City of London representatives vote on Thursday on whether to remove from its Guildhall medieval ceremonial home statues of two figures that symbolise the financial sector’s historic role in slavery.
The Square Mile financial district set up a task force on tackling racism in June last year following the death of George Floyd in the United States that led to widespread Black Lives Matter protests.
The task force has recommended removing statues of William Beckford and John Cass from the Guildhall, with City councillors voting on Thursday afternoon.
Cass was a merchant in transatlantic slave trading during the early 1700s. Beckford was Lord Mayor of London in the 18th century and had plantations in Jamaica with slaves.
The Black Lives Matter protests have piled more pressure on a predominantly white financial sector to better reflect the wider population’s ethnic diversity.
Britain’s financial services minister John Glen said on Thursday that the Race at Work Charter launched in 2018 has attracted 50 firms and helped improved diversity.
“By signing up to the charter, firms commit to tackling barriers,” Glen told a City & Financial conference on ethnic diversity in financial services.
But Tony Sewell, chair of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities that is due to report soon, said the focus should be on developing all talent and not be sidetracked by the “mini-industry” of diversity and inclusion services.
“I would challenge companies today not to get too worried about this whole idea of doing lots and lots of diversity stuff,” Sewell said.
“I would ask the harder question. How is their talent being developed? I am fairly cynical about charter sign-ups and tick boxes, which are easy to do,” Sewell said.
The Financial Conduct Authority is taking a closer look at diversity in the firms it regulates.
“The City and financial services generally are not diverse and inclusive,” said Georgina Philippou, a senior advisor at the FCA. “You cannot dismiss the moral imperative to do the right thing,” she said.