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Explosive letter

BrewDog accused by ex-staff of ‘culture of fear’

BrewDog forest

BrewDog has been accused of ‘vanity projects’ such as its forestry plan

BrewDog owner James Watt has been forced to make a grovelling apology to former staff who have accused the brewer and pubs chain of being a “toxic” employer.

In an open letter, 61 former employees said they felt fearful and had suffered mental health issues as a consequence of working at the company.

They alleged there were safety concerns and they were expected to cut corners for the business.

“It doesn’t matter which part of the business we worked in… we all felt that in our day-to-day working lives, there were at best hurdles, and at worst genuine safety concerns,” the letter said.

“So many of us started our jobs there eagerly, already bought into the BrewDog ethos, only to very quickly discover that ‘fast-paced’ meant ‘unmanageable’ and ‘challenging’ meant ‘damaging’.

“Put bluntly, the single biggest shared experience of former staff is a residual feeling of fear. Fear to speak out about the atmosphere we were immersed in, and fear of repercussions even after we left.”

The letter added that “a significant number of people have admitted they have suffered mental illness as a result of working at BrewDog.”

Ex-staff also accused the brewery of “vanity project” PR campaigns, as an example, they pointed to BrewDog’s desire to “save the planet” while making use of a private jet.

In response, BrewDog’s co-founder Mr Watt said: “At BrewDog our people are our main priority, which is why the open letter we saw on Twitter was so upsetting, but so important. Our focus now is not on contradicting or contesting the details of that letter, but to listen, learn and act.

“At BrewDog we are focused on building the best business we can. We have always tried to do the best by our team — we do have many thousands of employees with positive stories to tell as a result.

“But the tweet we saw last night proves that on many occasions we haven’t got it right. We are committed to doing better, not just as a reaction to this, but always; and we are going to reach out to our entire team past and present to learn more.

“But most of all, right now, we are sorry. It’s hard to hear those comments, but it must have been harder to say them. We appreciate that and we will endeavour to honour that effort and courage with the real change it deserves.

“We aren’t going to make excuses, we’re going to take action. From our commitment to sustainability to our passion for beer, BrewDog has always been defined by taking responsibility and continually improving. This is no exception.”

The brewer has been well-known for fostering a maverick image, dropping taxidermy cats over the City, and developing a beer called Barnard Castle Eye Test, following former Downing Street adviser Dominic Cummings’ infamous trip to Durham when he had Covid-19.

BrewDog said it used the profits from the beer sales to help fund its production of free sanitiser for the NHS & health care charities.

Its campaigns have certainly been a cause of controversy and division and even its equity for punks crowdfunding has come in for criticism from investors who say the “shares” are difficult to sell because of the limited windows made available for transactions to take place. This means there is no guarantee of realising their full value. The company has hinted at a flotation, either in London or New York, that would improve liquidity.

Two years ago Mr Watt was at the centre of a Twitter storm after being accused of taking other people’s ideas and not paying for them.

However, he also regularly reminds his army of social media followers that he never forgets where the company came from and he has this week posted photos of a simple orange chair, bought from Ikea for £9.99 when he and Martin Dickie launched the business and which he still uses today.

Comment: could the latest allegations lead to a change of management?

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