Confessions of an ex-Cadbury social media manager (at the most difficult time of the year)

Every Easter, Cadbury employees are forced to deny allegations that political correctness is ruining its eggs. 

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After dyeing eggs, folding some palm leaves into the shape of a cross, and roasting a ham, there is one British Easter tradition that has become an institution in our proud nation. Every year without fail, people will hop over to the Cadbury’s chocolate Twitter account and rage about the War On Easter.

The War On Easter has two fronts. Firstly, why doesn’t it say “Easter” on this chocolate egg? It’s banned, isn’t it? Cadbury banned the word because of political correctness! Never mind that plenty of packaging still says “Easter” in big bubble letters. Secondly, they’ve only gone and halal-certified their eggs!

Without fail, Cadbury’s official Twitter and Facebook accounts from around the world will receive these complaints at this time of year, and the social media managers behind them are forced to copy and paste stock responses to angry customers over and over and over again.

So, what’s it like?

“Not only did it involve extra time spent during working hours, but I was also monitoring the page over weekends and even over the Easter break,” explains a former Cadbury social media manager, who worked on the account for 18 months. The manager tried not to copy and paste too much, instead slightly editing the wording from a list of approved responses they were allowed to use.

“I would sit and retype the comment in a dozen different ways so that there was some variety, however the message was always the same – we apologise if you are offended, we don’t want to offend anyone.”

In the UK, Cadbury products aren’t officially halal-certified, just suitable for those following a halal diet. A halal diet consists of foods considered permissable in Islam, with an avoidance of haram, i.e. unpermissable, foods such as alcohol, pork, and meat not slaughtered in the appropriate ritual manner. Cadbury chocolate is halal by default, not design, which allows Cadbury UK’s social media managers to copy and paste a stock response, usually: “The eggs are suitable for those following a halal diet in the way that standard foods like bread or water would be.”

The social media manager quoted in this piece, however, worked on a non-UK Cadbury account, in a place where the products actually are halal-certified. This doesn’t mean Cadbury changed their practices to make the chocolate halal (by default, it already was), simply that the company officially certified some products.

“I believe the ambiguity of the official response allowed for the protesters to push and think they had a chance to change the company’s stance,” says the former social media manager, who wishes that Cadbury had taken “a strong position on inclusivity” by standing by its decision to certify products as halal, instead of apologising for offence caused. 

“I wish I could have been more direct with the message that if a company did make minor changes to how a product is made so that more people are able to enjoy it… what’s wrong with that?” they say. “Someone else being able to have something doesn’t mean you can’t have it too.”

Many find it funny to point and laugh at people raging at Cadbury accounts, but the ex-social media manager explains that the people attacking Cadbury were often more coordinated and more sinister than they seem.  

“These attacks were planned... there were actual Facebook groups that were anti halal, they discussed products and coordinated attacks on pages of brands that supported halal,” they explain. Commenters on the Facebook page would post graphic images of animal torture, female circumcision, and executions. The attacks were often coordinated from private Facebook groups, leaving Cadbury employees helpless to report them.

“I believe that many of the complaints came from people who honestly thought they were putting pressure on brands to stop supporting halal, as they saw it as a stepping stone towards sharia law,” the social media manager explains. “However, there was a large number of complaints from people who I think were just outright racist and didn’t want something they enjoyed to be tainted by what they incorrectly assumed was an Islamic blessing.” In addition to “die-hard trolls”, they also saw comments from people who were simply misinformed.

Overall, the job was “frustrating”, particularly when the employee found themselves having to respond to “hate speech” with “apologetic replies”.

“It was incredibly disheartening,” they say, explaining that some of their fellow employees felt similarly. They wish they had been allowed to take a firmer stance.

When asked about this, a spokesperson for Cadbury said:  

“In the UK our chocolate products are suitable for vegetarians and those following a halal diet, however they are not Halal certified.  As our chocolate products do not contain meat, the ritual of halal does not apply and in the UK carry no halal certifications of any kind. The only animal related products we use in our British chocolate are milk and eggs.

“We take care to point out if and when our products are suitable for certain sections of society who take an interest in the ingredients and manufacturing process. Elsewhere in the world, we may label products with any number of certifications based on consumer interest and dietary requirements, and the best place for consumers to find that information is on the product label in that country.”

Amelia Tait is a freelance journalist, and was previously the New Statesman's tech and digital culture writer. She tweets at @ameliargh