The United East India Company, sometimes known as the United East Indies Company (Dutch: Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie; or Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie in modern spelling; abbreviated to VOC), better known to the English-speaking world as the Dutch East India Company or sometimes as the Dutch East Indies Company, was a multinational corporation that was founded in 1602 from a government-backed consolidation of several rival Dutch trading companies. It was originally established as a chartered company to trade with India and Indianized Southeast Asian countries when the Dutch government granted it a 21-year monopoly on the Dutch spice trade. The VOC was an early multinational corporation in its modern sense. In the early 1600s, by widely issuing bonds and shares of stock to the general public,[note 6] the VOC became the world's first formally listed public company.[note 7] In other words, it was the first corporation to be ever actually listed on an official stock exchange.[note 8] The VOC was influential in the rise of corporate-led globalization in the early modern period. With its pioneering institutional innovations and powerful roles in world history, the company is considered by many to be the first major modern global corporation, and at its height was the most valuable corporation ever.
One of the most influential and best expertly researched business enterprises in history, the VOC was effectively a state, an empire, or a world in its own right. In 1619 it forcibly established a central position in the Indonesian city of Jayakarta, changing the name to Batavia (modern-day Jakarta). Over the next two centuries the Company acquired additional ports as trading bases and safeguarded their interests by taking over surrounding territory. To guarantee its supply it established positions in many countries and became an early pioneer of outward foreign direct investment.[note 9] In its foreign colonies the VOC possessed quasi-governmental powers, including the ability to wage war, imprison and execute convicts, negotiate treaties, strike its own coins, and establish colonies. With increasing importance of foreign posts, the company is often considered the world's first true transnational corporation.[note 10] Along with the Dutch West India Company (WIC/GWIC), the VOC became seen as the international arm of the Dutch Republic and the symbolic power of the Dutch Empire. To further its trade routes, the VOC-funded exploratory voyages such as those led by Willem Janszoon (Duyfken), Henry Hudson (Halve Maen) and Abel Tasman who revealed largely unknown landmasses to the western world. In the Golden Age of Netherlandish cartography (c. 1570s–1670s), VOC navigators and cartographers helped shape geographical knowledge of the modern world as we know them today.
Socio-economic changes in Europe, the shift in power balance, and less successful financial management resulted in a slow decline of the VOC between 1720 and 1799. After the financially disastrous Fourth Anglo-Dutch War (1780–1784), the company was first nationalised in 1796, and finally dissolved in 1799. All assets were taken over by the government with VOC territories becoming Dutch government colonies.
In Dutch the name of the company is Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie or Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie. abbreviated to VOC. The company's monogram logo was possibly in fact the first globally recognized corporate logo. The logo of the VOC consisted of a large capital 'V' with an O on the left and a C on the right leg. It appeared on various corporate items, such as cannon and coins. The first letter of the hometown of the chamber conducting the operation was placed on top (see figure for example of the Amsterdam Chamber logo). The adaptability, flexibility, calligraphy, timelessness, clarity, simplicity, symbolism, and symmetry are considered notable characteristics of the VOC's well-designed monogram logo, those ensured its success at a time when the concept of the corporate identity was virtually unknown. An Australian vintner has used the VOC logo since the late 20th century, having re-registered the company's name for the purpose. The flag of the company was red, white, and blue (see Dutch flag), with the company logo embroidered on it.
Around the world and especially in English-speaking countries, the VOC is widely known as the "Dutch East India Company". The name ‘Dutch East India Company’ is used to make a distinction with the East India Company (EIC) and other East Indian companies (such as the Danish East India Company, French East India Company, Portuguese East India Company, and the Swedish East India Company). The company's alternative names that have been used include the ‘Dutch East Indies Company’, ‘United East India Company’, ‘United East Indian Company’, ‘United East Indies Company’, ‘Jan Company’, or ‘Jan Compagnie’.
Before the Dutch Revolt, Antwerp had played an important role as a distribution centre in northern Europe. After 1591, however, the Portuguese used an international syndicate of the German Fuggers and Welsers, and Spanish and Italian firms, that used Hamburg as the northern staple port to distribute their goods, thereby cutting Dutch merchants out of the trade. At the same time, the Portuguese trade system was unable to increase supply to satisfy growing demand, in particular the demand for pepper. Demand for spices was relatively inelastic, and therefore each lag in the supply of pepper caused a sharp rise in pepper prices.
In 1580 the Portuguese crown was united in a personal union with the Spanish crown, with which the Dutch Republic was at war. The Portuguese Empire therefore became an appropriate target for Dutch military incursions. These factors motivated Dutch merchants to enter the intercontinental spice trade themselves. Further, a number of Dutchmen like Jan Huyghen van Linschoten and Cornelis de Houtman obtained first hand knowledge of the "secret" Portuguese trade routes and practices, thereby providing opportunity.