Bank of England apologises over 'inexcusable' slavery links

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·3-min read
Bank of England
Bank of England Bank has expanded the size of its bond-buying programme by £100bn to mitigate economic impact of coronavirus pandemic.

The Bank of England (BoE) has apologised over its former leaders’ historic links to the slave trade, vowing to remove any pictures of them from Threadneedle Street.

It comes a day after insurance giant Lloyd’s of London and pub chain Greene King also issued similar denunciations of their ties to 18th and 19th century slavery. Both promised to do more to tackle challenges facing ethnic minorities, including funding external organisations and internal diversity and inclusion measures.

It marks the latest development in the wake of the toppling of a slave trader’s statue during a Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol, triggered by the deaths of George Floyd and other black Americans at the hands of the police.

A BoE spokesperson called slavery “an unacceptable part of English history.” At least 17 million Africans are thought to have been enslaved over several hundred years as a result of the transatlantic slave trade.

READ MORE: Lloyd’s of London and Greene King say sorry over slavery ties

“As an institution, the Bank of England was never itself directly involved in the slave trade, but is aware of some inexcusable connections involving former governors and directors and apologises for them,” said the central bank’s statement.

“The Bank has commenced a thorough review of its collection of images of former governors and directors to ensure none with any such involvement in the slave trade remain on display anywhere in the Bank.”

The BoE is now “activity engaging” with staff and particularly ethnic minority workers to improve its efforts to be as “inclusive as possible.”

It is the latest in a string of British organisations to issue a mea culpa over slavery after increasing scrutiny of their past, with the Church of England also apologising over clergymen’s ties. It said that while it recognises “the leading role clergy and active members of the Church of England played in securing the abolition of slavery, it is a source of shame that others within the Church actively perpetrated slavery and profited from it.”

A spokesperson said: “In 2006 the General Synod of the Church of England issued an apology, acknowledging the part the Church itself played in historic cases of slavery.

“The Church of England is actively committed to combatting slavery in all its forms today, particularly through the work of the Clewer Initiative which works with our 42 dioceses to help support victims of modern slavery and identify the signs of exploitation in their communities.”

Many institutions and organisations have been asked by news outlets in the wake of fresh Black Lives Matter protests about their links recorded in a University College London (UCL) database on slave-owners and their legacy.

READ MORE: How to be a role model for change and the importance of ‘taking space’

But some say the statements do not go far enough. The reparations committee of the Caribbean Community (Caricom), a trade bloc of 15 nations, called for British institutions to provide more development funding to “make atonement” for their past.

"Unfortunately, one cannot go back and remake the history but you can make atonement: it is not enough to make your apology as a public spectacle," Hilary Beckles, chair of the committee, told Reuters.

"It is not about public relations – it is about a negotiated settlement whereby everyone finds closure within a moral framework," he said. "Public consciousness is catching up with history: that moment has come.”