Cadbury’s is one of the most recognizable brands in the world of sweet products. Its flagship chocolate varieties have become synonymous with consumable cocoa products. And to maintain such sweeping monopoly and brand loyalty over more than a hundred years is a great achievement. What is also remarkable is the fact that Cadbury’s had always conducted business in a socially responsible manner. It is one those exceptional enterprises which did not operate purely on the basis of profit motive. Cadbury’s had had an impressive track record of employee welfare schemes and other philanthropic activities. But, unfortunately, such a philosophy is seldom seen in the business world today, where greed overcomes any humanitarian impulse. This essay will argue that the corporate culture and business philosophy followed in Cadbury’s during the 19th century is impossible to apply in the present times.
When John Cadbury started the corporation back in late 19th century, he had a vision that was consistent with the principles outlined in Quakerism. Quakers believed that a commitment to communal welfare is essential for attaining divine grace. As a result Quakers were proactive philanthropists, including John Cadbury. He implemented a huge housing project on a scale of 120 acres of land so as to provide all his employees decent dwelling conditions. Even his sons George and Richard Cadbury espoused the spirit of Quakerism in their managerial decisions. For those early generations of Cadbury managers, profits were not everything. But today, it is impossible to think of corporate leaders to belong in the same league as John Cadbury and his sons. (Bacon, 1997) What we have today is vapid sloganeering to project an outward philanthropy, which is in essence a garbed push for profits. Jargons such as “cause-related marketing”, “social marketing”, “altruistic marketing” and “public purpose marketing” and “corporate do-gooding” arc just some of the unhelpful terms being thrown around these days. They are not true philanthropy as was carried out by John Cadbury and his sons. Even Cadbury’s former marketing director John Taylor admitted his concerns in 1992. By then, Cadbury’s had cut its charity roster to two: World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Save the Children. The long-term approach, rather than the immediate impact on the bottom line that others claim for Corporate Do-Gooding, was Taylor’s concern then. (Dwek, 1992) What Taylor observed two decades back has proved prophetic today, with the Cadbury’s sovereign brand being swept away in an aggressive takeover bid.
The top management of companies like Cadbury’s believed in industrial democracy and worker engagement in key management decisions. Of the handful of companies that experimented with industrial democracy, Cadbury’s was outstandingly successful. These companies also had strong ideologies and a strong sense of social responsibility, which actually helped their profitability. Not only was Cadbury’s exemplary in this respect, but its arch rival in the chocolate industry Rowntree as well. In these two companies, worker participation was directly linked to company’s participation in social programs. There was a circular process through which quality products were created by happy and well-paid workers as well as healthy financial performance for the company. (Dwek, 1992) Public health and Christian principles were therefore among
“the ‘push’ factors that transformed chocolate from an expensive luxury into an increasingly common commodity. Many of the chocolate makers that started up in Britain in the nineteenth century were owned and managed by Quaker families. The philosophy and moral outlook of these founder entrepreneurs pervaded the industry for decades.” (Witzel, 2009)
In conclusion, in today’s world of cut-throat competition under the spell of a prolonged economic recession, philanthropy is the least of concerns for corporate leaders. Corporate philanthropy has become a hallow term which stands for yet another marketing ploy. It is fair to claim that there is an element of perversion in this tactic, which even Cadbury’s succumbed under competitive pressure. Cadbury’s Strollerton initiative that was unveiled a few years ago is seemingly altruistic and socially conscious, but , in truth, the initiative’s warm glow of charity-giving is nothing but “the white heat of extra sales and market share is something which Cadbury has shown to be one of the shrewdest marketing ploys around.” (Witzel, 2009) This kind of ‘caring corporatism’ is taking off in a big way. It is a sad development, indeed, that the noble philanthropic tradition of Cadbury’s has given way to bolstering the bottom line.
Bacon, M. H. (1997). Let This Life Speak: The Legacy of Henry Joel Cadbury. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Dwek, R. (1992, July 23). Doing Well by Giving Generously. Marketing, 16+.
Witzel, M. (2009, Summer). Democracy, Community and Chocolate: The Management Philosophy of the Cadburys and the Rowntrees, 19th Century Commercial Rivals, Resulted in Happy and Well-Paid Workers and Strong, Profitable and Creative Companies. European Business Forum, (14), 72+.