BUSINESS editor Laura Knowlson takes a look at the charitable side of business in York and North Yorkshire.

THE notion of philanthropy in business is no strange concept in York thanks to the ideology of one of the city's most famous businessmen.

Chocolatier and social reformist Joseph Rowntree was one of the first to link charity with business, setting up three trusts and founding one of the first occupational pension schemes.

His strive to improve the life of his employers and fight against poverty is still evident today through the continued work of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust.

But while they live on under the JRF name, what have business in York and North Yorkshire done since to continue the legacy?

A number of brands across the region have set up their own charities, taking time out of the day to day running of the business to fund a variety of projects around the world.

One such company is York-based Choc Affair, a producer of fairtrade chocolate which set up its own charity Seeds of Hope Uganda.

Alongside producing 40 tonnes of chocolate every year from its base in Yorvale Business Park, Choc Affair runs a sponsorship programme to support people in the village of Kumi in Uganda.

After its launch four years ago, Seeds of Hope has provided child sponsorship, water treatment programmes, and in one case paid for a two-year-old girl called Sarah to have an operation to fix her leg which had broken when was she was a baby and we left to heal in the wrong position.

Later this month a team from Choc Affair are due to fly out to Kumi to find the next projects for the charity to support.

Director Linda Barrie explained: "My sister and I went to do a two week mission project at an orphanage in Kumi. We fell in love with the people and the country, and when our two weeks were up we knew we couldn't walk away and that we had to do something, so we worked together to think about what we could do that would be beneficial.

"We identified someone that could manage the project for us out there, a pastor, and we set up a sponsorship scheme.

"They identify the children that are in need of support and we provide things like medical care, school fees, we tailor make it.

"If they are vulnerable and don't have any skills we will help to give them a skill. We are not a massive organisation so we can adapt to the need of the child.

"We also have a goal of putting a water well in a village every time we go out there.

"Yes I have taken hours out of the business to focus on this work but it will see such incredible long lasting results. Fundamentally life is relationship based and sometimes you are so touched by who you meet that you know you have to do something. You just find the time to do it."

Choc Affair, which employs a team of 17 people, is always on the look out for business to support its Seeds of Hope charity, and has recently launched its own product, the 2:22 bar, with 10p from every sale going to the charity.

Choc Affair isn't the only food producer in North Yorkshire to take its business beyond the kitchen, with Harrogate-based Bettys & Taylors launching its own global support mission almost 25 years ago.

The business, famous for its tea and cakes with two cafes in York, launched its Trees for Life appeal in 1990, with a pledge to plant one million trees around the world.

With support from its customers the firm reached and surpassed that target within ten years, and has since planted a total of three million trees and protected an area of rainforest the size of the Yorkshire Dales.

Samantha Gibson, ethical projects officer at Bettys & Taylors, said: "When we first started planting trees, it felt like a good way to help the environment while giving something back to the communities we source from. After all, for many of the tea and coffee regions we buy from, trees are essential to lives and livelihoods."

Bettys & Taylors has worked with charities such as Oxfam, Tree Aid and World Vision to plant saplings in ten countries including India, Ethiopia, Kenya and Indonesia as well as here in the UK.

Since 2009 the business has worked on protection projects in Peru and Kenya and helped to protect an area of Amazonian rainforest larger than the Yorkshire Dales by supporting the Rainforest Foundation UK’s work with the Ashaninka communities in Peru.

Ms Gibson said: "Cocoa grows naturally in the Amazon, and the Ashaninka people already have a history of harvesting and selling cocoa beans. However, their cocoa has been relatively low quality, produced in small quantities and has often been bought by middlemen who avoid paying fair prices for goods.

"We’ve helped communities to manage and protect their reserves and the forests in a sustainable way, and to improve the quality and quantity of cocoa that they are growing so it can be sold to generate much needed income for healthcare, water and education.

"So far the results have been impressive. Thanks to training, demonstration plots and the establishment of a cocoa growers co-operative, family incomes from cocoa growing have increased – all while protecting the rainforest, for the long term. Who knows, perhaps one day, we’ll have Ashaninka chocolate at Bettys."

Working in partnership with Nature Kenya, Bettys & Taylors is also supporting a project which attempts to reduce the environmental impact of tea farming in Kenya.

The project is focused on both replanting native trees into Kenyan forests hit by deforestation and planting fast-growing trees on private land that local communities, schools and businesses, including tea farms, can use for a more easily renewable fuel source.

Ms Gibson added: "While much of our tree planting and protection work has taken place overseas, we have also planted thousands of trees in our beautiful Yorkshire countryside.

"It's an opportunity to raise awareness of the value of trees and woodlands as 'national treasures' in our home communities.

"Right now we are supporting The Three Hagges Jubilee Wood in Escrick, near York, to encourage its development into a beautiful and thriving community woodland.

"It’s lovely to be able to support a project on our doorstep that our staff at Bettys can learn about and even help to create.

"While our family business donates £100,000 to our tree projects every year, it is only with the support of our customers and community that we have been able to plant and protect trees for so long. We truly value their involvement and encouragement and it is with their help that we hope for an even more ambitious future for Trees for Life at Bettys & Taylors."

Rather than setting up its own charity Harrogate Waters Brand has launched its own product specifically to support a leading water charity.

In 2007 the business, which own Harrogate Spring Water, set up Thirsty Planet spring water, the only UK water brand to provide a fixed, charitable donation with every bottle purchased.

Thirsty Planet is a dedicated charity brand, which provides communities in sub-Saharan Africa with clean, safe drinking water and improved sanitation while also helps educating children on the importance of healthy hydration in UK.

Thirsty Planet exclusively supports Pump Aid, an award-winning UK-based charity, dedicated to the implementation of clean water supplies in disadvantaged areas of sub-Saharan Africa.

Since its launch Thirsty Planet has so far raised £1.7 million for Pump Aid, which has helped with the build and maintenance of more than 8,000 elephant pumps, giving more than a million people access to a lifetime’s supply of clean, safe water.

By the end of this year the brand hopes to reach the £2 million milestone to provide more impoverished communities with a life-changing, sustainable clean water supply.

James Cain, managing director at Harrogate Water Brands, said: “We are passionate about supporting such an important cause, and we’re extremely proud to have achieved more than £1.7 million in donations to Pump Aid through Thirsty Planet.

"Our simple ‘You Hydrate We Donate’ mantra is easy for consumers to get behind; they can all help make a huge difference to lives in Africa. In fact, as soon as they’ve purchased a single bottle of Thirsty Planet, they already have. And most importantly, we are able to provide clear, measurable evidence of the outcome of their purchase."

In 2013 Thirsty Planet was the official water partner of the Rugby League World Cup, which resulted in a donation to Pump Aid, to help fund the build of two elephant pumps.