The third-largest Dutch bank, ABN AMRO, apologized Wednesday for its involvement in slavery, saying the practice in the 18th and 19th century caused “untold suffering”.
The bank is one of the first Dutch private companies to apologize for its role in the Atlantic slave trade amid growing debate over a painful period in the Netherlands’ colonial past.
Research commissioned by ABN AMRO found that some of its legal predecessors were involved in “plantation slavery and the trade in products that originated in slavery during the 18th and 19th centuries.”
“Slavery caused untold suffering, and ABN AMRO apologizes for the actions and activities of these predecessors,” the said in a statement.
One of its predecessors, Hope & Co., “played a pivotal role in the international slave economy of the 18th century,” ABN AMRO said.
“Not only were slavery-related operations a source of much of Hope & Co.’s profits, the firm was also actively involved in the day-to-day business of plantations,” it said.
Hope & Co. became the largest financial and commercial company in the Netherlands at the end of the 18th century.
Another predecessor, Mees en Zoonen, brokered insurance for slave ships and shipments of goods harvested by enslaved persons, said the researchers of the Amsterdam-based International Institute of Social History (IISH).
“Decisions made in offices in Amsterdam and Rotterdam directly impacted the lives of thousands of enslaved persons,” said Pepijn Brandon, IISH senior researcher.
“ABN AMRO as it exists now cannot undo that period of its history,” the bank’s chief executive Robert Swaak said.
“ABN AMRO apologizes for the past actions and activities of these predecessors and for the pain and suffering that they caused,” he said.
The bank’s apology comes as debate continued about the role of the Netherlands in its former colonies.
Earlier this year, Dutch King Willem-Alexander announced he was permanently mothballing the royal Golden Coach which has been embroiled in a racism controversy.
The opulent horse-drawn carriage, called “De Gouden Koets”, has traditionally transported the Dutch monarch to the opening of parliament and other state occasions, but has not been used since 2015.
But depictions of slavery on its doors have drawn fierce criticism, particularly since the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States.