Kraft apology over UK factory U-turn

US food giant Kraft today issued a public apology for raising hopes that a doomed Cadbury factory could be saved and issued a two-year guarantee on jobs after facing a furious attack over its controversial takeover of the chocolate-maker.

Executive vice president Marc Firestone was subjected to a two-hour grilling by MPs on the cross-party Business Select Committee, who accused his firm of "pillaging" the iconic British company.



Union leaders complained that thousands of British workers have been left fearing for their jobs after Kraft's multibillion-pound takeover, especially as the US firm changed its mind about keeping open the Somerdale factory near Bath.



Kraft said while it was bidding for Cadbury that it would keep the plant open, but later changed its mind, announcing the site would close with the loss of 400 jobs.



Mr Firestone issued the first public apology since the closure was confirmed last month, telling the MPs: "We are sorry to the people who we disappointed. We fully understand that for over two years colleagues at Somerdale had been under a closure programme and our statement created uncertainty, and when we announced we would not take it forward, hopes were dashed. We are terribly sorry for that."



As he issued the apology, Amoree Radford, who campaigned to keep the factory open, burst into tears in the public area of the committee room and later left looking distraught.



Mr Firestone drew gasps of surprise from Cadbury workers sitting behind him, and from some of the MPs on the committee, when he said that Kraft was not fully aware of Cadbury's plans to transfer production from Somerdale to two sites in Poland, including a new factory.



Only after the takeover was completed did Kraft discover that millions of pounds of equipment had been bought for the new Polish factory, he said, adding that the US firm did not know that Cadbury had already invested "enormous resources".



One MP was heard to say: "That is nonsense," while Labour MP Roger Berry interrupted: "Are we seriously being asked to believe that Kraft, with all the resources at its disposal, could get this so spectacularly wrong? You knew that a lot of people were going to have their expectations raised."



Mr Firestone continued: "I can see the sense of disbelief, but we had no prior access to that information. Of course we were aware that Somerdale was being closed, but we were not aware of Cadbury's plans for massive investment in Poland."



Mr Berry accused Kraft of "misleading" workers about the chance of saving their jobs to boost their takeover bid, drawing applause from workers and union activists.



Brian Binley (Conservative Northampton South) said many people believed Kraft lied about its intentions for the Somerdale plant, adding that the firm was fully aware that a new building had been erected by Cadbury in Poland.



"What did you think it was going to be used for - tennis courts?"



Mr Firestone later told the committee that for the next two years there will be no further closures or compulsory redundancies among manufacturing workers.



"We want to regain the trust of our colleagues, government and public. We want to develop a stronger growth platform in the UK and globally. We understand that in acquiring a British icon we have a responsibility to preserve its heritage."



Committee chairman Peter Luff (Conservative Mid Worcestershire) told Mr Firestone that Kraft's reputation had been damaged, adding he would be recalled for further questioning if the MPs were not satisfied with his replies.



Mr Firestone and Cadbury president Trevor Bond were repeatedly challenged about their long-term commitment to the Bournville factory in Birmingham.



They insisted they intend to keep production in Britain but stopped short of any specific long-term commitments.



Asked exactly how many years Kraft plans to maintain production at the Birmingham base, Mr Firestone said: "Bournville remains at the heart of the Cadbury business and we intend to maintain it, we intend to invest in it, we intend to ensure that it remains competitive."



Mr Bond also said that the company needs to keep its UK operations "competitive".



Asked specifically whether Cadbury's Dairy Milk would continue to be produced in the UK, he said: "Yes."



Pressed on how long this would be for, he added: "For as long as our consumers are delighted by the product and the taste that we produce."



Mr Binley interrupted: "That simply is not good enough for the workforce."



Lindsay Hoyle (Labour Chorley) said Kraft made the same promises to Terry's of York before moving production of the Chocolate Orange to Poland.



He accused Kraft of doing "exactly the same" to York as the Vikings, saying: "They pillaged and asset-stripped that company."



Jack Dromey, deputy general secretary of Unite, earlier told the committee that "warm words and cheesy smiles" from the US firm were not enough, saying the Somerdale workers had been "devastated" by the closure.



Mr Dromey said after the hearing: "Parliament has exposed the truth - Kraft lied. The 6,000 Cadbury workers will never trust Irene Rosenfeld (Kraft's chief executive) again unless she personally meets the workers and guarantees no factory closures or compulsory redundancies.



"The committee forced Kraft to take stumbling steps in the right direction but the company needs to go further and give a five-year guarantee.



"The lasting legacy of this shameful saga must be a Cadbury law, banning hostile takeovers, clouded in secrecy, of successful British companies."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Foreign Exchange Dealer - OTE £40,000+

£16000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Foreign Exchange Dealer is re...

SThree: Experienced Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £40000 per annum + OTE + Incentives + Benefits: SThree: Established f...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40/45k + INCENTIVES + BENEFITS: SThree: The su...

Recruitment Genius: Collections Agent

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company was established in...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones