UNION chiefs are seeking urgent assurances about the future of Cadbury’s Chirk factory and its 250 workers from the new American owners of the iconic British chocolate firm.
Yesterday saw Cadbury’s finally lose the independence it has enjoyed since 1824 and pass into the ownership of Kraft Foods after the majority of its shareholders opted to accept the controversial £12 billion takeover deal.
As the deadline for acceptance loomed, hundreds of workers from Cadbury plants across the UK and Ireland – including an eight-strong delegation from Chirk – travelled to London to gain the support of MPs for legislation which will protect British firms from similar foreign acquisition in the future.
Heading the delegation to Parliament was Barry Roberts, Unite union chief at Chirk and a member of the national leadership team.
“The meeting with MPs went very well and we were encouraged by the high level of support we received,” he said.
“There was a lot of commitment to press ahead with legislation making it more difficult for this sort of thing to happen in future.
“There is a long way to go but if we can get this it would be known as the Cadbury Law.”
After lobbying Parliament, Mr Roberts headed across London for a meeting with top managers at Cadbury’s London headquarters.
He added: “Our next step has to be to meet with Kraft management at the highest level possible to get some understanding of what they now have in mind for Cadbury’s.
“We will also be urgently seeking assurances about the security of Chirk and other UK and Irish plants.”
Clwyd South MP Martyn Jones, in whose constituency the Chirk factory is included, said: “It is to be hoped that Kraft management have the good sense not to interfere too much with the running of Cadbury’s.
“I hope they also realise the depth of loyalty and expertise they have at Chirk and other plants.
“Everyone has a soft spot for Cadbury’s, but the trouble was that it was put on the stock exchange by the Cadbury family and therefore became the target for a takeover.
“However, I hope that the new owners realise what a profitable company this is.”
The signing of the deal comes two weeks after Cadbury’s board, led by chairman Roger Carr who had previously led a robust defence of the Birmingham firm’s independence, recommended to shareholders that they accept the offer.
Cadbury employs about 45,000 people in 60 countries, with 5,600 staff at eight manufacturing sites in the UK and Ireland.
Union officials have warned that jobs will be put at risk by the deal because Kraft would be weighed down by a debt of about £22bn.
It is expected to borrow £7bn to finance the Cadbury deal.
Jack Dromey, Unite’s deputy general secretary, who was at the lobby of Parliament yesterday, said what happened to the Terry’s plant in York causes grave concern for the Cadbury workforce.
The factory was shut by Kraft in 2004, despite the firm being founded in the city in 1823.
After restructuring, Kraft moved production to factories in Sweden, Belgium, Poland and Slovakia – 11 years after buying Terry’s in a £220m deal.
Mr Dromey said: “Our fear is that the Kraft takeover is not in the national interest and in the months of this hostile takeover process we have heard nothing from Kraft to calm fears that it is in the interest of the Cadbury workforce either.”
Last night, Business Secretary Lord Mandelson was due to meet Kraft chief executive officer Irene Rosenfeld to seek assurances about Cadbury jobs.
In an interview last week, Ms Rosenfeld said fears of job losses in the UK were “greatly overstated” and that the company had a positive future under the ownership of the US conglomerate.
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