East India Company: the first multinational corporation
1st November, 2006
The East India Company was the first multinational corporation - until its abuse of power caused a public backlash. Nick Robins examines its legacy to reveal how it set the corporate blueprint for today's firms to operate unchecked
In August 1769, two Armenian merchants, Johannes Rafael and Gregore Cojamaul, arrived at London’s docks. The two were rich men and had made their fortunes in India’s most prosperous region, Bengal. But their purpose was not to trade. Instead they sought justice from the most powerful corporation in the world: the East India Company.
In March 1768, Rafael, Cojamaul and two others had been summarily arrested by the Company’s chief executive in Bengal, Harry Verelst, who then held them for more than five months under guard. When they were released, they found that the Company had pressured its puppet, the Nawab of Bengal, to ban all Armenians from the Bengal market.
Sailing around the world to where the Company was headquartered, Rafael and Cojamaul appealed to its board of directors, complaining of their “cruel and inhuman” treatment. When this was arrogantly brushed aside, the two went to court, suing Verelst for damages. An intense legal battle unfolded with claim and counter-claim, from 1770 until 1777, when the courts found Verlest guilty of “oppression, false imprisonment and singular depredations”. The Armenians won a total of £9,700 in compensation...
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