Chasing The Chocolare Kings

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Writer and lecturer Danny Bernardi argues Birmingham City Council’s prosecution of Cadbury is a pointless waste of time.

If you’ve ever eaten a bar of Cadbury’s chocolate a cursory glance at the label will reveal it was born in the UK’s second city, Birmingham.

In 1879, George and Richard Cadbury moved their cocoa and chocolate factory from Bridge Street in central Birmingham to a greenfield site beside Bournbrook Hall, four miles to the south of the city. Loyal and hard-working workers were treated with great respect, relatively high wages and good working conditions.

Jump cut to 2007 and Cadbury is a well regarded and highly successful global brand with its distinctive purple and white graphics recognised throughout the world. Even the local Bournville railway station is bedecked in Cadbury colours.

We are not talking about some fly-by-night organisation which does not care for its workers or consumers. This is a socially responsible, successful and ethically run business.

So, why on earth are Birmingham City Council prosecuting them? On Monday April 23rd 2007, The Birmingham Mail reported that the chocolate giant was to face legal action following a salmonella scare in 2006 which led to the recall of a million chocolate bars. Such court action comes after one of the UK’s most expensive and largest trading standards enquiries led by the council’s food safety team.

Traces of the bug were found in Cadbury ingredients which resulted in the company recalling seven of its products at a cost of £35 million.

Cadbury Limited now faces prosecution on two points contrary to the General Food Regulations 2004. Enforcement action is also being taken under The Food Hygeine (England) Regulations 2006. Offences carry a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine and/or two years’ imprisonment.

Just why are Birmingham City Council wasting their time and valuable tax payers money on such pointless action? This action is not in the public interest. What happened was serious but Cadbury are a responsible company with the will and resources to promptly rectify any problems in its manufacturing process.

A cynic may suggest this is no more than a show of strength on the part of the city council. Whatever the motivation it is ill-advised. Cadbury is a successful business and will doubtless defend any action by hiring in specialist lawyers. In contrast the legal department at Birmingham City Council is small, underfunded and overworked. The lawyers are not specialists in consumer law and the bulk of their work is undertaken by support staff. If the council decide to hire external lawyers it will only add to the expense.

This prosecution is pointless. It will be a PR disaster for the council. Cadbury is a major local employer as well as a significant contributor to the local economy, not to mention a much loved brand.

Whether this prosecution succeeds is not the point. The Trading Standards Department would be better employed investigating the thousands of rogue traders operating in the city rather than showboating in such a stupid manner.

As a footnote the council seems more than happy to boast of the city’s connection to the Cadbury family by devoting space to them on its website.

Don’t let this legal action put you off Birmingham’s finest, it is just Birmingham City Council flexing its puny muscles.