David Prosser: Time to give Kraft some home truths
Outlook: Misleading factory workers about job security is not part of the game
Tuesday 09 March 2010
The Takeover Panel's investigation into the behaviour of Kraft during its buyout of Cadbury isn't likely to do workers at Somerdale much good. Still, public censure of Kraft is the least it deserves and might give other companies in takeover situations food for thought.
Threatened with closure by Cadbury, Somerdale workers took some comfort in the suggestion from Kraft that it might keep the facility open if it won control of the confectioner, only for the US company to change its mind within days of taking over.
This isn't the issue on which the battle was won or lost and Kraft had no legal obligation to keep its word. But the US company's claims that the closure plans were more advanced than it had been led to believe are not credible. Even if its due diligence had not exposed the true picture at Somerdale, trades unions active at Cadbury insist they spelt out to Kraft exactly what the position was.
All takeover battles are emotive situations, during which people's livelihoods are at stake. Sometimes, both sides get it wrong in the heat of the battle. But that isn't what happened here – the hints dropped by Kraft to Somerdale workers that their jobs would be safer under new management were more like a calculated ploy to curry a little more favour for an unpopular bid.
That is unforgivable, particularly since Kraft must have known all along that it would succeed or fail on whether Cadbury shareholders believed they were being offered enough cash. We expect the parties pursuing hostile takeovers to rubbish the claims made by senior managers on the other side – that's the game. But misleading factory workers about job security is not. And if regulators can find a way to call Kraft to account for that, so much the better.
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