Responsibility in Business: What Can We Learn from the Quakers?

Nicholas Burton, Alex Hope

Research output: Contribution to journalConference article


What explains the success and prosperity of many Quakers in business and commerce in the UK throughout the eighteenth to early-twentieth centuries? What lessons can be drawn from the so-called form of ‘Quakernomics’ (King, 2014) for contemporary responsible business practice? In a publication for the Centre for Enterprise, Markets and Ethics, Richard Turnbull (2014) describes how Quaker culture and identity, more so than their religiosity, lies at the heart of the success of Quaker businesses. In contrast, Wagner-Tsukamoto (2008) describes the Quaker behavioural ethic as only partly successful, and in some respects the behavioural ethic represented a failure as it took precedent over institutional ethics and economics. Kavanagh, Brigham, and Burton (2017) have argued that the demise of the Quaker business coincided with the start of ‘management’ as an academic discipline. This was precisely at the point when many of the Quaker businesses were incorporating, which we see as a decisive political-economic change that ushered in an era of market-based capitalism based on limited liability and the shareholder economy. Much of the scholarly body of work on the role of Quakers in business is situated within the tradition of management and organisation history research (see for example Child, 1964; King, 2014; Raistrick, 1950; Walvin, 1997). Beyond these contributions, how the rise and subsequent decline of Quaker businesses can contribute to, and inform, our contemporary understanding of responsible business has been largely ignored.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-118
JournalAcademy of Management Proceedings
Publication statusPublished - 19 May 2018


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