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Thursday, 2 May, 2002, 07:11 GMT 08:11 UK
US companies sued over slavery
A Library of Congress photo depicts Southern slave life
Many blacks seek reparations for 250 years of slavery
A lawsuit has been filed against three companies in the United States, demanding compensation for profits they are alleged to have made from the American slave trade.

The suit has been filed on behalf of African-American activist Richard Barber and aims to open the way for payments to slaves' descendants.

The move comes as officials in California released the names of companies they say insured the lives of slaves - information which activists believe could bolster the case for reparations.

"This is just another step in a series of upcoming political and legal moves that will address the issue of reparations for American slave descendants," said New Jersey lawyer Edward Fagan, who filed the suit.

Holocaust victims
Descendants of Holocaust victims have received compensation
"Similar suits will be filed all over the country in the coming months."

Mr Barber, a former deputy executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, described the suit as "a debt owed to the descendants of slaves".

"Certain corporations benefited from the use of stolen labour and built their profits and wealth on the backs of enslaved Africans," he said.

"It is finally time for them to account for these historical injustices and to pay back the monies unjustly acquired by their actions."

Holocaust precedent

Mr Fagan has previously been involved in legal actions against German companies and Swiss banks that benefited from the Holocaust.

The courts have allowed the descendants of Holocaust victims to benefit, providing an arguable precedent for the slavery cases.

But compensation for slavery is a very controversial issue in the United States.

Supporters insist a settlement is necessary as the suffering was so great.

But opponents argue that that the events concerned happened too long ago.

The BBC's Orla Ryan
"Crucially the policies make clear that the slave owners, not their families, collected the money when they died."
See also:

26 Mar 02 | Business
US firms face slave reparations suit
03 Jan 02 | Business
Dutch process Holocaust claims
05 Sep 01 | Americas
US struggles with slavery's legacy
04 Sep 01 | Americas
Compensation for slavery
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