Lloyd’s of London accused of ‘reparations washing’ over response to slave trade review

Lloyd’s of London has been accused of “reparations washing” over its response to an academic review that lays bare its “significant role” in making the transatlantic slave trade possible.

Lloyd’s, founded in 1688 and the world’s largest insurance market, released findings on Wednesday from 18 months of research that sought to determine the depth of its ties to the slave trade.

It found that Lloyd’s members had:

insured the largest slave shipowners in the early 1800s;
used their personal experience with enslavement to work within the slave trade;
facilitated relationships between slave ship captains, shipowners, and insurance underwriters;
and actively protested against the abolition of the slave trade across the British empire in 1807.

The research, conducted by academics from the US universities Johns Hopkins and Brown, did not aim to quantify the financial wealth that Lloyd’s and its members amassed through the slave trade.

However, analysis of a single ledger from 1807 showed that one underwriter and Lloyd’s member, Horatio Claggett, alone insured about a third of all known slave ship voyages that left England in the final year that it was technically legal to trade enslaved people.

Lloyd’s – which formally apologised for its role in the slave trade in 2020 – said the research proved the corporation “played a significant role in enabling the transatlantic slave trade and economy, forming part of a sophisticated network of financial interests and activities that made these activities possible”. However, it stopped short of offering reparations, which compensate the descendants of individuals affected by wrongdoing.

Instead, the insurance market – which reported a £769m loss in 2022 but made a profit of £2.3bn a year earlier – said it was committing £52m towards a “programme of initiatives” including those that would help people from black and ethnically diverse backgrounds to “participate and progress from the classroom to the boardroom”.

That includes about £12m aimed at recruiting more people from diverse backgrounds into the insurance industry, and supporting charities focused on social mobility. Meanwhile, it will earmark £40m towards profit-making investments in the African Development Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, which has programmes in the Caribbean.

However, Kehinde Andrews, a professor of black studies at Birmingham City University, criticised Lloyd’s response, saying efforts to address its history of support for the slave trade were “completely inadequate” and amounted to “reparations washing”. The amount of money involved was “offensive – that is nothing to them at all”.

Andrews said: “This is PR: giving an apology, making some commitments, but this is not serious. You’re talking about massive amounts of wealth that they owe back to people.

“And it’s a reminder of just how important insurance was to the system; slavery can’t happen without insurance. Lloyd’s is a good example of how slavery has birthed modern capitalism, and the fact Lloyd’s has done so well is a good example of it.”

Lloyd’s joins other institutions in reviewing and trying to respond to its role in the slave trade. The Church of England said in January that it would spend £100m on investment, research and engagement over the next nine years to “address past wrongs”.

The Guardian’s owner, the Scott Trust, issued an apology in March for the role that the newspaper’s founders had in transatlantic slavery. The trust is working with reparations experts on how to deploy a restorative justice fund worth more than £10m, which will include support for community projects and programmes in the south-eastern US Sea Islands and Jamaica over the next 10 years.

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The Lloyd’s chair, Bruce Carnegie-Brown, said of its response: “It’s not just about the money. It’s about the real engagement of individuals in our market to make a difference to these lives, where we really have a realistic chance of having a significant impact.”

Shabna Begum, one of the interim chief executives of the race equality thinktank the Runnymede Trust, said she welcomed the fact that Lloyd’s was “beginning to do some of the work to acknowledge that their wealth, power and influence are derived from slavery”.

However, she said Lloyd’s needed to address issues, including its 21.5% pay gap for black employees, “not just through more ‘inclusion and diversity’ but through active anti-racist policies that address inequalities in income and pay now.

“The problems are not resolved through one-off payments but through active responsibility for ongoing economic injustice, globally and domestically.”

Lloyd’s said it disputed the characterisation of its response, which it stressed would span a number of years and was part of a broader package of initiatives.

This article was amended on 8 November 2023. The insurance market made a profit of £2.3bn, not £2.3m, in 2021.


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