UK law firm and bank regret slave trade links

LONDON, July 1 (Reuters Life!) - British investment bank Rothschild and top law firm Freshfields said on Wednesday they “greatly regret” past links between their founders and the slave trade.

The 19th century founders Nathan Mayer Rothschild and James William Freshfield both supported the abolition of the slave trade, with Freshfield having been an active member of the Church Missionary Society.

But new historic research shows both were engaged in business linked to the slave trade, the Financial Times has reported.

Both companies issued statements on their websites on Wednesday in which they said they had been unaware of the connection.

“We greatly regret that the firm is linked in any way to the inhumane institution of slavery,” said Freshfields’ Bruckhaus Deringer.

Rothschild said the company greatly regrets being linked in any way “to the abhorrent institution of slavery”.

The links could prove contentious for both firms’ operations in the United States, where numerous banks and other bodies have been pressured to make amends for profiting from slavery, the FT said.

Documents from Britain’s national archives,which academics at University College London are studying, showed that Rothschild, a founder of the banking dynasty, had allowed the use of slaves as collateral when banking with a slave owner, the FT said.

The documents also indicated that Freshfield, an early partner in the law firm, acted as a trustee for some clients in deals involving Caribbean slave plantations.

“James William Freshfield was an active member of the Church Missionary Society ... (which) was committed to the abolition of slavery,” the company statement said.

Rothschild himself arranged a loan on behalf of the British government which accelerated the abolition of the slave trade by facilitating the payment of compensation to slave owners, the company said.

Editing by Steve Addison