(UN)Principled Agents: Monitoring Loyalty after the End of the Royal African Company Monopoly

Marlous van Waijenburg, Harvard Business School
Anne Ruderman, London School of Economics

The revocation of the Royal African Company's monopoly in 1698 inaugurated a transformation of the transatlantic slave trade. While the RAC’s exit from the slave trade has received scholarly attention, little is known about the company’s response to the loss of its trading privileges. Not only did the end of the company's monopoly increase competition, but the unprecedented numbers of private traders who entered the trade exacerbated the company’s principal-agent problems on the West African coast. To analyze the company’s behavior in the post-monopoly period, we exploit a series of 292 instruction letters that the RAC issued to its slave-ship captains between 1685 and 1706, coding each individual command in the letters. Our database reveals two new insights into the company’s response to its upended competitive landscape. First, the RAC showed a remarkable degree of organizational flexibility, reacting to a heightened principal-agent problem. Second, its response was facilitated by the infrastructure of the transatlantic slave trade, which gave the company a monitoring mechanism by virtue of the slave-ship captains who continually sailed to the West African coast.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 201. The Encoding and Monitoring State