The East India Company

From a piece in the LRB on ‘company-states’ like the English East India Company:

Out of every ten men the company dispatched to Africa, six died in their first year of service. Only one in ten survived to return home with whatever profits they had managed to accumulate

Company employment as an occupation had a 90% fatality rate. Compare that to this data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Logging is the most dangerous civilian occupation and has almost 100 fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers. A fatality rate of 0.1% (I used a calculator).

More interesting for me was the regard in which employees of these private ‘company states’ were held, from an account from the late 19th century (where I was surprised to discover these ‘company-states’ still active, although in reduced form)

Those involved found that they were often vulnerable to expressions of contempt on the part of officials of the German Empire. When a former vice-admiral assumed the position of supreme plenipotentiary of the New Guinea Company, he was ‘deeply offended when German naval officers failed to salute him on the grounds that officers did not salute those from private companies’

What is jarring is not the refusal to salute, which i expect persists, but the contempt public officials held for those employed by the private sector. Rightly or wrongly, it is the opposite in many cases today.

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