Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust: A statement from trustees on the origins of our endowment

Building on decades of anti-racist organising, the Black Lives Matter movement has brought renewed focus to the origins of long-standing racial injustices in our society and led to necessary introspection in thousands of organisations.

At the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, our purpose is to support people who address the root causes of conflict and injustice. This has included long-term funding of racial justice work, in line with our charitable objects. As a Quaker Trust, our commitment to integrity also prompts us to reflect on our own situation and actions, even when this is difficult. Because of this, we felt a moral responsibility to critically examine our own history. The Rowntree Society gave us further information about the history of the Rowntree company, which provided the wealth used to establish the three endowed Trusts set up in Joseph Rowntree’s name in 1904.

The preliminary research identified evidence that suggests that the Rowntree company purchased cocoa and other goods produced by enslaved people and benefitted from the system of colonial indenture.


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.

We also recognise that we have overlooked shameful parts of the Rowntree company’s history in our telling of the Rowntree story, despite some of the information being publicly available. This includes evidence of oppressive and exploitative practices at the Rowntree company’s South African subsidiary, Wilson Rowntree, during the apartheid era. JRCT was a shareholder in the Rowntree company at the time, and we say sorry to those who endured such appalling treatment. Whilst we know that JRCT trustees put significant and public shareholder pressure on the company to change its behaviour, we will examine and reflect on the Trust’s actions during this period as part of our commitment to learning from our past.

The process to fully and accurately acknowledge our history could and should have begun earlier. We sincerely regret our failure to do this sooner. We will be working together with the Rowntree Society to sponsor research that will explore aspects of this history in more detail.

Although nothing we can do will repair the harm caused, we must now take steps to address it. We are in the early stages of this process. We acknowledge that we are a white-dominated organisation and that black people, brown people and people of colour must shape this work.

We are taking immediate action to strengthen our contribution to racial justice, in our grant-making, investments, governance and staff diversity. We are also committed to identifying, listening to, and engaging with those communities affected by the enduring harm caused by the Rowntree business, to develop a longer-term plan for restorative justice. We expect this to include a process of exploring and identifying forms of reparation which further our charitable purposes for the public benefit. We begin this journey knowing that the precise outcomes are not yet in sight.

We are committed to being open and transparent about our progress.


- The  Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT) is an independent Quaker charitable trust which makes grants to organisations and individuals working to produce positive social change through their charitable work
- We support those who address the root causes of conflict and injustice
- Every year JRCT makes more than 100 grants to a value of approximately £11 million for all kinds of charitable work, from grassroots community groups to well-established charities working to build a peaceful and just world
- JRCT draws its income from a responsibly invested endowment and doesn’t fundraise

- The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT) is an entirely separate organisation to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) and the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust (JRRT).

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