American capitalism flourishes on two distinct characteristics— trade and exploitation. So how much do you know about modern day corporations who got their success because of their involvement in the slave trade?
There is much to celebrate when a company reaches its 100th year mark. This milestone represents survival and prevailing success throughout tumultous years of political, economic and social change. Few corporations can announce they have lasted that long. The few that have succeeded however, was not done without a tainted past.
As inhumane and morally erroneous as the slave trade was, it was, in itself a business. Exchanging African lives as labor currency was the most profitable trade between the 16-1800s. This centuries-long trade initiated by the Dutch involved human transacations that were distributed throughout the Atlantic. Transactions, modern day corporations found their financial footing in.
Brown Brothers Harriman is one such corporation. BBH began in 1818 and actively participated in the slave trade by assisting Southern farmers in the cotton business. It participated in not only the slave trade, but also provided funding to Hitler centuries later. BBH currently maintains a billion-dollar revenue with trillion dollar assets.
Popular clothing brand Brooks Brothers also has a corrupted past, providing the uniform slaves wore during their labor and the elaborate pieces worn by masters and other household members.
New York Life Insurance Company has also benefited from slavery. Up to a third of the company’s business relied on the insurance policies for slaves.
Other notable corporations who participated in the slave trade include Barclays Bank, Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan Chase, Scripps and Gannett and AIG.
While some of these corporations have since apologized for their involvement in the slave trade, very few have proved that they have learned from their past. What is now Bank of America (but was known as Boatman Savings Institution during its slave trade participation era), has funded the Dakota Access Pipeline. Corporations such as Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, and what is now Wells Fargo continue to provide funding for modern-day measures that exploit ethnic groups.
Until corporations are publicly held responsible for their unethical activities, the cycle of exploitation for private greed will continue throughout industries.