Maverick MP is the fly in Campbell's soup

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The Independent Online
ONE OF the mightiest food companies in the world has met its match in one of the most resolute campaigners in British politics.

After closing down a factory in Maryport, Cumbria, last month, Campbell Soups of America (annual global turnover $7bn) has found itself under siege by the redoubtable MP for Workington, Dale Campbell-Savours.

Outraged at what he sees as a betrayal by the company, the Labour MP has raised the matter personally with the Prime Minister. He has also tabled a Commons motion calling for a national boycott of all Campbell's products, including the familiar tinned soups, Homepride Cook-In sauces and Fray Bentos pies.

And he has not stopped there. Last week, he took his battle to the company's annual general meeting in Camden, New Jersey, where shareholders were startled to find this solitary Englishman plying them with leaflets about the closure in distant Maryport.

To his delight - and, doubtless, to the company's dismay - the Americans took to him, and he was interviewed by the television networks, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

The story he recounted concerned Homepride Cook-In sauces, the jewel in whose crown was the Maryport factory. Last year, Maryport made profits of pounds 4m on sales of pounds 27.7m. When Homepride's previous owners put the sauce operation up for sale last summer, Campbell Soups outbid several other companies and bought the operation for pounds 58.6m.

In Maryport, the 123-strong factory workforce were assured they had nothing to fear. The new owners said they would move their pasta-sauce operation to Cumbria, and emphasised in a leaflet how they would "continually develop, expand and build on the success of introducing new product ranges and processes into our operations here at Maryport" - and would "further demonstrate our commitment to the development of people within Maryport".

Within eight weeks, the factory was shut and production lines from Cumbria have since been transferred to a Campbell Soups factory in East Anglia.

Mr Campbell-Savours alleges that Campbell's sole intention all along was to pay whatever it took to acquire the Homepride brand name, to protect its own sauces and to close down Maryport.

The MP has urged workers in East Anglia to boycott production moved from Maryport. He has had a 30-minute audience with the Prime Minister. He has asked, without success, to meet Campbell's management both here and in the US.

And now he wants a boycott. His Commons motion says: "This House ... calls upon the wider British public to recognise the appalling injustice and betrayal inherent in this decision [to close the factory] and boycott Campbell Soups products throughout the UK."

A Campbell Soups spokesman said jobs and production would be transferred to other facilities in the UK. Workers in Maryport would be offered jobs at plants in King's Lynn, Glasgow, Salford, and Stratford-on-Avon. For Mr Campbell-Savours, that is not good enough. The battle of Campbell Soups versus Campbell-Savours is just beginning.