Just Numbers On A Spreadsheet

Giant US-based food processing company Mondelez announced on Thursday that it plans to close its confectionery-making plant ‘Cadbury’ in Dunedin at the end of the year, leaving over 350 workers without jobs. There is no good reason to close the plant. It turns a profit every year.

Mondelez inherited Cadbury about 7 years ago when Kraft decided to split its operations into several subsidiaries, Mondelez being one. Kraft had staged a hostile takeover of Cadbury a couple of years earlier. The plant has been downsized regularly ever since, softening everyone up for the eventual closure.

Mondelez will make more money by running fewer plants. New Zealand is a small country, therefore is a small market. Mondelez will make more money if it exports its products to New Zealand from elsewhere in the world than it will make from producing them locally.

There are two flaws in that argument. Why would New Zealanders continue to buy products produced overseas when there are New Zealand made alternatives? (Though for sure if these New Zealand owned companies ever listed on the stock exchange companies like Mondelez would snap them up and shut them down as well). Secondly, if every business adopts this attitude, how will New Zealanders acquire enough money to buy their products at all?

Mondelez, like every other big multinational corporation, doesn’t care. New Zealand is a small country. New Zealand is a small market. As a former staff member put it, “Cadbury (under Kraft/ Mondelez) transformed from a company that cared about staff to a heartless multinational which only sees them as numbers on a spreadsheet” (ODT 18 Feb).

If New Zealand sank to the bottom of the ocean, the most Mondelez, or any other big corporation, would have to do is delete a cell on its spreadsheet.

Why then do our politicians persist in pandering to these ‘heartless’ creatures? They fall over themselves to ply them with sweeteners to come to our country, even if they stay only a little while. Our trade deals revolve around making it easier for them to come and go as they please, and do as they please while they are here. As for paying taxes to contribute to the resources they use, like our transport infrastructure or educated and healthy workers, that’s optional. If they want to rearrange their accounts so that their profits go to some tax free haven where they have an office the size of a telephone booth, that’s fine with us.

It should be clear by now that multinationals will not provide many New Zealanders with a decent and regular income so they can afford a warm dry home, or help us with the cost of providing essential infrastructure, free education, or free healthcare. We are going to have to do that for ourselves.

New Zealand does not have to be a haven for heartless multinationals. What happened to the number eight wire mentality? Where we currently have multinationals, we could have worker-owned cooperatives, social enterprises, small owner-operated businesses. And where we do still allow multinationals, we could insist they play by our rules – the same rules that the rest of us play by – not make up their own.

Perhaps the demise of Cadbury will be a wake up call and an opportunity. Chocolate has been made in Dunedin since 1884. There is no reason that it has to stop just because Mondelez decides not to make chocolate there any more – if we, the New Zealand people, don’t want it to.

Or are we happy to carry on being “numbers on a spreadsheet”?