Joseph Rowntree charities “deeply sorry” for slavery and colonial links

Joseph Rowntree endowed charitable organisations have pledged to take action to address their benefactor’s “shameful” colonial past and links to slavery.

The organisations were endowed with large shareholdings more than a hundred years ago by the Rowntree family’s confectionary company, which benefitted from slavery.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust, The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust have issued statements condemning their organisations’ roots in colonialism.

The move follows recent research by the Joseph Rowntree Society looking at the Rowntree company’s links to slavery, how it benefitted from colonial indenture as well as from racial discrimination and anti-union tactics in South Africa.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust have issued a joint statement apologising for the Rowntree Company’s “deeply disturbing practices”

“We are deeply sorry that the origins of our endowment have roots in shameful practices that caused deep suffering and created enduring harms,” said the joint statement by the Foundation and Trust.

They say they are “committed to recognising and learning from every part of our history” adding “it is especially important to us that the experiences of people whose labour was taken under duress and slavery should occupy a more prominent place in the Rowntree story. We should have done this much earlier.”

They add that alongside other independently endowed Rowntree trusts they will fund the Rowntree Society to investigate their history more fully.

“We know that the harms caused by these practices are still creating injustice and suffering today,” added the Trust and Foundation.

“Many of the injustices faced by black and minority ethnic people in the UK are fuelled by attitudes similar to those used during imperialism to justify the worst forms of exploitation.

“Inspired by the long history of social movements - including Black Lives Matter - that have rightly challenged the world to do more to tackle racism and its effects, we know we must work harder to achieve lasting change.

“We cannot truly be an anti-poverty organisation unless we are also an anti-racist organisation.”

In addition, the Foundation and Trust are looking to increase diversity within their own organisations as well as review whether it can better use its funding, partnerships and campaigning to tackle racial inequality.

'Building a positive new legacy'

The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust has also pledged to take action to “change and to building a positive new legacy”.

“We recognise the importance of learning from all parts of our history and enabling the experiences of people whose labour was taken under duress and slavery to take their central place in the Rowntree story,” said the Trust.

“JRRT is contributing to the funding of work by the Rowntree Society to sponsor a research fellowship to explore aspects of the Rowntree history in more detail. In retrospect we should have started this process earlier.”

Meanwhile, Quaker charitable trust The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust said: “As a Trust we are appalled by what we have learned about these abhorrent practices, which are at odds with our Quaker values and our commitment to building a more just society.

“We know that such actions caused extreme and enduring harms and we recognise their role in embedding the systemic racism that is still present in the UK and globally. As a former shareholder in the Rowntree company and an institutional beneficiary of its wealth, we are deeply sorry.”

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