Rethinking Business Models: Lessons from the Quaker approach to responsible business

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The Religious Society of Friends (known as ‘Quakers’) has a long tradition in responsible business, dating back to at least the 17th Century. Today, the legacy of Quakers in business can still be witnessed in industries as diverse as chocolate as banking. In fact, many of today’s global organisations can either be traced back to their Quaker roots (such as Barclays and Lloyds). The Quakers were also the first entrepreneurs to trade based on their trustworthiness and ‘modern inventions’ such as fixed prices and socially responsible investment have Quaker roots. Quaker entrepreneurs were and are well-known for strong ethical values, derived from a theology committed to finding “that of God in everyone” and enacted through testimonies to equality, honesty, simplicity and peace. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Quakers saw trade and business as social reform, a possible route to eradicate poverty and social ills among the working, urban population. In fact, it is argued that Quakers’ concern with social reform was a key ingredient as the engine of the Industrial Revolution. Examples included the ironworks established by Quakers at Coalbrooke in Shropshire. Later Quaker concern with the over-use of alcohol led to the emergence of the chocolate entrepreneurs such as Cadbury’s and Rowntree. If there is a distinct set of Quaker business ethics that characterised Quaker entrepreneurs it was often based on (1) honesty and truth in all business dealings, including financial matters and truth in advertising, (2) a commitment to improving the life conditions of its employees through mechanisms such as pay well-above the average and access to suitable housing and healthcare, which often manifested itself in the canonical ‘model villages’ of Bourneville in Birmingham and Earswick in York, (3) full payment of taxes due, (4) using a proportion of profits for philanthropic purposes, and (5) more recently, an environmental concern. With growing contemporary interest in how firms manage the triple bottom line, and in the wake of the economic turbulence of the last decade, how alternative business models can contribute to innovation, the Quaker approach to responsible business has much to tell us. This short presentation aims to show how responsible approaches to business are perhaps nothing new – and how Quakers concern for social reform can provide contemporary business with lessons about leadership, organisation design, human resource management, marketing and advertising, corporate governance and entrepreneurship for social purposes. Distilling a Quaker approach to responsible business is an exciting and valuable new research area that will help inform the field of responsible business and ethics.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jun 2016
EventEBEN 2016: Annual European Business Ethics Network Conference - Nottingham
Duration: 23 Jun 2016 → …


ConferenceEBEN 2016: Annual European Business Ethics Network Conference
Period23/06/16 → …
Internet address


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