What we’re sharing here and why
We’re sharing here an announcement made by one of our funders, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust about the origins of the Rowntree endowment and its roots in unspeakable suffering and oppression in the forms of slavery, colonialism and white supremacy.
We’re sharing this here…
In April 2021 the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (from which Navigate receives approximately 37% of its total income) released a public statement about the origins of the Rowntree endowment and its roots in slavery, colonialism and white supremacy. You can read more HERE and HERE and HERE
They said that their preliminary research identified evidence that suggests that the Rowntree company purchased cocoa and other goods produced by enslaved people and benefited from the system of colonial indenture. There was also evidence that Wilson Rowntree, the fully-owned South African subsidiary of the Rowntree Company, was responsible for highly oppressive and exploitative practices during the apartheid era.
The Trust also wrote this…
‘We are appalled by these abhorrent practices, which are completely at odds with our Quaker values, which include a Quaker belief in equality, and our organisational mission to support those who address the root causes of conflict and injustice. These actions caused extreme suffering to people and communities throughout the world. We also recognise that they contributed to sustaining colonialism and white supremacy as powerful drivers of today’s societal and global systems. Black people, brown people and people of colour continue to experience the dehumanising impacts of this systemic racism in all areas of life on a daily basis.
As former shareholders in the Rowntree Company, and as beneficiaries of its wealth, we are deeply sorry.
The process to fully and accurately acknowledge our history could and should have begun earlier. By not doing so, we recognise that shameful parts of the company’s history have been omitted from the Rowntree story, despite some of the information being publicly available. We sincerely regret our failure to do this sooner.’
The Trust has since embarked on a process to determine practical steps to address the harm caused, acknowledging that they are a white-dominated organisation and that people who have been racialised as or who identify as Black, Brown or People of Colour must shape this work.
We understand their initial actions to include (gathered from various communications):
Navigate has attended all of the sessions above and our impression is that JRCT are trying hard to decolonise and transform their philanthropy, and that the input and support (inc. in the form of challenge) of grantees is valued and sought.
The context as we see it
Although the details of the specific source of the JRCT endowment were new to us, the generality is not. It’s our understanding that anyone who or any organisation that has amassed a lot of money will have done so through some form of exploitation, inequality, oppression or violence at some point. Modern day fortunes are likely to be built on historic fortunes gained through genocide, slavery, extraction colonialism and exploitation of work forces. For example, large tech companies extract materials to make the products that they sell, devastating landscapes and channelling profits away from the people who live in those landscapes. Large profits at the top of organisations often mean low wages and inequitable working conditions at the bottom. We also see understand the choice to hold huge amounts of wealth and resources, while others do not have access to resources and wealth, as a fundamental practice of inequality and inequity.
So although we’re really glad that JRCT are communicating and engaging with this news so openly and with such commitment, we see it as just one example and indicative of global systems that affect all wealth.
Nevertheless, it still shakes us and produces emotions (horror, grief, confusion, despair, determination…) in us to hear this news. And perhaps it does in you either as someone we have worked with supported by this money or as someone who is considering working with us.
We believe that resources that have been concentrated in particular places through colonialism and oppression urgently need to be re-distributed. We believe there needs to be material, emotional and relational addressing of what has happened historically.
We are choosing to continue to receive our current 5 year grant from JRCT. We want to acknowledge that this is a choice we are making, to use resources that have come to us through an incredibly problematic course. We are making this choice because we believe we can do something with these resources that is strategically important in trying to bring about the systemic shifts that would make possible a complete and radical transformation of how resources are distributed in the world.
We hold this conclusion with doubt and a strong sense of ‘not knowing’.
It feels important to us to continue to engage with JRCT on this and we’re aiming to be present at all sessions with grantees aimed at gathering feedback and co-creating ways forward.
We’re also continuing on our own journey of decolonisation by …
If you have any feedback for us, anything you’d like us to hear on the above, anything you’re seeing that you think we might not be, we’d be really grateful if you’d get in touch – hello[@]navigate.org.uk
The Navigate Team – Jana, Kathryn, Paul and Roz