he was one of the 4,000 people in Britain (20% of whom were women) who received compensation. His share was £4,000 – £270,000 in today’s money – for 1,396 enslaved men and women in St Kitts and Montserrat.

In 1836, he established a leading London merchant house dealing in colonial goods and shipping. His son Benjamin Buck Greene, who spent time in St Kitts and was a successful planter, married the daughter of a prosperous merchant trader in Mauritius and set up a partnership with him. Greene gained recognition as a respectable entrepreneur and philanthropist, and was appointed governor of the Bank of England in 1873. Meanwhile the brewery flourished under the management of Benjamin’s third son Edward Greene, and the Caribbean estates continued to be profitable up to the 1840s.

Another son, Charles, was dispatched to St Kitts aged 16 to look after the estates but died three years later having fathered, it was believed, 13 illegitimate children. The novelist Graham Greene, his great-nephew, wrote in his autobiography, A Sort of Life, of encounters with his “coloured Greenes”, one of the many legacies of British slave ownership. His family’s activities as slave owners and merchants, buttressed by inheritance, strategic marriages and partnerships, had secured their fortunes for generations. The “coloured Greenes”, as he called them, alongside the descendants of the enslaved and the indentured on their plantations, bear witness to the unequal legacies of racial capitalism as it was practised across the empire.

In the next phase of our work, LBS aims to document the enslaved of the British Caribbean in the last decades before emancipation, tracking connections between named men, women and children, the slaveholders, and the estates and properties between 1817-33. Who knows what connections into the present will emerge from this work, and what demands it will be possible to make on the basis of new evidence?

Catherine Hall is emerita professor of history at UCL, and chair of the Centre for the study of British Slave-ownership

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200 Quebec fitness businesses says they will reopen despite COVID-19 restrictions

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MONTREAL – A coalition of about 200 Quebec gym, yoga, dance and martial arts business owners say they intend to reopen their doors on Thursday in defiance of provincial health rules.

The businesses are calling on Quebec Premier Francois Legault to lift COVID-19 restrictions that forced fitness facilities to close this month.

In a statement, they say their facilities contribute to the overall physical and mental health of the population and they were not the source of COVID-19 outbreaks.

They say the lockdown measures will force them out of business after they’ve made significant investments to comply with health measures during the pandemic.

The owners say they intend to reopen across the province but will back down if health authorities can demonstrate by Thursday that their operations have led to outbreaks.

On Oct. 8, Quebec introduced new public health measures for regions under the province’s highest COVID-19 alert level, shuttering gyms, putting limits on team sports and making masks mandatory for high school students.

Last week, Legault hinted that some red zone restrictions would remain in place even as the initial 28-day lockdown in Montreal and Quebec City come to an end on Wednesday.

Legault, Health Minister Christian Dube and Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s director of public health, are to hold a news conference this afternoon.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 26, 2020.



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AIG settles lawsuit for more than CA$500 million

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AIG settles lawsuit for more than CA$500 million

American International Group (AIG) has settled a tax shelter lawsuit, related to seven cross-border transactions made during the mid-1990s – transactions designed to generate bogus foreign tax credits, a US attorney said.

According to the acting US attorney for the Southern District of New York, AIG has agreed to pay a 10% penalty and disallow more than $400 million (around CA$526 million) in foreign tax credits.

The settlement ends a US investigation into the tax shelters; prosecutors said those shelters allowed AIG to create phony foreign tax credits and reduce its taxes in the US. In 2009, AIG filed a suit seeking a refund based on claimed credits for 1997. But the federal government determined that the transactions “lacked any meaningful economic substance” or legitimate business purpose.

“AIG created an elaborate series of sham transactions that were designed to do nothing — and in fact did nothing — other than generate hundreds of millions of dollars in ill-gotten tax benefits for AIG,” said US attorney for the Southern District of New York Audrey Strauss.

Bloomberg reported that the settlement deal was approved last Thursday by US District Judge Louis Stanton.

“After already reaching and disclosing our January 2018 agreement in principle regarding these transactions that date to the 1990s, we are pleased to put this longstanding matter behind us,” an AIG spokesperson said in an email statement.

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Business reports that can change the world in the fight against climate change

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The FSB, at the request of the G20, created the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures to create a framework of recommendations. In 2017 the TCFD published a guide whose purpose was to ensure that disclosures are consistent, reliable, and clear. Thus, businesses will be ready to face new challenges as they emerge while providing the necessary information to allow investors to assess the company’s climate performance.

This task force is led by Michael Bloomberg (former Mayor of New York) and includes prominent figures such as Mary Schapiro, head of the Secretariat, or Christian Thimann, former co-chair of UNEP FI. These recommendations are backed by governments, investors and financial leaders and were recently translated into Spanish to foster broader adoption across the Spanish-speaking business community.

TCFD reports must comply with the following points:

  • They must be adoptable by all organizations, financial and non-financial.
  • They must be included in financial filings, turning the annual report into an integrated report.
  • The report should be designed to solicit decision-useful, forward-looking information on financial impacts.

The TCFD established that reports should be structured around four core elements: These must be related to governance, strategy, risk management, and metrics and targets.

Regarding governance, it noted that reports should clearly state the position of the board and the organization’s management in the assessment of climate-related risks and threats. The entire organization must be aligned in this regard.

As for the strategy, reports should disclose the current and potential impact of risks and opportunities on business and financial planning. In addition, they should also define the company’s resilience, i.e. its ability to overcome the climate-related challenges.

Regarding risk management, the recommendations emphasize that reports should identify, assess and manage climate-related risks. Finally, the recommendations establish the need to report on the metrics and data analyzed and used to reach the above conclusions.

Another key aspect that the Task Force singled out is that reports should collect and disclose the risks and opportunities facing the organization, as well as their estimated financial impact. those related to the transition to a low emission and energy sustainable economy; and those risks related to the physical impacts of climate change.

BBVA and the TFCD recommendations

As one of the early-adopters of the sustainable strategies promoted by the United Nations, BBVA observes the recommendations set forth in 2017 by the TCFD both in its decision making processes and the disclosure of their impact in its annual reports. In 2018, it described all the actions and financial impact related to climate change in its annual report, under the heading ‘Sustainable Finance’, which also included the organization’s Global Eco-efficiency Plan. This action plan is included in BBVA’s Pledge 2025.

Likewise, the bank was recognized as Best Sustainable Bank in Spain 2020 by Capital Finance International, print journal news and online resource reporting on international business, economics, and finance. In reaching its verdict, the jury cited the initiatives adopted by the bank around this matter, which includes the fight against climate change. For 2025, the goal is to mobilize €100 billion. As of June 30, 2020, the bank had already reached 40 percent of this overall target.

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