Come on, Irene: MPs condemn Kraft boss's no-show (again)

MPs say Irene Rosenfeld's refusal to answer their questions 'steered close to contempt'. But why should she?

by James Taylor
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
MPs have really got their knickers in a twist about Kraft CEO Irene Rosenfeld's decision to avoid their enquiry into the controversial £11.5bn takeover of Cadbury. But much though we approve of greater public scrutiny in principle, this sounds like a lot of hot air. For a start, it's too late to change anything now. For another, Kraft may have a point that she wasn't the best person to answer their questions. And more significantly, as the American CEO of an American company, why should she? They'd be much better off focusing on the rules that allowed the deal to happen in the first place...

Rosenfeld twice declined invitations to appear before the Business, Innovation and Skills select committee - at the start of last year, soon after the deal went through, and this year, during the enquiry. They were desperate to grill her about her Kraft's plans for Cadbury and, specifically, about the closure of its Somerdale plant (having promised to keep it open before the deal went through).

And it wasn't just the no-shows that riled them. It was also the manner of the refusal: Kraft executive VP Marc Firestone apparently wrote to the committee earlier this year suggesting their repeated demands for Rosenfeld to appear in the flesh were 'regrettable... there seems to be a desire to have a 'star witness' towards whom ill-founded allegations and insults can be made, with little or no attempt to discuss the facts and look rationally into the evidence.' The MPs indignantly described this as a 'total misrepresentation' of their motives, which 'fell short of an explicit contempt of the House, but not by much'.

Frankly, if you've ever seen a select committee hearing - the modern-day Parliamentary equivalent of the public stocks - Kraft's version of events may not sound all that unreasonable. But the salient point is that the MPs have no jurisdiction here; Rosenfeld was under no obligation to appear before them, and once the deal had gone through, there was nothing they could actually do about it (and that's even truer now). Since her local lieutenants were probably better placed to answer specific questions, you can’t blame her for deciding that the MPs were more interested in taking pot-shots at the boss rather than delving into the detail.

So you can’t really blame her for giving the enquiry the swerve. But it’s still unfortunate that she hasn’t been willing to talk more about Kraft’s plans for Cadbury. Apart from anything else, it can’t have sent a very positive message to Cadbury staff when their new CEO seemingly couldn’t be bothered to stand up and explain the rationale behind the deal…

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