Lloyds of London. The British Railways. The Bank of Senegal.

What do these have in common? They were all funded by investments of compensation money provided to former owners of enslaved people at the moment of slavery’s abolition in the British and French empires.

Compensation for the owners of enslaved people emancipated in the 19th century was controversial at the time and still is. It seems clear, morally and economically, that it should have been the people being forced to work for free who were compensated for their labor. Arguments for reparations make this case forcefully. The people who were freed from enslavement were given nothing and had to start their new lives with nothing, a position that made them dependent on their former employers for wages, unable to buy land for themselves, and unable to set up businesses with access to capital.

Because this is so obviously unjust, it can be hard to see the unpalatable…

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