Cadbury’s Ethics and the Spirit of Corporate Social Responsibility

  • Andrew FinchamEmail author
Part of the CSR, Sustainability, Ethics & Governance book series (CSEG)


The relationship between ethical values and economic behaviour was popularised by Max Weber: proposing a connection between successful capitalism and the asceticism of the Protestant tradition in his ‘Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’, he suggested that worldly success was held to be a symbol of salvation. A contemporary of Weber, George Cadbury, may yet remain the pre-eminent example of commercial Quaker faith in action: as a notable Protestant, recognised for his business success and other worldly achievements, Cadbury might be cited in support of Weber’s argument.

This argument rejects any such resemblance as superficial. It suggests that The Religious Society of Friends, the discipline of which shaped the ethical values of several generations of the Cadbury family, at no point subscribed to a soteriology as simplistic as Weber’s. For them, as a sect dismissing the authority of dogma, and seeking to avoid doctrine, both the responsibility and authority for salvation remained at all times within the individual.

This chapter examines the extent to which Cadbury deserves his reputation for singularity in business, and attempts an assessment of the evidence that he be considered the originator of what is now termed Corporate Social Responsibility. Perhaps of equal importance, it raises the question as to whether the man himself would have wished for such a label.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of BirminghamBirminghamUK

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