Citi Admits Predecessor Firms Profited From Slavery

By Jenny Surane

Citigroup Inc. said an independent historical research firm found that predecessor companies of the Wall Street giant likely indirectly profited from the US slave trade. 

A Citibank branch in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Friday, April 7, 2023. Citigroup Inc. is scheduled to release earnings figures on April 14.

Entities that later became part of New York-based Citigroup likely performed financial transactions or formed business relationships with entities that owned enslaved people or relied on their labor, Citigroup said Thursday in a summary of the research. Executives at one predecessor firm also likely owned enslaved persons, the research found. 

“Although the focus of our historic records review was Citi’s own activity, we acknowledge that people who played important roles in Citi’s history had ties to the slave trade,” Edward Skyler, Citigroup’s head of enterprise services and public affairs, said in a statement. “Looking back at our history as a company which was founded while slavery was still legal, we have always been mindful about what operating at that time could have entailed.”

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020, banks and other corporations vowed to do more to fight racial inequities that are the outgrowth of a history of slavery in the US. Citigroup’s findings mark the culmination of months of work by independent researchers that the bank hired, with Skyler noting that the analysis is in line with the company’s Action for Racial Equity, a document outlining the firm’s commitment to anti-racism. As part of the pledge, Citigroup aims to help shrink the racial wealth gap by expanding financial services in communities of color and working with minority entrepreneurs.

The new analysis largely reaffirmed the company’s own previous research that there are no records showing Citigroup or its predecessor institutions directly purchased, sold or held enslaved people, Skyler said. Part of the research focused on Moses Taylor, a director and president of City Bank of New York, one of Citigroup’s predecessor companies. A significant portion of Taylor’s business was tied to the sugar trade and used plantations in Cuba that relied on enslaved labor, according to the summary. 

While the researchers didn’t find any evidence that City Bank of New York provided insurance policies to Taylor that used enslaved persons as collateral or provided loans that facilitated trafficking, Citigroup acknowledged that the bank “likely profited indirectly from enslaved labor in Cuba by engaging in transactions with Taylor and his businesses.”

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