Greene King, which owns over 2700 pubs and restaurants in the U.K., will pay reparations for the company’s historical links to and benefit from the slave trade. The pub group told the Daily Telegraph that a database of companies’ links to slavery, compiled by University College London (UCL), prompted the decision.
Though Greene King has not yet provided details of the amount or to whom compensation will be paid, its chief executive Nick MacKenzie told the Daily Telegraph that it would be a “substantial investment to benefit the BAME community and support our race diversity in the business as we increase our focus on targeted work in this area.”
The company’s announcement comes after widespread protests in U.K. towns and cities calling for racial equity and social justice, taking cues from Black Lives Matter protests in America following the killing of George Floyd in police custody last month in Minnesota.
Greene King founder Benjamin Greene received the equivalent of £500,000 in 1833, when he “surrendered the rights” to West Indies plantations. At the time, Britain decided to compensate not enslaved people nor indentured labourers but plantation owners and slave traders when abolishing slavery. Greene also argued against the abolition of slavery, which MacKenzie described as "inexcusable." The chief executive also said that the company’s website, which currently does not detail its historic links to the slave trade, will be updated to more accurately reflect its past.
While Greene King was the only U.K. company cited in the UCL database that wasn't a bank, Britain's inextricable economic ties to racism, slavery, and indentured labour are yet to be meaningfully reckoned with by many of its most popular brands. Last week, PG Tips and Yorkshire Tea engaged in a social media clout-fest over the Black Lives Matter movement, without acknowledging either their ties to the history of colonial indentured labour in their producing countries or the long-term impact of those practices on those countries.
Many more British brands, like sugar manufacturer Tate and Lyle whose founders were born after the passing of the abolition act in 1806, may not have been directly involved in the slave trade, but owe the scale and success of their business to the systems of cost, labour, and transportation that emerged out of chattel slavery in the 17th and 18th centuries. That monopolising of trade and agriculture through plantation crops like sugar, tea, cotton, and coffee contributed, and continues to contribute, to the impoverishment and systematic disadvantage of nations colonised or conquered as part of those trades. Greene King’s reparations are a start, but should not become the means to an end of a reckoning.