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CHOCOLATE CONFECTIONS led me off in different directions. Britain’s Cadbury chocolates ending up in Poland is the principal theme of James Meek’s “Somerdale to Skarbimierz,” in the April 20, 2017, issue of London Review of Books. Yet the piece offers delightfully more.
Meek’s article is a lengthy one even by LRB standards, with almost six of its oversize pages devoted to text and replete with tidbits that call for sharing. Among them are the Quakers’ dominance in British chocolates, the origin of Shannon Airport Duty Free, business oddities of the European Union and even a bit of Esperanto. It’s enlightening reading, all around.
Chocolate Society of Friends. Joseph Fry, a Quaker apothecary, started selling drinking chocolate in 1753. As Meek notes, “A century later, the Frys were owners of the largest chocolate factory in the world.”
John Cadbury, another cuppa-chocolate Quaker, acquired a steam engine and built his own chocolate factory in 1831. Henry Isaac Rowntree, yet another Quaker, turned an old iron foundry into a chocolate factory in 1862.
Quaker entrepreneurs included John Fraeme, James Barclay and two others named Lloyd. Fraeme got into gold trading in 1690; he partnered with his son-in-law Barclay in 1736 to establish a bank in the latter’s name. Edward Lloyd opened a coffeehouse in 1686; by 1691 he and others were underwriting marine insurance there. Today, it’s known as Lloyd’s of London.
Another Lloyd entirely, Sampson Lloyd II and a partner set up a private banking business in 1765; it evolved into Lloyds Bank. Quakers were also early financiers of British railways. In fact, Meek cites a modern biographer who refers to the Quaker “moral mafia.”
Quaker moral leadership. Meek writes that the chocolate trio of Cadbury, Fry and Rowntree “seemed to achieve a particularly successful synthesis of profitable capitalism and private, paternalistic welfare.” Green-space surroundings, subsidized housing, healthcare and sports facilities were part of this, as were pensions for workers. All this, in Victorian times.
“Over generations,” Meek notes, “the original Quaker rigour faded away under the pressure of the prosperity that rigour had brought them…. Many of the liberal and socialist ideas … were taken up by the unions, by the Labour movement, and eventually implemented by the state.”
By the middle of the 20th century, Fry and Cadbury family members cashed out. The merged company was no longer a Quaker concern. In 1988, Rowntree’s was taken over by Swiss conglomerate Nestlé.
The European Union. About this same time, November 1, 1993, came the Maastricht Treaty and formation of the European Union. Free market dealings are a key element of the E.U.’s 28 member states. In particular, a company in country A is free to improve its competitive position by moving operations to country B, not unlike factories in the U.S. relocating to different states.
A lot of Meek’s article describes the economic shenanigans involved in these factory relocations. As one example, countries offered “special economic zones,” enclaves with little or no taxes and other encouragements for businesses to relocate.
Shannon Free Zone. Meek puts these in historical perspective with an aviation example. In the old days, transatlantic flights required refueling stops at Shannon Airport on Ireland’s west coast before reaching their ultimate destinations. Later-generation aircraft had enough range to eliminate these refuelings.
However, Brendan O’Regan had already set up duty-free shops at Shannon in 1947. And this evolved into a Shannon Free Zone established in 1959 that offered more than duty-free shopping. Notes Meek, “Within its perimeter, local and international companies who set up factories and exported the goods overseas would be exempt from Irish tax and duties for 25 years.”
Tom Kelleher, a nearly 50-year veteran of Shannon Free Zone, is quoted as saying, “the Chinese embassy in London was constantly bringing guys to Shannon; it was kind of a Lourdes to them. Visit Shannon and you get an indulgence.”
Notes Meek, “Kelleher was one of the Shannon consultants hired to design a free zone for Poland in the 1990s.”
Gaming the E.U. Free zones in Eastern Europe are seen by E.U. leaders as a means of transforming communist economies to capitalism. Not, however, without economic gaming. Meek describes zones and sub-zones that would make an American gerrymander expert proud. The Polish Mielec zone, for example, is near the Ukrainian border, but it’s offering a sub-zone in Szczecin, on the Baltic and 450 miles away from the parent locale.
La Arto de la Interkonsento. The relocation of Cadbury from Somerdale, about 115 miles west of London, to Skarbimierz, Poland, 225 miles southwest of Warsaw, is rich in linguistics. When Cadbury and Fry merged in 1919, they built on a greenfield site southeast of Bristol. Based on a British national competition in 1923, the place was named Somerdale Garden City.
Shortly after Cadbury moved to Skarbimierz in 2010, the company was bought by U.S. conglomerate Kraft Foods. Notes Meek, “After an internal contest to find a name for the reconfigured company, it was called Mondelēz, meaning ‘world delicious’ in a nonce pidgin Esperanto.”
It sure is nonce pidgin. Google Translate’s rendering of “world delicious” in Esperanto is ”mondo bongustega.” ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017