MPs' warning after Kraft reneges on its pledge to save Cadbury plant

A COMMITTEE of MPs has urged the UK government to monitor undertakings made by Kraft on pensions and redundancies after it backtracked on a pledge to keep a Cadbury factory open.

The US food group was accused by the business select committee of acting "irresponsibly" after it broke a pledge to keep the plant open following the takeover of the British chocolate-maker.

In a critical report, the committee yesterday said Kraft had been "unwise" to promise to save the Somerdale factory near Bristol, only to announce later that it would close after all, with the loss of 400 jobs.

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The cross-party committee, which took evidence from the company and union leaders last month, also called for Kraft to clarify its intentions over the "lack" of specific guarantees on the future of Cadbury factories at Chirk in North Wales and Marlbrook in Herefordshire, as well as future levels of employment at research centres in Reading, Berkshire, and Bournville in Birmingham.

It urged the government to monitor a number of undertakings given by the company, including pledges of no compulsory redundancies for two years, funding arrangements for the Cadbury Foundation and future pension arrangements.

The call prompted leaders from the Unite union to call on Kraft chief executive, Irene Rosenfeld, to meet Cadbury workers. The union also repeated its demand for a "Cadbury law" to prevent hostile takeovers of successful British companies by overseas multinationals.

Committee chairman Peter Luff described Kraft's handling of the takeover as "woeful".

"Kraft gave us a number of undertakings on the future of Cadbury, which we have put in the public domain," he said. "Kraft will have to deliver, in full, on these undertakings if it is to repair the damage caused to its reputation by the woeful handling of the closure of the Somerdale factory.

"Given the lack of trust in Kraft at the moment, it is vital that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills keeps a very close eye on Kraft's compliance with its undertakings.

"The future of Cadbury's research and development centres of excellence at Reading and Bournville are central to those undertakings. Any stripping-out of the highly skilled workforce at those centres would represent a serious breach of trust, and one that would require a robust response from both government and parliament."

The MPs added that Kraft's handling of the Somerdale factory had damaged its UK reputation and soured relationships with Cadbury workers.

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Jack Dromey, deputy general secretary of the Unite trade union, said Rosenfeld should now meet Cadbury workers in Britain and Ireland to answer their concerns over the future of the company's operations.