Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Chocolate wars make you sick

Looking at the media coverage of Kraft's takeover  of Cadburys, you'd think that they were turning Westminster Abbey into a McDonalds drive-thru. The press, not for the first time, are right for all the wrong reasons. When  it comes to big business there is no place for sentimentality.

Cadburys is not a struggling family firm of artisan chocolatiers - it is a huge (not quite as huge as Kraft) multinational that got big by swallowing up other household names like Frys, Bassetts, and most recently, Green and Blacks. It is not especially British either  - it operates in sixty countries and employs eight times the number of staff abroad that it does in the UK. Nor is it a more 'caring' business than any other - the days of the philanthropic Quaker Cadbury brothers building a 'new model' town for their workers and donating to the hardship fund of striking engineers are long gone.

The real reason that the Cadburys sell off is depressing is not sentimental at all, it is a salutary reminder that under capitalism the only moral imperative is to maximize the value of a business for the shareholders. As Todd Sitzer, the Caburys' executive who negotiated the £11.9 billion  sale said; he was sorry that there might be job losses but his ultimate duty was solely to his shareholders. Whilst trousering some £12million for himself in the process.

The two groups who don't figure in this equation are of course the Cadburys workers and the customers.

Much has been made of Cadbury's Somerdale factory being saved from closure by the takeover. We'll see. Multinationals like Kraft do not generally take over other multinationals in order to save jobs. Given the £7billion debt incurred by the deal for the already debt-heavy Kraft, it is not surprising that they have declared that they are looking to 'make significant savings'.

As for the consumer, the drive to cut costs, as it has in every  other sector, will only dilute quality - a process already under way when Cadburys started adding vegetable fats to their chocolate. I suspect this particular race to the bottom will only accelerate now; the new owners  already manufacture a variety of some of the most disgusting foods know to man ...


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