Dutch East India Company, a trading company chartered in 1602 by the Netherlands States-General (assembly). It was organized to protect and control Dutch trade in the Indian Ocean and to help in a war against Spain and Portugal. Money was raised by selling shares and the company was governed by representatives from the separate Dutch states. The company was given a monopoly of trade in the East Indies and could import into the Netherlands free of duty. Soon it had replaced the Portuguese as master of the commerce between Europe and the East Indies. It had almost absolute ruling power in Dutch colonies from Africa east across the Pacific.

The East India Company was at its strongest and richest in the late 1600's. It then declined because of mismanagement and foreign competition and went out of existence in 1798 when the French conquered the Netherlands. The company's South African colony at the Cape of Good Hope, founded in 1652, was ceded by the Netherlands to Britain in 1815. Its island colonies in the Pacific came under control of the Dutch government, which kept them until after World War II, when many of them joined together to become the Republic of Indonesia.