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As France Examines Slave-Trading Past, Corporations Are Unusually Silent

PARIS – As Black Lives Matter protests around the world topple statues and target streets and buildi..

PARIS – As Black Lives Matter protests around the world topple statues and target streets and buildings linked to slavery, banks and businesses are increasingly acknowledging ties to the grim history. But critics say corporate soul-searching is not happening in France.

AXA Insurance Company, Banque de France and the maker of Hennessy Cognac have one thing in common, according to a new investigation by Frances Le Monde newspaper: All are tied, directly or indirectly, with slavery.

Le Monde reports these are among a number of French corporations that have not acknowledged such links. At a time when companies have become socially and environmentally responsible, the newspaper wrote, why not accept their historical responsibility?

AXA and the Banque de France could either not be reached or did not immediately respond to VOA.

Bordeaux-based activist Karfa Diallo, who conducts tours of the citys slave trading past, said hes not surprised by the silence. His association, Memoires et Partages, has also tried to contact local businesses with similar historical links – with no success.

Luis-Georges Tin, honorary president of Black activist umbrella association CRAN, offers one explanation.

“France is a very arrogant country,” Tin said. “In the elite, most people will tell you, We are the country of human rights. So, why should we apologize when were so great?”

France ended slavery and the slave trade in the 19th century. But there was a time when it was one of Europes top slave-trading countries. So was nearby England.

Now, a growing number of prominent British banks and businesses are beginning to acknowledge past links to the slave business. In the United States, too, the Black Lives Matter protests have cast new scrutiny on businesses and places like New Yorks Wall Street, which was once a slave market.

Still, French historian Myriam Cottias says she can understand this nations corporate silence. It can sometimes be hard to draw clear historical links with French businesses today.

“It’s not clear, even for me, the exact organization from the slavery (times) to the present. And maybe its one of the reasons why theres no acknowledgment or apology.”

Still, activists say France is beginning to face its past in other ways. A slavery museum is to be built in Paris. And a new foundation for the memory of slavery was launched earlier this year. A Banque de France subsidiary is helping to finance it, in what some say is at least an indirect acknowledgment of history.

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Covid: Thousands protest in France against proposed new vaccine pass

A new draft law would in effect ban unvaccinated people from public life.

Demonstrators in the capital, Paris, held placards emblazoned with phrases like “no to vaccine passes”.

Interior Ministry officials said 34 people were arrested and some 10 police officers were injured after the protests turned violent in some places.

The bill, which passed its first reading in the lower house of France’s parliament on Thursday, would remove the option of showing a negative Covid-19 test to gain access to a host of public venues.

Instead, people would have to be fully vaccinated to visit a range of spaces, including bars and restaurants.

The government says it expects the new rules to come into force on 15 January, although the opposition-dominated Senate could delay the process.

But demonstrators on Saturday accused the government of trampling on their freedoms and treating citizens unequally.

Others targeted their anger at the president, Emmanuel Macron, over comments he made earlier this week in relation to unvaccinated citizens, telling Le Parisian newspaper that he wanted to “piss them off”.

One protester, hospital administrator Virginie Houget, told the Reuters news agency that Mr Macron’s remarks were “the last straw”.

And in Paris, where some 18,000 people marched against the new law, demonstrators responded to his coarse language by chanting: “We’ll piss you off”.

TV images showed altercations between protesters and police turning violent in some places. In Montpellier officers used teargas during clashes with the demonstrators.

Turnout for the protests was estimated to be about four times higher than the last major demonstrations on 18 December, when some 25,500 people marched across the country.

But despite the vocal protests, opposition to the new measures is not widespread and recent polling suggests the vast majority of people back the vaccine pass.

France is one of the most highly vaccinated countries in Europe, with more than 90% of over-12s eligible for the shot fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, new coronavirus infections are rising rapidly across France as the new Omicron variant takes hold.

The country recorded more than 300,000 new cases for the second time in a week on Friday and admissions to intensive care wards are rising steadily, putting healthcare systems under strain.

Some hospitals have reported that some 85% of ICU patients are not vaccinated against Covid-19.

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Covid-19: ‘There is no choice between lives and livelihoods,’ OECD chief Gurría says

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:26

As European countries move into their second Covid-19 lockdowns of t..

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:26

As European countries move into their second Covid-19 lockdowns of the year, the head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development backs measures seen by many as tough. Ángel Gurría tells FRANCE 24: "If you win the battle against the virus first, you will have less economic consequences." He adds that "there is no choice between lives and livelihoods; it's a false dilemma".

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Mexican economist Ángel Gurría has been Secretary-General of the OECD since 2006 – throughout the global financial crash and subsequent recovery.

With hopes now high for viable vaccines against Covid-19, he's telling world leaders that the solutions to health and economic crises must carry the elements of our solutions to the environmental crisis too: "The single most important inter-generational responsibility is with the planet. That means the recovery, where we are going to make investments that have an impact for the next 30, 40 years, must absolutely have the sustainability of the planet in mind".

On the recently announced Pfizer vaccine, Gurría says: "It is a game changer […] The possibility of a vaccine being close is of enormous consequence. We still have to wait for it to be finalised, approved and distributed in sufficient amounts that it can get everywhere, so we are calculating that we are going to spend most of 2021 still living with the virus. But it changes expectations; the whole mood has improved considerably since the announcement."

On the refusal of Donald Trump, leader of the OECD's biggest single funder, to concede defeat in the US presidential election, Gurría sounds an upbeat note: "I believe that we will have an orderly transition of power in the United States come 20th January 2021. I believe in the institutions in the United States, I believe that the political forces in the United States will eventually align."

Finally, as talks drag on over a new Brexit deal on the future relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom, Gurría says he still expects a deal to be struck: "I believe that the common interest will lead to a deal […] The impact in Europe is going to be limited to the trade with the UK. The impact in the UK is going to be very serious, not only because of the flows of trade and flows of investment, but also because the overall business mood will be affected. So I am still counting on a deal."

Produced by Mathilde Bénézet

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Attacks in France and Austria: Europe’s response to extremism

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:40Modified: 13/11/2020 – 17:42

TALKING EUROPE © FRANCE 24
This Friday..

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:40Modified: 13/11/2020 – 17:42

TALKING EUROPE
TALKING EUROPE © FRANCE 24

This Friday marks the fifth anniversary of the Paris terror attacks, in which 130 people were killed. The last few weeks have seen more bloodshed, with attacks in the Paris region, in Nice and in the Austrian capital Vienna. European leaders are looking for solutions: ways to stop hate being preached, broadcast and acted upon, while defending individual freedoms of speech and of conscience. In our debate we ask two leading members of the European Parliament, from France and from Austria, what they believe should be done.

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Produced by Yi Song and Perrine Desplats

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  • Andreas SCHIEDER, Austrian MEP, Socialists & Democrats
  • Nathalie LOISEAU, French MEP, Renew Europe

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