Guardian newspaper apologizes for historic slavery links after report shows 9 of its 11 largest financial backers profited from the slave trade

The newspaper’s owner, the Scott Trust, pledged £10 million toward a program of restorative justice after publishing the findings of a commissioned report on Tuesday

editor: REMIX NEWS
author: Thomas Brooke

Britain’s left-wing Guardian newspaper issued a formal apology on Tuesday as it published the findings of a commissioned report which revealed the extent to which its 19th-century founders profited from the slave trade.

The newspaper’s owner, the Scott Trust, detailed in its “Legacies of Enslavement” report, which the trust itself commissioned back in 2020, that the newspaper’s founder John Edward Taylor, a former cotton merchant, “had multiple links to transatlantic slavery,” as did 9 of the 11 largest financial backers of the newspaper when it was initially established as the Manchester Guardian in 1821.

The report names one of the financial backers as Sir George Philips, a West India merchant and plantation owner, who the trust states was “more deeply enmeshed in the slavery economy” as a partner of a firm that “enslaved more than 100 people on a sugar plantation named Success in Hanover, Jamaica.”

Robert Philips, another financial backer, was a partner of the hat-making firm, Philips, Wood & Co, which the report states had “strong links to enslaved labor in Brazil.”

A number of other financial backers had links to the transatlantic slave economy through business operations as merchants, manufacturers and/or dealers of cotton goods and supplies, operating primarily in and around the city of Manchester in the northwest of England.

In a statement from the board of the Scott Trust, the Guardian owners apologized “unreservedly” for the role the newspaper had in supporting the slave economy.

“As the owners of the Guardian, the Scott Trust apologizes to the affected communities identified in the research and surviving descendants of the enslaved for the part the Guardian and its founders had in this crime against humanity, perpetrated against their ancestors.

“We are deeply sorry for the role Taylor and his backers played in the cotton trade, which benefited from the forced labour of enslaved people in the Americas; for Philips’ direct enslavement of people in Jamaica; and for the role the paper’s journalism played in supporting the economy of enslavement.”

The trust lamented the fact the slave trade was such an embedded ideology in 18th- and 19th-century Britain “that even individuals and organizations who considered themselves liberal could be complicit in the most despicable crime,” and vowed to do all it can “in the present day to atone for these historical injustices, and to support those who still live with the legacy of this brutal and dehumanizing era.”

In its response to the report’s findings, the trust outlined what it describes as its “program of restorative justice,” which has been developed by senior members of the newspaper’s staff following discussions and workshops with people of color at the Guardian, its sister paper, The Observer, and colleagues from the Guardian U.S. and the Guardian Foundation.

Advice was also sought from experts in restorative justice and academics, while the progress of the program will be overseen by a committee of Scott Trust members.

In what the trust claims is “only the start of a process,” the program outlines measures to increase the scope of the newspaper’s reporting on Caribbean, South American and African issues, as well as a further focus on Black communities within the United Kingdom and the United States. The trust plans to create a “substantial restorative justice fund” to support community projects in areas affected by slavery, making particular reference to Jamaica where one of its financial backers owned a sugar plantation, to expand its journalism training bursary scheme by increasing the number of places for Black prospective journalists, and to “help improve public understanding” of the continuing impact the transatlantic slave trade still has on Manchester and across wider Britain.

It estimates an initial investment of £10 million for these measures over the next decade in what it calls a “long-term commitment.”

Following the report’s publication, Katharine Viner, the editor-in-chief of Guardian News and Media, said: “We are facing up to, and apologizing for, the fact that our founder and those who funded him drew their wealth from a practice that was a crime against humanity.”

Ole Jacob Sunde, the chairman of the Scott Trust, added: “The Scott Trust is deeply sorry for the role John Edward Taylor and his backers played in the cotton trade. We recognize that apologizing and sharing these facts transparently is only the first step in addressing the Guardian’s historical links to slavery.”

tend: 1685253245.7311