Home Art collection London’s financial district, steeped in slavery, confronts its past

London’s financial district, steeped in slavery, confronts its past

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LONDON (Reuters) – British ships have transported more than 3 million enslaved Africans across the Atlantic Ocean. Lloyd’s of London has insured many of these ships, the people chained below deck sometimes classified as “perishable goods”, alongside cattle, by market insurers.

FILE PHOTO: A person walks past the Bank of England in the City of London financial district, London, Britain June 11, 2021. REUTERS / Henry Nicholls / File Photo

Lloyd’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade is not included in the market’s permanent display in his modernist city tower, but that is about to change.

“The legacy of slavery is racism. You can’t do what you need to do to make slavery work unless you make the slaves less than human, ”said Nick Draper, a former JPMorgan banker who was founding director of the Center for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery. (LBS) at University College London

“We did it on the basis of ethnicity, race and skin color. It’s steeped in British and European culture – that’s what we’re working on right now.

Along with other financial institutions in London, the insurance market has been forced to come to terms with its racist past following last year’s Black Lives Matter protests.

Lloyd’s and the Bank of England have each hired a historian to look into their roles in the slave trade and plan to release the results next year.

The exhibits will highlight the fortunes invented by a barbaric system and the role played by some of the city’s most venerable greats in keeping it afloat, including people such as John Julius Angerstein, known as ‘Lloyd’s Father’. .

The titan of 18th century industry was president of the market when much of his business was based on the slave trade and Lloyd’s says there is evidence to suggest he was a trustee of estates in the Caribbean that held slaves.

His portrait hangs in the HQ of the market.

President Bruce Carnegie-Brown wants Lloyd’s to be candid about his past, but he doesn’t want the paintings removed.

“I’d rather tell the story than cancel them,” he told Reuters.

The African-Caribbean Insurance Network (ACIN), set up to strengthen the representation of blacks and ethnic minorities in the London insurance market, disagrees. He said companies should look at “organizational artifacts and remove racist ones” in line with recommendations submitted to the London market last year.

ACIN co-founder Junior Garba, a Lloyd’s insurer, said it’s best to place the items in museums.

“We cannot ignore history. We can explain it, we can educate it.

DEEP ROOTS

The roots of the slave trade run deep and wide in the famous institutions of London.

The Angerstein art collection, comprising works by Rubens, Raphael and Rembrandt, formed the core of the National Gallery in London when it was founded.

The gallery makes no mention of Angerstein’s links to the slave trade on its website. He is said to belong to the Black Poor Relief Committee, an organization with abolitionist interests.

In an email to Reuters, the National Gallery said it was working with LBS to clarify the links between slave ownership, art collecting and philanthropy in Britain and will release the first results later this year. Angerstein will be included in this study.

According to Draper’s research, Angerstein was “a beneficiary of slavery in the marine insurance industry on which he based his career and fortune”. There is no evidence that he was a slave trader.

A decision on what to do with the portraits of Angerstein and other important names from Lloyd’s will be made after Victoria Lane, previously archivist at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, completes her review.

Lane, who started working at Lloyd’s last month, browses art, swords, silverware and documents held by the marketplace. Lloyd’s refused to make her available for interview.

The Bank of England removed 10 portraits and busts of former governors and directors linked to the slave trade earlier this year and plans to explain their role in an exhibit at its museum next year, a spokesperson said .

The statues of two politicians linked to the slave trade are expected to remain in Guildhall, the ceremonial center for the City of London, after an earlier decision to remove them.

The Financial District Municipal Authority will discuss a report this week that recommends preserving the monuments of two-time Lord Mayor William Beckford and merchant John Cass, both of whom made their fortunes through slavery, with “plaques”. explanatory or notices’ placed next to them.

The report states that more than 2,000 responses to two consultations showed “low demand” for the removal of the statues.

HERITAGE

The European sugar colonies in the West Indies were built through the labor of African slaves in the 17th and 18th centuries, and the City of London was the financial center of the transatlantic human trade.

Historians estimate that between one and two thirds of the UK marine insurance market was based on the 18th century slave trade, in particular, insuring ships returning to Europe with the proceeds of the plantations.

Lloyd’s was one of the three main British marine insurers of the 18th century. The other two, Royal Exchange and London Assurance, were then merged into the insurers AXA and RSA.

AXA has apologized for its association with the slave trade and said it is working to make its workplace more inclusive.

RSA said there were aspects of its history that “don’t reflect the values ​​we hold today,” adding that the company is determined to fight injustice.

The legacy of the slavery industry persists, experts say.

Fewer than one in ten senior positions in financial services are held by blacks, Asians or other ethnic minorities, according to a discussion paper released by UK regulators in July.

The Bank of England has set a target of 18-20% black, Asian and minority ethnic senior executives by February 2028, up from 8.2% in November 2020.

The lack of progress in the city’s diversification puts pressure on the Financial Conduct Authority to act, and it said in July that executive pay may need to be tied to hiring improvements.

ACIN recommends that insurance companies set goals for the representation of ethnic minorities at senior levels.

Only 2% of Lloyd’s of London’s nearly 50,000 insurance market is black. He has “the ambition” that a third of all new recruits come from ethnic minorities.

“Legacy is part of the answer,” said Oliver Kent-Braham, co-founder of digital insurer Marshmallow.

“What’s important is that companies make sure they have really unbiased interview processes that aren’t heavily focused on the junior levels… making sure companies are hiring from everywhere. “

Additional reporting by Bart Meijer in Amsterdam and Koh Gui Qing in New York; Editing by Carmel Crimmins


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