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Skeletons in the Corporate Closet: JPMorgan


The bank's ties to the US slave trade only came to light in 2005.


Although we acknowledge that slavery is part of our country's past, few realize how closely it's tied to some of the most prominent companies in our present, like JPMorgan Chase (JPM).

The multinational bank admitted in January 2005 that it had discovered ties to slavery through two of its predecessor banks -- Citizens Bank and Canal Bank in Louisiana. Between the years of 1831 and 1865, the banks accepted approximately 13,000 slaves as collateral on loans and took ownership of 1,250 people when plantation owners defaulted on those loans.

The company issued a statement on its website apologizing for its part in the enslavement of others, saying "Slavery was tragically ingrained in American society, but that is no excuse. We apologize to the American public, and particularly to African-Americans, for the role that Citizens Bank and Canal Bank played during that period."

The link was discovered when JPMorgan conducted research into its history for the city of Chicago. The Windy City is just one of many places throughout the US that requires any company doing business with the city government to divulge connections to slavery. The disclosures law stemmed from earlier litigation that sought reparations from companies that were historically involved with slavery. While the case was ultimately thrown out, it did raise awareness of Northern companies' ties to slavery and made people more aware of the scars that slavery has left on the country.

JPMorgan didn't stop at an apology; the company created a scholarship fund called Smart Start Louisiana. The fund, which provided $5 million over five years, was for full-tuition, undergraduate scholarships to African-American students from Louisiana to attend colleges in their home state. The scholarship fund included an opportunity for the recipients to intern at the bank during the summer.

"JPMorgan Chase is, of course, a very different company than the Citizens and Canal Banks of the 1800s. We are committed to creating opportunities for African-Americans within our own firm, and to supporting communities we serve through philanthropic programs focused on economic empowerment and education," said the company statement.

Since making its apology to the American people for its involvement in slavery, a group of shareholders have raised opposition to the apology at the company's annual shareholder meeting. In May 2007, Deneen Borelli, the presenter of the opposition proposal at the meeting and a representative of the National Legal and Policy Center, said:

It's absurd for someone to apologize for the transgressions of others committed hundreds of years ago. Slavery was an abomination and blemish on our nation's history. JPMorgan Chase's apology for slavery, along with a $5 million donation for a scholarship fund, are the fruits of a shakedown. It is the looting of shareholder assets and sets a terrible precedent."

According to the company, 2.5% of shareholders at the meeting voted in favor of the opposition.

JPMorgan Chase has since removed the statement, including the apology, from its website, but sent a PDF of the original page to Minyanville. The company does not plan to contribute any more money to the scholarship fund beyond the original $5 million.

"We've done a lot of diversity initiatives, but they are not directly tied to slavery," said Tom Kelly, a media representative from JPMorgan Chase.

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