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Barclay’s Apology

How the mighty have fallen. Three Barclay bosses resign after the bank is found to have rigged one of the most crucial interest rates in global finance.

The fury unleashed reached fever pitch when Bob Diamond, the bank's newly-resigned CEO, was questioned by parliamentarians about his role in the scandal. Diamond offered an apology but the decibels dipped only when John Mann MP asked: 'I…wonder, Mr Diamond, if you could remind me of the three founding principles of the Quakers who set up Barclays?'. 'I can't, sir', spluttered the abashed Diamond. 'Honesty, integrity and plain dealing', the MP snapped back.

Despite his acrimony, Mann was right. While the trinity of virtues he cited may have failed to feature in Barclays' apology, it does feature in Barclay's Apology – a book first published in English in 1678 by the Scottish Quaker Robert Barclay. The full title was An Apology for the True Christian Divinity, and it had a formative influence on the development of business ethics in the global economy.

So too some documents known as the Westminster Standards, that were disseminated widely following an assembly involving around 120 theologians held at Westminster Abbey in London from 1643 to 1649. They had a profound influence amongst Protestants, including entrepreneurs seeking brighter futures in the New World.

All that is history. But Mann's interrogation of Diamond raises the question how such seemingly outdated documents may be relevant to today's global economy. Exactly this question is being addressed by an initiative involving a growing international circle of scholars and business leaders. They take an even older standard – the Ten Commandments, or Decalogue – and ask what light is thrown on them by the Westminster divines that can help reform business and banking today.

They must be on to something. For had the dealers in Barclays observed the Decalogue's prohibition against lying and stealing, rate rigging would have been avoided. As it is, the bank has incurred a hefty fine, a loss of trust, a leadership vacuum, and the prospect of criminal prosecution.

Against this background, the legacy of the Quaker and Westminster Protestants testifies to the importance not only of regulation but of conscience in ensuring equitable trade; and to the fact that the dictates of conscience are not as inimical to business as is often assumed. Barclay's Apology, had it been heeded, would have prevented the misdeeds behind Barclays' apology.

Peter Heslam

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the Quaker principles of honesty, integrity & plain dealing
conscience is not inimical to business