Food of the Gods

 

The-Chocolate-Wars

Now to a couple of my favourite subjects, Quakers and chocolate. Most red in tooth and claw capitalists would probably look upon Quaker Business Practice and wet themselves in laughter – they would at least scoff at how a business could be run for the financial benefit of all on the payroll; how employees are looked after with genuine concern by the company, and how it all comes back to the Quaker belief in equality and running your whole life ethically – which means of course – not screwing your employees into the floor and giving as little as possible in return for their efforts. 

If this sounds like a socialist tract to some, I make no apologies; to be a Quaker is not just to go to a place of worship once a week, and then feel that you can then walk out, your soul shriven, and then feel free to cast aside all Christian thoughts of charity for the rest of the week. Quakerism is living it for real, every single second of your life.

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The Chocolate Wars by Deborah Cadbury, is a wonderful example of the Quaker ideals made flesh in big business. The business being the manufacture of vast quantities of succulent chocolate in fierce, but Friendly rivalry with other Quaker chocolate moguls. I wrote “friendly” with a capital `F`, because that is what we Quakers see ourselves as……..Friends. 

Until late into the 19th century, Quakers were seen by the ruling establishment of Britain as religious Dissenters – outcasts who didn`t recognise the authority of the Crown and it`s political servants to be anymore important than the ordinary person in the street. They would not, and still do not swear any oath, whether political, personal or legal, because they tell the Truth at all times, and to swear an oath would imply double standards.

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In consequence, Quakers were excluded from public office; so the only avenue they had to channel their talents down was business, and what a talent it turned out to be. For the Cadbury family it began five generations ago when Richard Taper Cadbury, a draper in Birmingham in the early nineteenth century, sent his son John, to London to study an exotic commodity called cocoa. His grandsons, George and Richard Cadbury, turned a struggling company into a business empire. In the process, they found themselves in competition with their Quaker Friends/friends and rivals for the chocolate crown, Joseph Rowntree in York, and Francis Fry and his nephew Joseph in Bristol. 

For these Quaker capitalists, the idea that wealth creation was for personal gain only would have been an offensive thought. Wealth creation was for the benefit of not just the owners, but for the employees, the local community and society.

As a member of the family, Deborah Cadbury is a perfect, and diligent chronicler of the story of the nineteenth century families who built their fortunes on one of the world`s staple pleasure diets, and then proceeded in that perfectly normal, Quakery way to plow the money back into the community and social concerns, such as the abject poverty upon which Britain`s industrial revolution had been built and sustained.

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She talks about Bournville , Cadbury`s model village, with it`s carillon, it`s lido and it`s Friends Meeting House; about the family`s blindness and inertia over the family profiting from slavery in Africa. Deborah Cadbury is at pains to point out that there is no doubt that the family lived and put into practice the Quaker ideals of being kind and dutiful employers, and that this unsavory episode was more down to inertia on the part of George and William Cadbury, rather than selective blindness or greed.

Their subsequent mortification  and remorse contrasts starkly with the slick, guilt-free, win-at-all-costs attitudes of the modern corporate world. 

Reading this wonderful and enlightening book, it`s hard for me not to mourn the passing of the great Quaker chocolate makers; with their sombre, peaceful and compassionate outlook. Most people do not realise how widespread and influential Quakers have – and continue to be- in British life. Their ceaseless agitations on social reform have brought widespread benefits; as well as some of the most famous names on the high street having Quaker origins – particularly in the banking sector – anyone heard of Barclays Bank? It`s tempting to see that instititution`s moral fall from grace a direct consequence of no longer having a firm Quaker hand at the steering wheel.

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By the early nineteenth century, some 4,000 Quakers were running English banks and companies. Governed by their own strict moral and ethical standards, Quakers believed ( and still do) that wealth creation should fund social projects, that debt was shameful and the quality of the product was of paramount importance. 

The Chocolate Wars is an impressive and vibrant history of a small group of people  who saw themselves as successful entrepreneurs, in business not just for themselves, but for the general benefit of society. It`s also a poignant portrayal of the gradual erosion of this particular ethic held by Quaker capitalists on both sides of the big pond, as their businesses began to be overwhelmed by the hungry wolves of the modern financial market, and their insatiable and greedy appetite for profit over national interests and social welfare.

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