NEW YORK: Three US companies have been named in a class-action lawsuit seeking financial reparation for profits made from slavery.Aetna, CSX, and FleetBoston Financial were the first companies named in a suit led by Deadria Farmer Paellmann. According to press reports, 12 more companies will be named.
None of the companies would comment on the suit directly, but CSX did post a statement on its website. "Slavery was a tragic chapter in our nation's history. It is a history shared by every American, and its impacts cannot be attributed to any single company or industry,
the statement read.
"However, the lawsuit filed in federal court in New York City against CSX and other corporations demanding financial reparations is wholly without merit and should be dismissed."
Aetna's connection to slavery was said in the suit to be its former incarnation's practice of selling insurance policies on slaves as property.
CSX is said to have benefited from the building of railway lines by slaves.
FleetBoston's predecessor, Providence Bank, is said to have been founded by John Brown, and to have loaned him money for slave-trade activities.
The pressure on the companies, brought about by media attention, may mean that paying reparations is inevitable. Moreover, the companies will be associated with one of the most morally reprehensible periods in American history.
Emmanuel Tchividjian, a VP and ethics director at Ruder Finn, was interviewed on CNN last week about possible PR strategies for the companies. He has worked with Swiss banks and the Swiss government on issues related to Holocaust victim reparations.
"First, they have to acknowledge it - if it happened, say it. Acknowledge the facts,
he said. He added that the companies must express empathy for the situation, and not try to avoid the emotive quality of the issue.
"You have to offer, if you can, an apology,
he said. "It's basic human relations. If wrong has been done, the first instinct is to say you are sorry."
Tchividjian added that the companies should also bring in an independent third party to help investigate the issue, through a historical commission or specially designed trust.