ABN Amro apologizes for historical links to slavery; Will not pay reparations
The companies and organizations which were the forerunners to Dutch bank ABN Amro were largely involved in the slave trade, the bank said in a report on its history. One banking house that became part of the modern major bank via mergers was a linchpin to the slavery economy of the Caribbean during the 18th century. Another predecessor was an insurance broker for slave ships.
ABN Amro offered its “heartfelt apologies” for its historical involvement in slavery, the bank said on Wednesday. The bank will not offer financial compensation for those affected by its practices in generations past, but the banking group will take more action to combat social inequality.
“The current ABN Amro cannot undo this period in its history. We realize that this injustice from the past continued after the official abolition of slavery. ABN Amro apologizes for its actions, and the pain that these predecessors inflicted in the past,” said the bank’s CEO, Robert Swaak.
Since 2020, researchers from the International Institute of Social History (IISH) have been investigating to what extent the predecessors to ABN Amro were involved in slavery. One of those forerunners was Hope & Co., which was founded in the eighteenth century by the Amsterdam brothers Thomas and Adrian Hope. At least through the end of that century, the bank provided loans to plantations where slaves worked. Those same plantations often served as collateral for those loans, including the thousands of enslaved people who carried out forced labor there. Hope & Co. eventually acquired two plantations and the enslaved people living there, according to the historical research. The bank also actively interfered with the business of plantation owners, sometimes urging firms to buy or sell enslaved people.
Another predecessor involved in slavery was Mees & Zoonen, an insurance broker which arranged at least 16 insurance policies for slave ships. Enslaved people were described in policies as goods and objects which can become damaged. Mees & Zoonen shareholders also invested a portion of their private assets in Surinamese plantations.
By apologizing, ABN Amro is going a step further than De Nederlandsche Bank, for example. The Dutch central bank has been linked to slavery multiple times in the past, but claims it is still reflecting on historians’ conclusions before it will issue an apology. In contrast, the Bank of England, the UK’s central bank, apologized in 2020. Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Utrecht have also apologized for the role they played in slavery.
ABN Amro now intends to put forward an additional effort to combat social inequality and promote diversity. The bank said it was already doing this through internships and traineeships. Through conversations with organizations like the National Institute for the Study of Dutch Slavery and its Legacy (NiNsee), the bank said it learned that the descendants of enslaved people believe there is more needed to repair this legacy than a sum of money.
ABN Amro said this is also the case because it is unclear who should be paid. Discussions are still ongoing about further concrete steps that can be taken, according to the bank.
Reporting by ANP.