The Church's dividend from Cadbury

By Jonathan Bartley
January 19, 2010

Some good news for the Church of England (and the Methodist Church) at last it seems with regard to its investments.

It won’t do much to plug the gaping hole in the C of E's pension fund which has resulted from its love affair with equities, but it stands to make a tidy profit on the impending takeover of Cadbury.

But as with many of its other investments – for example in Tesco who return a big profit whilst paying garment workers 7p an hour in Bangladesh - the Good News for the church is bad news for many vulnerable people.

This time it looks as if its gains from the Cadbury takeover will result in redundancies at a time of financial hardship.

It’s not always easy to get exact figures about what shares are held at any one moment. The Church Commissioners are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. But the Church’s shareholding in Cadbury was valued at £7 million according to the Church Commissioner’s last annual report, on 31st December 2008. The shares were worth about 570p at that point. That was also the approximate price of the shares before the speculation of the takeover began. The price subsequently spiked, and the offer on the table from Kraft is now around 850p. The C of E therefore stands to make something in the region of 33% on its investment, or £2.5 million pounds. The Methodist Church too stands to make a few hundred thousand pounds.

Cadbury unions have warned that up to 30,000 jobs would be put at risk by the deal as Kraft would be weighed down by some £22bn in debt. Kraft has a record of aggressive cost-cutting. The union Unite said that between 2004 and 2008 it shed 19,000 jobs and closed 35 sites to help reduce its debt.

The Church will no doubt point to the inevitability of such things in a Capitalist system. It may further argue that it is legally bound to take the profits and use them for its own retirement fund, not the needs of others. The extent that it is unequally yoked with mammon (or in layman's terms, in bed with the pursuit of profit) is seldom, if ever, questioned by the Church's General Synod who don't see it as a problem (until it fails to deliver).

A better, and more moral use however, would clearly be to take the profit and set up a hardship fund for those who have given their lives to Cadbury, but suddenly find themselves without work. This would certainly be in keeping with the Christian spirit that underlay the foundation of the Quaker company which had a reputation for care of its employees.

It would also fitting for the churches to now care for those people who have worked for many years to ensure that the Church has been able to, quite literally, reap dividends.

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