The Big Payback
By Salim Muwakkil
Aetna, the largest life and health insurer in the nation, helped build the foundation of its current prosperity by insuring slaveowners' human chattel. So discovered Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, a 34-year-old New York attorney whose research has revealed a number of unsavory corporate links to slavery.
When she informed Aetna about her research, officials initially acknowledged the company's role, apologized and hinted it might offer some form of restitution. "We express our deep regret over any participation at all in this deplorable practice [of insuring slaves]," Aetna spokesman Fred Laberge told Reuters. "We want to make clear that we take this matter very seriously, and we are actively engaged in determining what actions might be taken."
But after mulling over that statement and the monumental implications of such an acknowledgment, Aetna quickly changed its tune: "We have concluded that, beyond our apology, no further actions are required."
Farmer-Paellmann says that's not good enough. "Aetna has a moral obligation to apologize and share that unjust enrichment with the Africans they helped maintain in slavery," she insists.
Salim Muwakkil is a senior editor of In These Times.