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The history of De Nederlandsche Bank is closely intertwined with slavery. An independent scholarly study has revealed that DNB and its former directors were involved in slavery between 1814 and 1863. DNB deeply regrets the findings from the study. 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 greater attention worldwide, and DNB is no exception. We realised that it is important to research this part of our history as a component of the Netherlands’ history of slavery to help us gain a full and 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 researchers at 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 DNB 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, 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 customers 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. DNB did support the Ministry of Colonies in its daily payment transactions. DNB 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. Alongside their work for DNB, A number of prominent DNB officials were also active in organisations that represented the interests of slave owners in the political arena. Only one or two were involved in efforts to abolish slavery. 

DNB’s process of reflection and dialogue

As a first step, on 9 February 2022 we disclosed and acknowledged our links to slavery. It is important to us that everyone in the Netherlands, Suriname, Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba can learn about the study on our website. The facts that emerged from the study and the deeply racist beliefs that underlie them affect us profoundly. Now, more than a century and a half after the abolition of slavery, we at DNB do not wish to disregard any part of our history. The suffering of the enslaved people in the past is indescribable. Our Executive Board deeply regrets this. While we cannot undo the suffering that has been caused, we can, as an institution, do whatever we can to make amends 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 work on building a society in which every person counts and in which no one is excluded. We wish to find an appropriate way to make a gesture of lasting value to those affected and Dutch society at large. In doing so, we have adopted a judicious approach, and that takes some time.

On 1 July, following three months of reflection and dialogue, we announced the follow-up measures we intend to take. 

Read more about our apologies and measures.

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

Read more