The Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC), better known as the Dutch East India Company was set up in 1602 and head-quartered in the Oost-Indisch Huis (East-India House) in downtown Amsterdam, which still stands today. The company was first company to officially issue stocks, which peaked during the Dutch “Tulip Mania”, a craze for tulip bulbs that are seen as the world’s first true financial bubble. The VOC’s stocks pushed the company’s worth to a massive 78 million Dutch guilders, which translates to over $7.9 trillion USD in today’s dollars. At its peak, the VOC was worth, roughly, the same amount as the GDPs of modern Japan and Germany added together. The company also employed 70,000 people across the globe making it one of the world’s first multinational corporations.
During the 16th century the Portuguese controlled the European spice trade and used Lisbon to disperse goods across the continent. Their fleet also severely restricted trade between the Low Countries and the rest of Europe. Threatened by this embargo the Netherlands decided to commission their own fleet in order to undermine the Portuguese. Their first expedition launched in 1595 and successfully returned from Indonesia with a large haul of spices. The Dutch fleet increased exponentially over the next three years, and eventually led to the formation of the East India Company.
In 1602 the Dutch government established the Dutch East India Company as an official colonial agency. The company was given massive financial backing and the legal power to wage war, create overseas settlements, and uphold its own jurisprudence. For over 200 years the company represented Dutch interests in Asia and dominated European trade. The company’s influence was unrivalled for most of its lifespan, eclipsing the ventures of its British and Portuguese competitors. This allowed the Dutch East India Company to use an aggressive economic policy to sabotage its rivals, creating an intra-Asia trade system that allowed them to purchase and sell precious metals at a significantly reduced rate.
While the VOC brought great prosperity and success to the Netherlands, it (like its British and Portuguese competitors) also brought horrendous suffering for a vast number of people and created social and geopolitical issues that are still left unresolved. These sins included slave trading, colonial oppression, and absurd mistreatment of employees. The VOC is thought to have “transported” as many as 50,000 people from Africa to serve or trade as slaves in its colonies. The Dutch continuously clashed with the British, entering two wars that devastated both sides. The second conflict took place between 1780 and 1784 and almost ruined the company, with British forces destroying half of the Dutch fleet. The numbers were never recovered and by 1799 the Dutch East India Company was completely disbanded.