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The history of De Nederlandsche Bank is closely intertwined with slavery. Between 1814 and 1863, DNB and its former directors were involved in slavery. This has emerged from and independent scholarly study. DNB deeply regrets the findings. To us, the study marks the start of a process of reflection and dialogue.

Understanding our links to slavery

Historical connections with slavery and the fight against racism have recently received more attention worldwide, also within DNB. We realised that it is important to research this part of our history, as part of the Netherlands’ history of slavery, and thereby obtain an objective picture of our links to slavery. This is why in June 2020 we decided to commission an independent historical study, which was conducted by Leiden University. The scholarly study covers the period from 1814, the year when DNB was established, to 1863, when the Emancipation Act abolishing slavery took effect.

DNB was involved in slavery in three ways

The study shows that De Nederlandsche Bank was involved in Dutch colonial slavery in three different ways. As an institution, DNB was indirectly involved in slavery and several prominent DNB officials were involved in colonial slavery in a private capacity, not in their capacity as DNB officials. Also, part of DNB's start-up capital came from business owners with direct interests in Atlantic plantation slavery.

DNB's first capital providers

Part of DNB's start-up capital came from business owners with direct interests in plantation slavery in the Atlantic region, for example in Suriname. Of the 16 initial major capital providers, 11 have now been directly linked to slavery.

DNB's indirect involvement in slavery as an institution

As an institution, DNB was indirectly involved in Dutch colonial slavery and slavery in non-Dutch areas, such as British Guiana. When providing services, DNB made no distinction among its clients between those who were involved in slavery and those who were not. Having no branches in the colonies, it did not play any role in the day-to-day slavery-related financial transactions there. But DNB did support the Ministry of the Colonies in its daily payment transactions and also provided services to trading houses involved in slavery.

Personal involvement of DNB presidents and directors

To a greater extent than their contemporaries, several prominent DNB officials were involved in colonial slavery in a private capacity, not in their capacity as DNB officials. Several of them had direct business links with slavery-related businesses and some were also involved in the management of plantations. A number of prominent DNB officials organised themselves to represent the interests of slave owners in the political arena. Only one or two were involved in organisations working to abolish slavery. 

Starting a process of reflection and dialogue

As a first step, we have disclosed and acknowledged our links to slavery. We believe it is important that everyone in the Netherlands, the Caribbean and Suriname can access the study through our website. The facts that emerged from the study and the deeply racist beliefs that underlie them affect us deeply. DNB as it is in 2022 does not wish to disregard its past. The suffering of the enslaved people in the past is indescribable. DNB’s Executive Board deeply regrets this. While we cannot undo the suffering that has been caused, we can, as DNB, try to make a contribution by making this history visible, and by acknowledging the facts and the suffering they have caused.

Next steps

Our historical links to slavery are a constant reminder that we must never cease to contribute to a society in which every person counts and in which no one is excluded. We wish to find an appropriate manner to make a gesture of lasting value to those affected and Dutch society at large. In doing so, we choose to adopt a careful approach, and that takes some time. We will share the results with you later in the year.

Focus group

We have set up a focus group to support us in the process of reflecting on our links to slavery and the measures we could take. We asked the focus group to reflect on the appropriateness, proportionality and significance of the individual measures we envisage and the overall package. A number of focus group meetings have been scheduled in the coming months.

Listening

We will also hold a number of additional discussions with other persons and organisations that have a voice in the contemporary debate on the history of slavery, or are otherwise affected by it, to gain a better understanding. We want to be an active listener in these discussions, and use the insights gained to formulate the measures to be taken.

Members of the focus group

The following persons are members of the focus group in a personal capacity:

  • Freek Ossel (chair), former chair of the National Transatlantic Museum of Slavery Management Committee
  • Noraly Beyer, former editor and newsreader of the Surinam Television Foundation (STVS), Radio Netherlands Worldwide and NOS Journaal
  • Mavis Carrilho, Director of Governance and Management Consultancy for the City of Amsterdam
  • Urwin Vyent, Director of the National Institute of Dutch History and Heritage of Slavery
  • Hannie Kool-Blokland, Director of the Zeeuws Archief and member of the Slavery History Dialogue Group
  • Stephanie Archangel, curator at the History Department of the Rijksmuseum

The book Serving the Chain can be ordered from Leiden University Press

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