Big business benefited from slavery – let it pay reparations

Much of the debate about reparations for slavery has so far been conducted in terms of whether Britain as a nation profited or not (Lloyd’s of London accused of ‘reparations washing’ over response to slave trade review, 8 November). There is an assumption in this that citizens of a nation state are automatically implicated in, and may be held responsible for, the actions of the government, military and ruling class of that nation.

There is little discussion about what the business of slavery meant for the working class in Britain at the time, the overwhelming majority of whom lived in abject poverty. Trickle-down economics was no more a reality in the 18th and 19th centuries than it is today.

There is no way that the governments of Britain during the years of legal enslavement can be seen to have represented anyone other than the landed aristocracy, the enslavers and slave traffickers, and merchant capital from the City of London.

Profits from the trafficking and labour of enslaved workers contributed significantly to the accumulation of capital in Britain. These profits went, directly or indirectly, to the manufacturers and suppliers linked to the trafficking of enslaved Africans, to the shipping industry, and into the building of infrastructure such as canals and railways – but above all to banks and insurance companies.

It therefore seems reasonable that today’s large corporations should refund the unpaid wages from which their predecessors profited so handsomely. Perhaps a special corporation tax to fund reparations would be an appropriate solution.
Dr Steve Cushion

Lloyd’s of London’s response to US research into its involvement in the slave trade fails, as have similar attempts made by bankers and western governments, to distance itself from the enduring damage it has caused not just to enslaved people and their descendants but to all of the countries of sub-Saharan Africa.

That harm did not end in 1833, when slavery was finally abolished. It continued by other means, notably through colonialism and by economic and trade exploitation, which still exist.

The high levels of child and maternal mortality and of child malnutrition found across the continent stand as a sickening testament to western indifference and greed. In 1978, when the World Health Organization proposed a model for healthcare that would have brought primary health services to local communities in sub-Saharan Africa, it was rejected by an unholy alliance of the World Bank, the Ford and Rockefeller foundations, and Unicef.
Brian Waller
Author of African Children in Peril: The West’s Toxic Legacy

I was delighted that you chose to highlight the role that Lloyd’s of London played in Britain’s slave trade. In particular, I was pleased that you highlighted the role of Joseph Marryat MP, who was chair of Lloyd’s and a leading defender of the slave trade, from which he and his family derived huge profits (Lloyd’s of London slavery review fails to settle heated question of reparations, 8 November). Records show that they owned 1,466 enslaved people in the West Indies.

Your article mentions that William Wilberforce, the abolitionist, described Marryat as a pro-slavery “fanatic”. Wilberforce and Marryat were, in fact, near neighbours around Wimbledon Common in London at the beginning of the 19th century.

Shamefully, Marryat has two roads in the area named after him, and for several years I have pressed the local authority, Merton council, to at least signify in writing on the signs that these roads are named after a notorious enslaver. After a consultation by the council this year, it has said that it will add a QR code to signs on these roads – and others named after people with links to the slave trade – directing people to further information online. In my view this is not enough.
Peter Walker
Wimbledon, London

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