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Cadbury’s Takeover 2

JOBS FOR LIFE?

20-01-2010

What was all the fuss about, asks Dave Woodhall. Why should one company be exempt from market forces?

There was inevitability about yesterday’s news that the board of Cadbury had approved Kraft’s improved bid valuing the company at £11.5 billion. For all the protests, money talked and another part of our area’s industrial heritage was lost to foreign ownership.

As is often the case, there have been cries that Something Must Be Done. Cadbury belongs to Birmingham. Its history is intertwined with the historical development of the city. But what exactly should be done is another matter.

There are no laws preventing iconic or vitally important British companies from being bought by overseas investors. The market doesn’t work like that and introducing such legislation would be impossible while Britain remains a member of the EU.

In any case, what’s the big fuss over Cadbury? It may have its headquarters in the city but the company has long ceased to be a local or even British business. A workforce of 40,000 includes less than 15% of that number based in the UK. Cadbury have been shifting production around the globe for decades; even the iconic Bourneville chocolate is made in France.

We didn’t make this much fuss when our manufacturing base was destroyed. Longbridge closed with a sense of regret mixed with reality and, perhaps, a feeling of relief that the saga had finally come to an end. The region survived. In fact, Birmingham should never forget how well it’s done to re-invent itself as a post-industrial city. What’s so special about Cadbury’s that this business should arouse such feeling?

Any future job losses will be a cause for sorrow. But jobs are lost every day, with none of the debate that will doubtless accompany any such news emanating from the corporate headquarters of Kraft rather than direct from Bourneville. Almost 600 went from Cadbury plants around the world in October 2008. It’s harsh, but no-one should have a job for life just because they work for a company we remember with fond nostalgia from our childhood.

I’m sure that at some point there will be calls to boycott Cadbury, just as there was when HP production ceased at Aston. Did anyone take much notice of that? We’ll carry on eating Cadbury’s, just as we still stick HP on our bacon.

That’s what happens in a free market economy. We’re all free to buy the chocolate we want, whether it costs us 50p or £11.5 billion.

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