In the past Quakers, like other non-conformists, were excluded from universities and other public institutions. Instead they turned to business and, because Quakers were known for their honesty and integrity, their businesses were often successful. Many well-known companies in Britain were originally Quaker – Barclay’s and Lloyd’s banks, Cadbury’s, Rowntree’s and Fry’s the chocolate makers, to name a few (but a well-known brand of porridge oats was not made by a Quaker firm). Quakers like George Cadbury and Joseph Rowntree used their wealth to set up charitable trusts and housing schemes.
Nowadays most of these firms have passed out of Quaker ownership but amongst modern Quakers the testimony on honesty and integrity is no less important. The Advices and Queries asks each one of us:
“Are you honest and truthful in all you say and do? Do you maintain strict integrity in business transactions and in your dealings with individuals and organisations? Do you use money and information entrusted to you with discretion and responsibility?”
If you believe that all people are the children of God, then Quakers would say that you cannot take advantage of others through any form of dishonesty, whether in buying or selling goods, in business or privately, or as employees by failing to give an honest return in labour for wages. When we receive goods or services we believe that bills should be paid promptly. “The true function of business is not to rob the community, but to serve it.” Similarly, we do not try to evade the payment of taxes.
How we earn money is very important. When choosing employment, Quakers try to choose work that has positive benefits for the community. We would, for example, refuse employment in firms that manufacture weapons or other harmful products, even if this meant taking a lower paid job. When investing money, we try to follow guidelines for ethical investment – we would not wish to invest money in firms which deal in armaments or support repressive regimes. Nor would we consider that money “made” by playing the stock market was truly earned. Because we believe we should not profit from other people’s loss, we do not gamble in any way so you will not find Quakers betting on horses, buying National Lottery tickets or organising raffles (preferring in the last two cases to give money directly to charity). In the Advices and Queries we read:
“Resist the desire to acquire possessions and income through unethical investment, speculation or games of chance.”
Quakers in earlier times were noted for the simplicity of their lifestyles, most visibly in the plain clothes that they chose to wear. Today we do not wear Quaker grey but try to live out our testimony on simplicity by not allowing ourselves to be taken over by the values of consumer society. We try to ‘live simply that others may simply live’. This should allow us to give more to needy causes. We would find it hard to spend money on designer clothes or expensive meals when we know that people are starving somewhere in the world. The Advices and Queries ask us to:
“Try to live simply. A simple lifestyle freely chosen is a source of great strength. Do not be persuaded into buying what you do not need or cannot afford. Do you keep yourself informed about the effect your style of living is having on the global economy and environment?”
We are encouraged to give money for the work of our Society (for example for peace and service projects). When it comes to personal giving, Quakers individually support a variety of concerns. In addition to Quaker projects in Third World countries, Oxfam is a charity that many Quakers give to (Quakers were involved in its founding). Another issue that concerns Quakers greatly at the present time is homelessness. Practical help is very much a part of our faith and so we get involved in social issues and in giving money and time to charities.
John Woolman summed up why we feel it is important to use our wealth and possessions to help others:
“Our gracious Creator cares and provides for all his creatures. His tender mercies are over all his works and so far as true love influences our minds, so far we become interested in his workmanship and feel a desire to make use of every opportunity to lessen the distresses of the afflicted and to increase the happiness of the creation. Here we have the prospect of one common interest from which our own is inseparable, that to turn all we possess into the channel of universal love becomes the business of our lives.”