Quakers look at business alternatives in Edinburgh

By staff writers
April 3, 2011

The Quakers and Business Group held their Spring Gathering at Edinburgh Quaker Meeting House on Saturday 2 April 2011. The theme was 'Mainstreaming Ethical Futures'.

By the middle of the 20th century, the historic engagement of Quakers with the world of commerce, banking and industry had become attenuated. Friends had generally come to the view that the Quaker faith was best suited to working in the caring professions, where the service imperative could be most directly lived. This was widely felt to be preferable to working in business, which many Friends perceived as being characterised by greed and selfishness.

By the mid 1990s, business engagement amongst Quakers was at a low ebb. However, it was during this decade that an article in the Quaker weekly, The Friend, entitled: 'Back in Business?' drew Friends’ attention to this state of affairs, questioned its utility and generated extensive debate.

The outcome was the formation of the Quakers and Business Group which is now registered with the Charity Commission and accepted by Britain Yearly Meeting as a Recognised Interest Group.

The Group’s first project was to produce the book 'Good Business: Ethics at Work – Advices and Queries on personal standards of conduct at work'. Rooted in discussion amongst Friends, and on their lived experience in business, it was published in 2000.

Since then, the Quakers and Business Group has become a network for Quakers who are in, or interested in, the business world and for those in sympathy with its ethos.

Though focused on Friends in the business world, the Group has always welcomed those from the other sectors who wish to share their business process concerns.

During the Gathering in Edinburgh, Friends considered sustainability and, taking the Isle of Eigg as an example, discussed the economies of scale which can improve access to essentials for those in poverty, both rural and urban. The Eigg community was offered as an example of movement from a capitalist to a mutualist model and of its relationship to the future in terms of scale and corporate responsibility.

The manner in which small and large scale enterprises may support each other were considered. The interdependency of companies and communities of all scales, and their capacity to underpin and facilitate each other were also acknowledged.

There were concerns over the short term nature of the current investment model and of speculative interest, and a feeling that moderation must be the key factor.

Following discussion as to whether corporate responsibility was possible in a competitive economy, the participants felt that a positive outcome was possible and presented a business case for acting ethically which relied on trust as the enabler of increased profitability. 

The Spring Gathering closed with a lecture by Alistair McIntosh, business advisor to the Iona community. Entitled 'Behind and beyond the pornography of consumerism', it presented an analysis of the importance of spirituality in preventing the destruction of the planet.

The day was summed up, as is the practice of Quakers, in a minute, which reads: “We are all complicit and contradicted living in this imperfect world.  It is up to us to decide on which side of the ethical watershed we want to stand.  In order to do this we need spiritual courage.  This cannot come from an ego level, but must come from that of God within.”


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