Tate and Lyle faces Caribbean demands for reparations over indentured labour

A Tate and Lyle advertisement for cube sugar in the tenth edition of their Some Everyday Dishes
Tate and Lyle - Topfoto

Tate and Lyle could face demands from Caribbean nations to pay reparations for profits made from indentured labour, as British companies come under fresh pressure to address their colonial history.

British refiner Tate and Lyle sourced sugar from the colony of British Guiana, now Guyana, where plantations were worked by indentured labourers shipped from India to replace newly freed slaves.

Campaigners in Guyana are planning to demand reparations from the company for its exploitation of indentured labour through new lobbying bodies.

The Telegraph understands that a new set of formal demands being drafted by Caribbean nations will include an insistence that companies that profited from slavery and colonialism should pay reparations.

The revised set of demands, which will be put to Britain and other former colonial powers, will also include new clauses covering indentured labour as well as slavery.

Profited from indentured labour

Under the indenture system, workers agreed to work for a set number of years in exchange for a pay-off at the end, such as land or a return passage to their place of origin, but most never returned after being duped into their bonded labour.

As a company that profited from this labour, Tate and Lyle is set to face a formal call to address its history in future under the expanded demands for reparations.

Dr Eric Phillips, head of Guyana’s Reparations Committee, said that a planned lobbying body which will push for reparations specifically for indentureship will take on the British sugar giant.

He said that a new “Indentureship Commission” would research the history of Tate and Lyle, “quantify the harms” inflicted by the company’s profiting from indentured labour, and then “propose a solution” involving appropriate reparations.

The work of establishing a new official lobbying body to pursue indenture reparations, mirroring the Caribbean region’s slavery reparations commission, is still under way.

Tate and Lyle was formed in 1921 from a merger of sugar refining companies set up by Henry Tate and Abram Lyle, businesses which were founded in 1859 and 1865 and operated following the abolition of slavery in 1834.

However, during the latter half of the 19th century, sugar plantations made use of bonded labour largely recruited from the Indian peasantry, who faced disease, brutal conditions, and a lack of rights under what was termed at the time “a second system of slavery”.

The Tate gallery group, founded with funding from Henry Tate, acknowledged this history in 2019, but Tate and Lyle itself has not made a formal statement on the issue.

More British companies are likely to face calls for reparations from the 14 nations within Caricom (Caribbean Community), whose dedicated Reparations Commission is currently revising a set of formal demands which will be put to the British government.

It is understood that the revised 10 Point Plan for reparative justice will include clauses specifically demanding that companies which profited from slavery atone for their exploitation.

After Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, the brewery Greene King, founded by a slave owner, and Lloyds of London, which insured slave ships, both promised to invest heavily in diversity and inclusion initiatives in response to their connections to slavery.

‘They want to be judge and jury’

However, Guyana’s Dr Phillips has criticised these initiatives, saying:  “What Lloyds of London has done is to deliberately confuse corporate social responsibility with reparations.

“It is an insult and shows the indifference of these companies to acknowledging their complicity in crimes against African humanity.

“They want to be judge and jury for their own criminal case. Outrageous and egregious behaviour on their part.”

Mohamed Irfaan Ali, the President of Guyana, believes companies can play a part in the reparations process but has insisted the British government and others must address the issue fo slavery.

He told the Telegraph: “The slaughter of our indigenous populations, the Trans-Atlantic Trade in captive Africans, and slavery, were institutionalised systems supported and sanctioned by European governments.

“We are not averse to those companies and individuals who were complicit in crimes against humanity from making apologies and being part of a system of reparative justice.

“But we believe that it would be much better for the governments of the nations involved to set the example and to accept their countries’ culpability in these crimes against humanity.”

Tate and Lyle, Greene King and Lloyds of London have been contacted for comment.