Quaker values and innovation
From Chocolate Wars by Deborah Cadbury
I been dipping into Chocolate Wars, a book by Deborah Cadbury about the history of Cadbury's, the chocolate maker and I wanted to highlight the ethics that Quakers brought to business which brought them so much success.
In 1738, the Friend's handbook included a section on ‘Trading’. This highlighted situations that a Friend might encounter in business, and how to deal with them. It marks the foundation of business ethics built on truth, honesty and justice: values that would form the basis of Quaker capitalism.
Central to the advice was that a Quaker must always honour his word; that you must not trade beyond what you can manage honourably and reputably so that you may keep your word with all. That your yes will be yes and no will be no. Anything else comes from the evil one and brings dishonour to the truth of God.
Quakers entering into business were encouraged to keep written accounts, since accurate and thorough bookkeeping helped avoid errors of judgement.
Quakers were accountable to each other and should not run into debt without advising other older and experienced Friends. Quaker elders many of whom were in trade themselves, were keen to prevent any scandal that might damage the reputation of the Society. The local Monthly Meetings across the country were not only a forum for exchanging ideas. Quakers were urged to have a watchful eye over all their members. If they found anyone deficient in discharging their contracts and debts, they were charged with launching an Inspection into their circumstances. Accordingly, Friends collaborated in their local communities to help one another achieve high standards of integrity in trade.
Discipline could be severe for any members who were unable to meet the ethical standards required, or who acted imprudently in business. With the astonishing success of Quaker businesses and banks during the Industrial Revolution, protecting the good name of the Society became more important. Those who repeatedly failed to demonstrate the high ethical conduct required of a Quaker tradesman could be ‘disowned’ by the Society. This was seen as a harsh punishment, with the offender excluded from the local Quaker community and recognised publicly as a thief or a cheat.
Quakers had a set of specific guidelines for business, which endeavoured to apply the teachings of Christ to the workplace. Straight dealing, fair play and honesty would form the basis of Quaker capitalism, and for those who fell short, there were rules of discipline. These guidelines were refined and formally updated every generation.
By 1861, the guidelines covered a wide range of issues: honesty and truthfulness, plain dealing, fair trading, debt, seeking advice from fellow Friends, inappropriate speculation, discipline, and much more. With an increased number of Quakers experiencing worldly success, there was even a section for the children of rich Quakers experiencing worldly success to ensure that they were not corrupted but fixed ‘their hopes of happiness on that which is substantial and eternal’. The love of money was ‘a snare, which is apt to increase imperceptibly… and gradually withdraw the heart from God’.
And what were some of the successes?
In the 18th Century, the strict rules of the Quakers along with persecution had resulted in a close-knit community across Britain of several thousand families. This solidarity and self-reliance generated a new spirit of enterprise and the Quakers meeting regularly in different regions across Britain enjoyed a unique forum in which to exchange ideas.
In 1709 Abraham Darby, a Quaker from Shropshire, pioneered a method of smelting high-grade iron using coke rather than charcoal. His son, Abraham Darby II, improved the process. The Darbys manufactured the world’s first iron bridge, iron railway tracks and wheels at their foundry at Coalbrookdale in Shropshire. Such advances fuelled the development of the iron industry, which drove the wheels of the Industrial Revolution. In Sheffield, the Quaker inventor, Benjamin Huntsman developed a purer and stronger form of cast steel. The Lloyds, a Welsh Quaker family, moved to Birmingham to create a factory for making iron rods and nails. In Bristol, a Quaker cooperative launched the Bristol Brass Foundry. By the early eighteenth century Quakers ran approximately two-thirds of all British ironworks.
Railways accelerated the pace of change, and a Quaker was responsible for the world’s first passenger train. In 1814 a meeting with the engineer George Stephenson inspired Edward Pease, a Quaker businessman, to build the Stockton and Darlington Railway, and, on 27 September 1825, the first steam-hauled passenger train travelled twelve miles to Stockton on what became known as the ‘Quaker Line’. Numerous Quakers were involved in financing and directing railway companies. Even the railway ticket and stamping machine was devised by a Quaker, Thomas Edmonson, as was the timetable itself, Bradshaw’s Railway Times, devised by George Bradshaw.
Chinaware, originally imported by the East India Company, sparked developments in pottery and porcelain. In Plymouth, William Cookworthy introduced a new way to make fine china using Cornish china clay. Enduring shoe businesses were founded by Quakers: K shoes in Kendall by John Somervell, and James Clark in Street in Somerset established the firm that still bears his name. The Reckitts started their business in household goods, while the Crosfield’s were soap and chemical manufacturers whose company evolved into Lever Brothers. The roll call of Quaker entrepreneurs continued with names like Bryant and May, who designed a safer form of matches; Huntley and Palmer, who started a biscuit business in Reading; and Allen and Hanbury, who developed pharmaceuticals.
Banking too was built on Quaker virtue. At a time of little financial regulation, the Quaker traders stood out as being quite different. Customers learned to rely on typical Quaker attributes: skilled bookkeeping, integrity and honesty served up by sober Bible-reading men in plain dark clothes. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, local Quaker businesses began providing a counter in their offices that offered banking services. By the early nineteenth century, this practice had blossomed into seventy-four Quaker banks, one for almost every large city in Britain: James Barclay formed Barclays Bank in London, Henry Gurney established Gurney’s Bank in Norwich, Edward Pease formed the Pease Bank in Darlington, Lloyd’s Bank was started in Birmingham, Backhouse’s Bank grew across the north, Birkbeck flourished in Yorkshire, the Foxes set up in Falmouth, the Sparkes in Exeter, and many more. Quaker banks, founded on a unique and trusted set of values, formed a solid network across the country.
Then there was the Cadburys, Rowntrees. The list goes on...
We see many innovative entrepreneurs and business leaders today but how many of them are known for their ethics and values? These have to be there before the business starts. As Christians in the workplace we have a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate a different approach..
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From Chocolate Wars by Deborah Cadbury, 01/11/2016