Edward Cadbury – Paternalistic employer or Quaker-inspired pathfinder of British industrial relations pluralism and women workers’ champion?




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De Montfort University


Thesis or dissertation

Peer reviewed


Using Edward Cadbury as the central character, this thesis considers the development of the Cadbury company between the years 1899 and 1919. This was a period of experiment and innovation, and the occasion when all the reforms that came to epitomise the company as being ‘progressive’, were introduced. Most commentators portray the company as being paternalistic, but this appears too simplistic an answer. Instead, this thesis takes an alternative approach and poses the question: How far did Edward Cadbury have a distinctive Quaker approach to managing people, and what were the main elements of this approach? The question is addressed through three principal themes: First, the thesis challenges the idea that the company was run in any way as a form of narrow social control paternalism, and in so doing, will draw attention to the written work of Edward Cadbury, as well as identify the workplace practices introduced into the firm in its early period of development. The second main theme argues that Edward Cadbury and his approach to labour relations was an early version of pluralism, one that could be described in contemporary terms as ‘sophisticated modern’ or ‘neo-pluralist’. Finally, the third main theme takes issue with the idea that the influence of Quakerism had little to do with the workplace system that emerged in the Cadbury company. Included will be important contextual background information covering details of what was happening in the world of Quakerism during this period, as well as important information on the Birmingham industrial relations environment of the time. Significant use is made of Edward Cadbury’s written work to identify his role as a progressive employer and champion of women in the workplace. This is further validated by a consideration of the introduction of Works Councils into the company, as well as reference to the first two Quaker Employers Conferences of 1918 and 1928. The thesis concludes by suggesting that the management approach developed over a century ago by Edward Cadbury is more appropriately described today as ‘sophisticated modern’ or ‘neo-pluralist’, and ends with an outline of a distinctive Quaker approach to managing people that is characterised as ‘covenantal’.





Research Institute