Dutch central bank closely involved with colonial slavery: study
De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB) was involved in slavery in various ways. That is the conclusion of the study "Service to the chain?" by Leiden University into DNB's involvement in the Dutch slavery past from its foundation in 1814 until the abolition of slavery in 1863. Some of the bank's seed capital came from entrepreneurs with direct interests in plantation slavery. Of the small group of sixteen principle investors and administrators, only five had no "direct intensive involvement in slavery."
Two of the sixteen investors were born in Suriname as children of plantation owners. According to the researchers, that is "illustrative of this group's proximity to slavery." "More than their contemporaries," prominent DNB members were "personally, administratively, and politically involved in colonial slavery," the researchers concluded. Some administrators were directly involved in plantation management.
Some of them also defended the political interests of sale owners. They were involved in drafting legislation that abolished slavery. Enslavers received compensation after the Dutch abolition of slavery. "That legislation was beneficial to the enslavers, partly due to the contribution of prominent DNB employees," according to the study. Of the six DNB directors, three received compensation after the abolition of slavery, including the president.
After its founding, DNB was directly involved in Dutch colonial slavery. It made no distinction between customers who were or were not involved in slavery. The bank also provided services to trading houses involved in slavery. They loaned goods to DNB that had been made by slave labor. Nearly 30 percent of the goods loaned to DNB were produced by enslaved people.
DNB supported the Ministry of the Colonies in its day-to-day payment transactions. As a result, the bank had an important role in paying compensation to enslavers. The daily slavery-related financial transactions in the colonies did not go through DNB because the bank's branches were only located in Amsterdam for a long time.
The researchers did point out that in the 19th century, DNB was not yet the major central bank and supervisor it is today. Slavery had not yet been banned by law, and the relationship between parliament and the head of state was different. "Views about improper forms of conflicts of interests also differed from what we are used to," they said. King Willem I and the Dutch government were also DNB investors from the start but are not included in the group of sixteen main investors.
DNB president Klaas Knot said that the investigation findings "hit fairly hard" at the bank. "The extent to which my predecessors in office worked to prevent the abolition of slavery touched me," the president said. According to him, the bank contributed to the perpetuation of slavery, while it was already a controversial subject when DNB was founded.
Knot did not immediately want to apologize because he first wanted to talk to employees of his bank and representatives of social organizations. These discussions will indicate what follow-up steps DNB will take later this year. Ultimately, Knot wants to "make a gesture that has lasting value for those involved and Dutch society."
The Bank of England (BoE) apologized in 2020 for its role in the slavery past. The British central bank, founded in 1694, said it was not directly involved in the slave trade itself, but many former administrators were involved. The BoE also removed ten paintings and busts of former governors and directors associated with the enslaved trade from its London headquarters and the bank's adjacent museum.
DNB also has paintings of former administrators who played a role in the slavery past. These are currently in a depot because the head office is being renovated. "Before they return, there is definitely a lot of thought going into what to do with these paintings," Knot said. They may be hung up in the head office again, but with an extra explanation.
Amsterdam and Rotterdam apologized last year for the cities' role in the slavery past. The Dutch banks ABN AMRO and InsingerGilissen, whose legal predecessors may have been involved, have also commissioned investigations into their slavery past. They are still ongoing.
Reporting by ANP.