Boycott BrewDog trends on X after allegations of racism, EDL association, and employee discrimination circulate

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Published Jul 1, 2024 at 02:07 PM

Reading time: 3 minutes

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Brewery and pub chain BrewDog has been accused of racism once again after allegedly firing an Asian woman who expressed distress over the presence of far-right English Defence League (EDL) members at the London bar where she worked. The recent controversy has led to the hashtag #BoycottBrewDog to begin trending on X.

On June 28 2024, trade union Unite sent a letter to the new BrewDog CEO James Arrow detailing staff concerns. The letter was signed by 69 employees across 11 venues, including seven from the chain’s Union Square bar in Aberdeen. A spokesperson for Unite told The Press and Journal: “The way in which our members across BrewDog have been treated is morally reprehensible and almost certainly illegal.”

The former employee, referred to as Myriam by publications, reported that EDL members had gathered unchallenged at BrewDog’s flagship bar in Waterloo ahead of a St George’s Day rally on 23 April 2024. The event led to police arresting 10 people after groups tried to breach cordons in Whitehall, with glass bottles being thrown.

Just before arriving at work and finding suspected EDL members drinking in the bar, Myriam went to her manager in a podcast studio located in the bar to express her concerns. BrewDog later accused her of “aggressive behaviour and use of inappropriate language,” according to documents seen by The Guardian.

“This was not the case at all,” Myriam told Tribune magazine, which first reported the story: “All I said was ‘I can’t f*cking believe this. This is f*cking unbelievable’. I didn’t swear at my manager… When I read the accusation, it completely broke me. I was scared, upset, heartbroken. I felt powerless. This is my job. I have bills to pay. I had a breakdown.”

Myriam later sent a message to her manager apologising for the intensity of her emotions and asked him to consider her perspective as a woman of colour, mentioning her family’s history of racial abuse by the EDL.

In a letter to Myriam, BrewDog acknowledged her “past trauma and emotional state” but maintained that she was guilty of serious misconduct deserving of dismissal with notice.

However, the trade union Unite has expressed concern over BrewDog’s treatment of staff, with Bryan Simpson, lead organiser at Unite Hospitality, stating that they would take all necessary legal and industrial actions to ensure justice for their members at BrewDog.

Although the EDL did not book the BrewDog bar, Myriam claimed: “They were allowed to sit there and drink before their rally, which always ends up violent.” BrewDog, based in Aberdeenshire, was reportedly informed by police a day earlier that EDL members were likely to gather in the Waterloo area and might visit the bar. The police advised the company not to close the venue and assured that officers would be present. Myriam said staff were not informed of this, and the lack of advance warning contributed to her reaction. She added that her colleagues were extremely uncomfortable with the EDL’s presence, with one staff member in tears.

Let’s not forget that the EDL has been extremely controversial due to its blend of aggressive anti-Islamic, anti-multicultural ideologies and a history of violent street demonstrations, often targeting areas with significant Muslim populations. While it claims to oppose “militant Islam,” research indicates that many supporters are driven by broader hostility to immigration and a perceived threat to British values.

This mix of ideologies makes the EDL a troubling presence, particularly for employees from minority backgrounds who may feel uncomfortable or threatened by the group’s known history of racism and Islamophobia.

This of course is not the first time that BrewDog has been called out in the media for its treatment of employees. In 2021, the chain’s rebellious image began to crumble when former employees, united under the banner Punks with Purpose, accused the company and in particular co-founder James Watt, of cultivating a “culture of fear” where workers were bullied and “treated like objects.”

At that time the company issued a public apology, but Watt appeared to caution former staff involved in a BBC documentary about BrewDog, suggesting in a post on the company’s web forum that their anonymity was not assured.

Shortly after, any remaining traces of Watt’s punk persona seemed to vanish when fans of the brand spotted him at Nigel Farage’s 60th birthday party with his partner, former Made in Chelsea star Georgia Toffolo.

In response to criticism, Watt stated: “I am always happy to meet with people with a wide diversity of views and happy to meet with people from all across the political spectrum. I seem to remember a similar level of outrage on the occasions I had dinner with Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond.”

“And regardless of your political views, the opportunity to chat to people like our former Prime Minister Liz Truss is an interesting experience and one that almost anyone can learn from, whatever you decide those learnings should be,” the CEO continued.

Amid ongoing concerns about its treatment of staff, BrewDog lost its B Corp status, which certifies a company’s ethical commitment to the environment, community, and employees.

Watt has pledged to donate some of his shares to staff and some to the Founders Pledge, an organisation that encourages entrepreneurs to direct part of their wealth to initiatives that “drive positive change.”

That being said, it was only in January of this year that BrewDog faced fresh criticism when it abandoned its commitment to the accredited real living wage scheme, opting to hire new staff at the legal minimum wage and freezing pay for bar staff in London. Looks like BrewDog’s idea of “living the punk lifestyle” now includes making sure their employees can barely afford the cost of a pint at their own bars.

Following news about Myriam’s dismissal, netizens were quick to respond, with #BoycottBrewDog quickly gaining traction. One user stated: “An Asian BrewDog employee was sacked after raising concerns about the presence of the EDL in the BrewDog Waterloo pub on the day of a far-right rally. I never buy their products, but if you do, boycott BrewDog. You don’t need your beer tasting of racism.”

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