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Barrow Cadbury Trust’s Chair, Erica Cadbury, was one of the speakers at the launch of ACF’s Origin’s of Wealth Toolkit in April.  Here is an edited version of that presentation.  

I was very pleased to be one of the presenters at the launch of ACF’s Origins of Wealth Toolkit.  It has in it a wealth of information and guidance which will help trustee boards,  their teams, and their stakeholders engage with this difficult issue in a positive way, both in foundations and in the wider voluntary sector. 

Trustee boards of foundations are used to making strategic decisions about investing, managing and spending our endowments.  We don’t think of this as introspection but a necessary activity. So is an exploration of the origins of our endowments fundamentally different?  Yes – it is introspective but it is also a vital strategic activity and encourages trusts and foundations to take responsibility for the origins of their wealth, (rather than seeing it as a ‘money tree’). 

Every foundation is unique but all our endowments came from somewhere and that is our commonality.   We are all affected by the generation of wealth and those of us who derive our wealth from 19th and 20th century industrialisation in the UK have to understand that this has its roots in colonialism, as it was colonisation that fed the enormous growth in the British economy in those centuries. 

Colonialism depends on a belief in the right to exploit both lands and people and that right was predicated on a belief in racial superiority.   And as Esther Kosayee says in the Toolkit these “historical injustices and power imbalances persist in society today”. 

Even those whose interface with the  transatlantic trafficking of enslaved African people may appear tangential can use the tool kit to address the origins of our wealth.  

Barrow Cadbury Trust’s exploration began in 2020 with the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement.    As a trust founded 100 years ago, based on company wealth derived from long after Abolition, we felt  that as a Quaker heritage trust, with a 50 years + commitment to racial justice we were secure in our historical narrative.  We began from that position. 

But historical events can get forgotten very easily (and conveniently) and we discovered that we were not so immune.  There is a very well-documented series of events in which the main Quaker chocolate makers of the late 19th century were engaged – which involved enslavement on a smaller scale off the coast of Africa.  But it directly involved one of our founders, Barrow Cadbury, and this, once encountered, could not be ignored.  After research and deep discussion amongst trustees, we decided to make an apology.  You can see this and our thinking behind it on our website. 

We, as a team of trustees and staff are now on a journey – we now see things from a new perspective, and we must continue to integrate our discoveries with our present day vision, mission and values, linking our history to our commitment to racial justice and to a more dynamic engagement with anti-racism.  And we have to find the time and ways to do this.   

It is not easy.  It is demanding of trustees, it may challenge the very heart of trusteeship.  It may be emotionally taxing if we are direct descendants of our founders.  But it may also be demanding of those appointed as trustees who do not hold any familial responsibility for the acts of the founders.  But it is definitely worth doing and this tool kit will provide advice and guidance to assist you in that journey.