QUAKERS IN ACTION

Scott Bader Commonwealth

The Scott Bader Commonwealth is a Quaker founded charity set up in 1951. It owns Scott Bader Company Ltd., an international chemical business with 600 staff and an annual turnover of £190m.

Ernest Bader, a 33-year-old Swiss émigré, set up the Company in 1923.  What started as a simple chemical trading company in 1923 had developed a manufacturing facility by 1932. In 1940 it moved from London to Wollaston, Northamptonshire.  By the 1960s it was the leading manufacturer of polyester resins for glass fibre manufacture.  In 2012 there are plants in France, South Africa, Dubai and Croatia and the UK, with distribution companies in USA, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and China.

Born into a Christian family Ernest Bader became a pacifist in his early adulthood. In 1945 at the age of 55 he became a Quaker.  Six years later in 1951 Ernest and his family took the momentous step of giving 90% of their shareholding – all their personal wealth - to the newly formed Scott Bader Commonwealth.

Ernest Bader set up the Commonwealth according to the following principles:
  • Abolishing the power of share ownership, replacing it with the egalitarian principle of one member: one vote.
  • Labour hiring capital (i.e. the members were to be in charge) rather than the traditional model of capital hiring labour which he saw as both exploitative and controlling; and
  • Common ownership in industry, with all shares held in common and in perpetuity by a charitable trust (the Commonwealth), Limited by Guarantee rather than by share.

These principles grew out of his Quaker faith 'and the belief that a socially responsible undertaking cannot exist merely in its own interests. It is part of the whole national and international community and as such has responsibilities which extend far beyond its factory walls.'  Scott Bader contributes time and resources to its communities, it supports charities chosen by its members, and aims to minimise its environmental impact.

The legal framework hasn't changed since 1951 and has proved to be a remarkably effective vehicle for preserving the unique nature of the Scott Bader enterprise. In the last half of the 20th Century the chemical industry has seen massive international agglomeration with more and more assets held in fewer and fewer hands.  Because the legal constitution of the Commonwealth prevents Scott Bader Company Ltd or any of its shares being sold, Scott Bader has been immune to the pressures of take-over or merger with the consequential loss of identity and founding culture to which such changes inevitably lead.

There have, however, been significant developments in the internal democracy of the Commonwealth during its 60-year life. A major review of the governing structure between 1998 and 2004 resulted in a drive to extend Commonwealth Membership to all Scott Bader staff worldwide, the setting up of local representative councils in all Scott Bader manufacturing locations worldwide and an international democratic forum, the Members' Assembly, being formed.   This body is charged with holding the Group Board to account on behalf of all Commonwealth Members worldwide, for the long-term sustainability of the Scott Bader business.  It is designed to strengthen the democratic engagement of Members with the Commonwealth and with the legacy it is trying to create for future generations. This assembly is multi-national, multicultural and multi-faith.  It brings Christian, Muslim and Zulu representatives together with members of no faith and as such it represents a miniature global melting pot.

The 2010 Constitution contains a set of Guiding Principles and a Code of Practice that turn the specifically Quaker values of equality, pacifism and unity in decision making into specific behavioural standards that all governance bodies have to ensure are met. The 2010 Preamble highlights the 21st Century challenge: “The Commonwealth now extends well beyond the UK and embraces many different people of different cultures and religions. The articulation of values and principles needs to be as relevant to them today as it was to the exclusively UK members in 1951… The challenge remains today to make this common trusteeship a living reality. There is a mutual responsibility shared amongst all those involved to bring these words to life.”

Further Reading and Credits

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