Britain and slavery: Who profited and what should they do now?

Wednesday 21 October 2020

Duration: 6:25PM - 7:30PM

Status: Completed

In the early 1800s, Benjamin Greene was running his own brewery and managing a number of sugar plantations in the West Indies. When the British government abolished slavery in 1833, he was paid the equivalent of almost £500,000 in today’s money to compensate him for the loss of his ‘property’ – that is, men, women and children who had been kept as slaves on the plantations.

Greene’s brewery is now the highly successful Greene King brewery chain, just one of 1,400 UK companies – including several major banks – named on a database at University College London to have directly or indirectly benefited from these compensation payments. What can and should these companies do now to make amends?

Editor: James Harding, Editor and Co-founder, Tortoise

Our invited experts include:

Sir Hilary Beckles is Chair of CARICOM (Caribbean Commission on Reparations) and Vice-Chancellor of The University of the West Indies. CARICOM is a regional body created to establish the moral, ethical and legal case for the payment of reparations by the governments of all the former colonial powers. It’s known for its 10-Point Reparation Plan. In 2013, Sir Hilary was invited to coordinate Caribbean governments’ policy positions on the global reparatory justice conversation. Under his guidance the University of the West Indies has also established “The Caribbean Centre for Reparations Research”.

Bell Ribeiro-Addy is the Labour Member of Parliament for Streatham, her home constituency. Born and raised in Brixton Hill, Bell is a dedicated feminist, anti-racist and trade unionist who cut her teeth in student politics as the National Black Students’ Officer. After this, she worked on the Palestine Solidarity Campaign before joining the staff of Diane Abbott MP and rising to be Chief of Staff. In her maiden speech, Bell called for the United Kingdom to reckon with its imperial past in order to tackle racism in the present, citing the government loan taken out to compensate slaveholders and calling for reparations.

Professor Kehinde Andrews is Professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University. His research focuses on resistance to racism and grassroots organisations. His latest book Black to Black: Retelling Black Radicalism for the 21 st Century was published in 2018. He also wrote Resisting Racism: Race, Inequality and the Black Supplementary School Movement in 2013 and is editor of the Blackness in Britain book series with Zed Books. His next book, The New Age of Empire: How Racism and Colonialism Still Rule the World will be published in February 2021 by Penguin Allen Lane in the UK and Bold Type Books in the US. Kehinde has written opinions pieces for outlets including the Guardian, Independent, Washington Post and CNN. Kehinde is founder of the Harambee Organisation of Black Unity; and co-chair of the Black Studies Association.

Promise Frank Ejiofor is a doctoral researcher and holds graduate degrees in social anthropology and political science from the University of Cambridge and the Central European University (Austria), respectively. He is not in favour of reparations, which he believes are not only illogical, but also ‘logistically and practically impossible’. His research interests span constitutional politics, nationalism studies, moral and political theory.

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