Quakers & Business Gathering June 2016

By Cait on June 30, 2016

Tags: , ,

Quakers & Business is a group set up around a century ago by Quakers working in business, who wanted a space to discuss their particular concerns. Their gathering on Saturday 25th June was themed ‘What would today’s Cadbury look like?’

You can read Quakers & Business’ account of the day at: http://qandb.org/gathering-2016

At its height, Quaker-run Cadbury’s was admirable in many ways, not least in its provision of a welfare-state-in-miniature for its workers. which you can read more about here. But it was also of its time, and operated according to a paternalistic model. A later example of Quaker business, Alfred Salter’s Labour Co-operative bakery, operated democratically, with all workers paid the same. There is therefore much inspiration to be taken from Quaker business history, but times have changed and Quakers have less prominence in the private sector than they once did. The question for the gathering was: how would an exemplary ethical, Quaker business operate in today’s world?

As the paid member of staff working on the new economy project at Friends’ house, this is a question that I have thought about a lot over the last few months. I saw the Quakers & Business gathering as a opportunity to discuss the matter with Friends who have grappled with the real life challenge of making their businesses both Quakerly and viable.

Businesses have the potential to make significant contributions to society. But my workshop was concerned with problems in businesses today and how they might be overcome. Workshop participants decided to focus on the following issues: Businesses’ failure to articulate their values; their short term focus; the growing pay gap between the top and bottom of organisations; manipulation (by businesses) of consumer perceptions; a conflict, in businesses, between growth and values; lack of purpose in business.

It was a rich collection of complex problems. The issue of a lack of values or purpose, or a failure to articulate and pursue values as well as profit, seemed  particularly pertinent. The groups linked lack of values to the following causes:

  • The expectations of investors for unsustainable growth to provide high returns on investment
  • A lack of ownership, transparency and accountability / policing
  • The difficulty in taxing businesses and the culture of tax avoidance
  • A lack of role models, motivators, and education that states the importance of values in businesses
  • The difference in purpose among stakeholders, with no effective way of working through these differences.

Solutions offered by the group included better enforcement of business regulations, economic change and social upheaval, tax justice and the dissemination of Quaker ethics through business education and beyond. ‘Revolution’ was another popular suggestion.

This workshop was decidedly just the start of a conversation. Had there been more time, I would have liked to have ‘dug deeper’ into some of these causes… Why is it difficult to tax businesses? Why does businesses education fail to focus on values?

Another ‘next step’ in the conversation was about the levers that can change business behaviour. It seemed to me that the solutions offered by the gathering attendees echoed my own thinking: that a popular movement of ordinary citizens will be necessary to transform business. Our government will only enforce regulations, or implement tax justice with pressure from the electorate. In light of our forthcoming withdrawal from the EU, this pressure from Quakers and non-Quakers alike will be more important than ever.

Previous and next posts

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.