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Church of England to invest £100m to make up for slave trade ties

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The Church of England plans to invest £100 million after it was found that the Church Commissioners’ endowment had historic links to transatlantic chattel slavery.

  • The Church Commissioners has apologised for its links to slavery and is establishing an impact investment fund to make up for past wrongs.
  • The capital will be primarily allocated to communities affected by historic slavery.
  • The UK’s colonial past and ties to slavery have been under increased scrutiny, with rising calls for reparation.

How is the Church Commissioners linked to slavery?

A report published in June 2022 found that the Church Commissioners’ £10.1 billion endowment had historic links to transatlantic chattel slavery, which is the enslaving and owning of human beings and their offspring as property, able to be bought, sold, and forced to work without wages. This is distinguished from other systems of forced, unpaid, or low-wage labour also considered to be slavery.

The endowment traces its origins partly to Queen Anne’s Bounty, a fund established in 1704 to tackle poverty among Church of England clergy. It is a predecessor of the Church Commissioners, a charity formed in 1948 by merging two bodies, Queen Anne’s Bounty and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, to oversee the Church’s investment portfolio.

By 1777, Queen Anne’s Bounty had invested £406,942 in the South Sea Company, a company that traded in enslaved people. This figure is estimated to be around £724 million today.

The Church Commissioners in 2019 decided to conduct research into the source of its endowment fund, working with forensic accountants to review early ledgers and other original source documents from Queen Anne’s Bounty. 

How will the funds be spent?

The Church Commissioners’ Board said it is “deeply sorry for its predecessor fund’s links with the transatlantic slave trade” and as such “has committed itself to trying to address some of the past wrongs by investing in a better future”. It has dedicated £100 million to be delivered over nine years commencing in 2023.

The programme of investment, research and engagement will comprise a new impact investment fund, intended particularly for communities affected by historic slavery. There will be potential for other institutions to participate.

Some growth in the impact fund will be used for grants for projects focused on improving opportunities for communities hit by historic slavery. Other capital will be allocated to further research, including into the Church Commissioners’ history, supporting dioceses, cathedrals and parishes to research and address their historic links with slavery, and sharing best practices with other organisations researching their slavery legacies. 

A new oversight group will be appointed and include members from communities impacted by historic slavery. 

The Bishop of Manchester, the Right Reverend Dr David Walker, Deputy Chair of the Church Commissioners, said: “It is important for the Church Commissioners to understand and be transparent about our past so we can best support the mission and ministry of the Church of England, today and in the future. Discovering that the Church Commissioners’ predecessor fund had links to transatlantic chattel slavery is shaming and we are deeply sorry.”

He added: “We hope this will create a lasting positive legacy, serving and enabling communities impacted by slavery. We recognise this investment comes at a time when there are significant financial challenges for many people and churches, and when the Church has commitments to address other wrongs from our past.”

Rising awareness of UK’s colonial past

There have been increasing calls for reparation from countries involved in colonialism, including the UK. Institutions such as the government and the royal family, however, have been criticised for lack of action on the matter beyond words of regret.

Broadcaster and historian David Olusoga told BBC Radio that the Church’s announcement is “an enormous step forward”. He added: “For 200 years we’ve been in denial, brushing this history under the carpet. And the idea that if you inherit wealth from this history, that along with that wealth you also inherit some responsibility – that idea has been dismissed for decades.”

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