THE LONG READ
Insurance and finance mechanisms allowed people to pull strings in a world that most of them never had to see − more bluntly, it enabled
British people to participate in the kidnap, torture and murder of people they had never met money go? Everywhere. This is often the impasse at which reparations detractors love to sit and enjoy the view. But there is a concrete amount (over $11 million) that can function as a starting point, representing as it does a perverse form of reparations received as a result of Lloyd’s founder subscribers’ ‘independent’ contributions to the slave trade. (Given the nature of underwriting, independent investments in this context can hardly be said to be separate from the Lloyd’s marketplace.) The full extent of the financial reparations Lloyd’s owes cannot necessarily be calculated easily, but a bare minimum certainly can be. It might be argued that these funds cannot be linked to Lloyd’s as the entity that exists today, separate from its individual founders/subscribers. But such abstraction was precisely the mechanism used by colonial entities to embed individuals in colonial financing, while creating mazes of legal and conceptual smokescreens so intricate that everybody could be absolved from culpability.
There have been some important attempts to secure reparations from Lloyd’s. In 2004, a number of AfricanAmerican litigants sued Lloyd’s of London (and 17 other corporations) for their role in the transatlantic slave trade (on behalf of all descendants of African enslaved people). The case was dismissed in 2005 because, among other issues, the litigants had failed to establish proper ‘standing’ to bring the case in question. A party must demonstrate a sufficient legal interest in the proceedings in order to bring a case. The judge doubted whether standing could be ‘inherited’ or whether groups could sue in their capacity as groups for individual harms suffered. In contrast, in the case of Gregson v Gilbert which we talked about earlier, there was no question as to whether or not two white men with no personal relationship to enslaved peoples massacred aboard the Zong had ‘standing’ to claim money for the loss of these people’s lives.
The legal mechanisms that enabled the 1783 Zong case to be heard are preserved in the Western legal and political structures that enabled the reparations case against Lloyd’s to be swiftly dismissed in 2005.
As the researcher Anita Rupprecht has pointed out: ‘The legacy of slavery is not something that merely haunts the present as a ghostly reminder of a disreputable past. It contributes decisively to the shape that the present assumes.’8
What’s at stake? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2021 Sixth Assessment report confirmed what climate justice groups have been saying for decades: that every increment of warming will bring higher seas, multiplying health crises, and result in more extreme and regular droughts, storms, wildfires and floods; that these climate disasters will erode human beings’ ability to access safe and secure housing, food and water – the basics for a dignified life. And that the impact is most felt by those that have contributed the least to emissions levels.
Yet, companies – including Lloyd’s – continue to uphold the mythology that unproven future green innovation will save us. In Perspectives on a Global Green New Deal, Nathan Thanki described this as the ‘same kind of logic that underpinned the indulgences of the Middle Ages’ Catholic Church; those who can afford to pay are absolved of their sins. The poor pick up the burden.’
Lloyd’s, in true modern neoliberal fashion, seems to hope that in speaking of the financialization of experimental fuels such as blue and green hydrogen and ‘sustainable’ aviation fuels, attention will be drawn away from the action that can – and must – be taken today. Lloyd’s should stop insuring all coal, oil and gas development, and divest its $30 trillion capital from fossil fuels. These funds could be redirected towards communityowned renewable energy projects, retrofitting or building low-energy and highly insulated housing and community health infrastructure, for example.
Limiting warming to 1.5°C will bring health benefits, including reducing projected cases of dengue fever and malaria by hundreds of millions. By 2100, it could prevent about 153 million premature deaths from air pollution worldwide, about 40 per cent of those over the next 40 years. Meeting the 1.5°C target could also help protect over two billion people from food, water and heat stress.
Fed up with the lack of progress, a group of parents in the UK are taking nonviolent direct action. In June 2021, on Father’s Day, Parents for Future gathered outside Lloyd’s of London’s London office to make a direct appeal to its chair, Bruce Carnegie-Brown. ‘Lloyd’s must quickly phase out support for oil and gas,’ says Sandra Freij, a member of the group. ‘Without insurance these damaging projects cannot go ahead. We are urging Lloyd’s to do what is right by all children. We want our children to grow up on a healthy planet in balance with nature – that doesn’t seem too much to ask.’
Governments also have a significant role to play in this, of course. While many leading insurance companies have taken action to stop underwriting the most harmful fossil-fuel projects and sectors,