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Response to Mondelez New Zealand closure shows global brands' fading veneer

25 November 2017 Feature
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The gloss is peeling off 'global brands', whose makers have built their marketing and production on the assumption that the brand name alone is sufficiently powerful to efface all interest in where goods are produced, or under what conditions. In this scenario, consumer loyalty was assured. The memory of local production, the communities and the workers that sustain them would wither under the attack of the power brands. It turns out consumers are asking questions.

In February 2017 Mondelez announced the impending closure of its 80-year-old Cadbury chocolate facility in Dunedin, New Zealand, with the elimination of 350 jobs. Production is to be shifted to Australian plants producing for the New Zealand market. A community group called Save the Factory initially tried to maintain production in Dunedin by offering to buy the plant. The bid failed, but efforts to save quality jobs and chocolate production in Dunedin are not over.

An article in the UK Guardian describes what happened next. Save the Factory very quickly crowdsourced enough money to team "up with the boutique Dunedin chocolate producer Ocho to expand their business, allowing them to employ more people - including former Cadbury's workers - and keep the tradition of making chocolate alive in New Zealand's oldest city." Ocho owner Liz Rowe told the Guardian "There is a strong feeling to keep manufacturing here, to keep jobs local."

This doesn't let Mondelez off the hook. The company benefitted from generous tax subsidies while it was vacuuming cash out of the Dunedin operation through a scheme which charged the New Zealand subsidiary 'dividends' - essentially rent on the brands - in excess of the company's net income. Governments should be seeking to recover the money which funded corporate vandalism here and around the globe. But Ocho has tapped into the sentiment that global brands were designed to destroy, demonstrating the resilience and resurgence of support for local production   

Local jobs are by no means necessarily union jobs. New Zealand IUF affiliate E Tū is working to ensure that the saved jobs are quality jobs with union protections. And the effort to save quality jobs at Mondelez is part of a broader ongoing international effort that has included numerous actions by IUF affiliates.

Consumers' affection for local producers cannot be dismissed as airy nostalgia. It incorporates living memories of local employment, strong local communities, a tax base to fund public services - and the aspiration to reclaim them. "The groundswell of support", writes the Guardian, "showed how important chocolate and jobs were to the people of Dunedin." The Dunedin experience indicates reserves of support for labour's fight for quality employment which unions can build on.