Monday, October 20, 2014

Cadbury job losses Kraftily disguised in jargonese

Last weekend I was back in Birmingham, my home town, for the first time in about five years. [Apologies to anyone reading this who is miffed I didn't look them up. It's a long story, involving norovirus, deceptively cheap trains to Lichfield and last-minute changes of plan...] Due to a fuck-about with trains I had an excessively long journey back to London and decided to buy a Birmingham Post to keep me occupied.

And good job I did, or I'd never have found out about Kraft (or, as it's apparently now known, Mondelez International) and its latest turn as a comedy corporate villain. Short version: quelle surprise, Kraft are screwing Cadbury workers now that the country has its back turned, and apparently no-one really gives a monkey's.

Long version: The Post's front page story was about a leaked document called "High Performing Bournville - is this for me?". I haven't been able to find this anywhere online, and it's written in such excruciating American management speak that it's basically quite difficult to discern any actual facts from the bits of it quoted in the Post. Their columnist Jon Griffin had it about right when he described it as "part David Brent, part Kim Jong-Un’s public addresses". But the essence of it seems to be that Kraft are imposing a restructuring - sorry, "transformation journey" - which will result in hundreds of jobs being lost - or, if you prefer, "fewer colleagues here at the end of our journey".

As part of this, the document warns in somewhat sinister fashion that workers will be expected to "demonstrate a new set of behaviours"; there's no indication (at least in the Post's write-up) of what these "behaviours" might be, although it does vaguely allude to "varied shift patterns" for those who keep their jobs. Apparently this will be "dialogued" as part of consultation. If only the attempt to turn 'dialogue' into a verb was the most offensive thing about this document.

"Colleagues" who "don't want to be part of High Performing Bournville" are invited to take voluntary redundancy. There's even a stupid bullshit questionnaire that's been circulated to workers ahead of one-to-one discussions, with questions like "Are you a team player with an attitude for playing your part?", "Do you want to work in a factory where you are expected to meet all compliance requirements?", and "Do you embrace change?" Ooh, now let me think. I wonder which answers will help me demonstrate the right set of behaviours. It's a tough one...

Basically, Kraft seem to be fulfilling all the dire predictions made about them at the time of the takeover. Job losses? Tick. Crass American management style? Tick. Total disregard for the history and culture of the Cadbury company? Tick. The fact that it's happening at Bournville (or as Mondelez puts it, the "true home of Cadbury") feels especially ironic: I remember learning about Bournville at school as an example of enlightened industrialism driven by Quaker ideals. Something important is being lost here, and yeah, it makes me sad.

I thought this story might have been picked up by a few of the nationals, given how much fuss they made at the time of the takeover itself. But so far only the BBC and the Express (presumably on the basis that the villain of the story happens to be foreign) seem to have shown any interest. Apparently, no-one much cares what happens at Cadbury any more.

It's significant that this comes after a two-year moratorium on job losses conceded as part of the takeover. Kraft were obviously gambling on the nation losing interest once the spotlight moved on. And the evidence so far suggests they were right.

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