ABN Amro apologizes for historical links to slavery; Will not pay for repairs

The companies and organizations that were the forerunners of Dutch bank ABN Amro were heavily involved in the slave trade, the bank said in a report on its history. A banking house that became part of the big modern bank through mergers was the linchpin of the Caribbean slave economy in the 18th century. Another predecessor was an insurance broker for slave ships.

ABN Amro has offered its “sincere apologies” for its historic involvement in slavery, the bank said on Wednesday. The bank will not offer financial compensation to people affected by its practices in past generations, but the banking group will do more to fight against social inequalities.

“The current ABN Amro cannot undo this period of its history. We realize that this injustice of the past continued after the official abolition of slavery. ABN Amro apologizes for its actions and the pain these predecessors have inflicted in the past,” said bank CEO Robert Swaak.

Since 2020, researchers from the International Institute of Social History (IISH) have been studying the extent to which ABN Amro’s predecessors were involved in slavery. One such precursor was Hope & Co., which was founded in the 18th century by Amsterdam brothers Thomas and Adrian Hope. At least until the end of this century, the bank provided loans to plantations where slaves worked. These same plantations often served as collateral for these loans, including the thousands of slaves who performed forced labor there. Hope & Co. eventually acquired two plantations and the slaves who lived there, according to historical research. The bank also actively interfered in the affairs of plantation owners, sometimes urging companies to buy or sell slaves.

Another predecessor involved in slavery was Mees & Zoonen, an insurance broker who concluded at least 16 insurance policies for slave ships. Enslaved people have been described in policies as property and things that can be damaged. The shareholders of Mees & Zoonen have also invested part of their private assets in Surinamese plantations.

In apologizing, ABN Amro goes further than De Nederlandsche Bank, for example. The Dutch central bank has been linked to slavery on several occasions in the past, but says it always considers historians’ findings before issuing an apology. In contrast, the Bank of England, the UK’s central bank, issued an apology in 2020. Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht also apologized for their role in slavery.

ABN Amro now intends to make an additional effort to fight against social inequalities and promote diversity. The bank said it already does this through internships and internships. Through conversations with organizations like the National Institute for the Study of Dutch Slavery and its Legacy (NiNsee), the bank said it learned that descendants of slaves believed it was more necessary to repair this inheritance than a sum of money.

ABN Amro said this was also the case as it was unclear who should be paid. Discussions are still ongoing on other concrete steps that can be taken, according to the bank.

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