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What was Wonka thinking?

To celebrate the centenary of Roald Dahl's birth, the team at Capital Law Firm takes a light-hearted look at one of his favourite creations, the chocolate factory, and discover why, in today's world, his business is a law suit waiting to happen

Last weekend marked 100 years of Roald Dahl magic; the genius who brought us Matilda, the Witches and created possibly one of our most fascinating and best-loved literary characters, Willy Wonka. But while Mr Wonka is regarded by many as a childhood hero, underneath his magical chocolate factory’s dreamlike façade lies a few dirty secrets. Cardiff- and London-based Capital Law's team of lawyers and consultants look at seven things Wonka wouldn’t get away with in today’s cautious world.  

Health and safety

Firstly – where is all the health and safety equipment? Somebody urgently needs to express to Mr Wonka the importance of a high-vis vest. Wonka’s workforce, his team of dedicated Oompa Loompas, are forced to work in extremely hazardous conditions – with no protective suits,  goggles, or gloves - showing a complete disregard for their safety.   

It’s not just the Oompa Loompas Mr Wonka puts at risk– what about his visitors? Why weren’t Charlie, Veruca, Augustus and the gang suited up in life jackets for their journey down the chocolate river, or at the very least given a safety talk by a qualified instructor?  

Workers' rights

Mr Wonka alleges he ‘rescued’ his workforce – the Oompa Loompas – from the terrible ‘Loompaland’, where they were forced to hide, terrified, in treehouses. Quite a claim to make, and not one that would stand up too strongly in an Employment Tribunal.   

At best, we’d question whether Wonka obtained the relevant work permits for these staff members – it seems more likely they’re working off the books. At worst, the Oompa Loompas could realistically bring a claim for enforced slavery – potentially taking Wonka down for people smuggling.   

We’re also struggling to see any evidence of an equal opportunities policy. Are there any female Oompa Loompas at the factory? How does Wonka ensure he meets statutory rights such as maternity leave? It looks like a strong foundation for a stream of diversity and discrimination issues.  

Money 

Cocoa beans are not a form of currency and do not constitute fair payment. While Wonka claims he made a ‘deal’ with the Oompa Loompas, we’re yet to see any evidence of this. Were the Oompa Loompas given a fair and comprehensive contract when they commenced their employment? From a rate of pay perspective, are they at least receiving minimum wage? With cocoa beans as the currency, it’s impossible to calculate the conversion rate.

This is also problematic for overtime – are the workers entitled to it? Wonka himself admits that ‘nobody ever goes in and nobody ever comes out’ of the factory – not a conducive attitude to encouraging a healthy work life balance.  

Food-safety regulations

Food hygiene and safety inspectors would have a field day at the chocolate factory, and promptly close it straight down. Even before Augustus took a dip in the chocolate river, it would’ve been deemed unfit for human consumption. To bring it up to sanitary levels, the Oompa Loompas would need to empty the river, decontaminate the pipes and re-fill it with chocolate before using it again. They would also need to invest in cleaning filters to ensure the chocolate remained pure and drinkable on an ongoing basis.   

Don’t get us started on the squirrels. All animals carry diseases and there are strict laws covering this – food rooms must be kept free of pests. Squirrels carry numerous pathogens that could be transferred to foodstuffs and also host the Borrelia bacteria which causes Lyme disease and is transmitted to humans by ticks. A serious Occupational Health concern, and a severe pest infestation.  

Also, what about Wonka’s facial hair, has anyone ever seen him wear the required beard snood?  

Food-testing regulations

Violet Beauregarde’s unfortunate accident was fundamentally her own fault. Mr Wonka warned her against sampling the three-course dinner bubble gum as it hadn’t been adequately tested, but the record-holding bubble-gum chewer ignored his warnings and ate the gum anyway. Despite the fact that Miss Beauregarde’s meddlesome actions were never intended to result in her turning into a giant blueberry, Mr Wonka should have had better restrictions in place to ensure visitors didn’t endanger themselves before products had been certified as safe for human consumption.  

Copyright and intellectual property

Mr Wonka is setting himself up for a copyright nightmare, particularly if a disgruntled Oompa Loompa decides he wants to launch his own Wonka Bar variant. Has Wonka copyrighted his recipe sufficiently? Has he considered the value of his brand and the benefits of a patent? He may find himself in court challenging one of his employees if they decided to launch an Oompa Bar though, without sufficient IP protection, he’ll struggle to win any damages.   

Construction and energy usage

The chocolate factory does not seem particularly structurally sound. We’d like to see the planning permissions, too – it’s extremely unlikely that the construction of a waterfall would be permitted in an industrial building.   

And what about the glass elevator? It almost certainly infringes Wonka’s neighbours’ Rights to Light, and raises severe concerns about maintenance and upkeep. Is it regularly serviced? How can an elevator that can go “up and down, sideways, slantways, and any other way you can think of" be regulated? It seems doubtful that the electrics in the factory are maintained to an industry standard. We’re certainly dubious about whether the factory was built and maintained following stringent environmental restrictions on renewable energy usage.      

While these are our primary concerns about Wonka’s factory, there are many other management practices we’d call into question. His succession planning is clearly inadequate – leaving the future of the factory to fall into the hands of a random child via a ticket system is not something we’d recommend to any business.

We’d also warn Wonka about the likelihood of the injured parties – namely, all of the children except Charlie, and their parents – joining together to bring a class action against him, and encourage him to contact our commercial disputes lawyers when this occasion arises.    

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