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Scottish Government urged to cut funding ties with BrewDog over workplace ‘culture of fear’

The Scottish Government was urged to cut ties with BrewDog.
The Scottish Government was urged to cut ties with BrewDog.

The Scottish Government has been urged to cut future funding for BrewDog over claims of a workplace “culture of fear” within the beer firm.

The Aberdeenshire-based brewery faced criticism after being slated by ex-staff in a BBC Disclosure documentary last week.

Founder James Watt was accused of inappropriate behaviour with allegations he made female workers feel “uncomfortable” and “powerless”.

Hundreds of former staff alleged that BrewDog was “toxic” to work for in a damning open letter last summer.

Lawyers for Mr Watt denied the misconduct allegations as the BrewDog boss hit out at “false rumours and misinformation”.

The CEO also apologised to anyone who he had made feel uncomfortable in the past.

SNP ministers handed between £125,000 and £250,000 to the alcohol brewery last October to help them decarbonise.

Hospitality trade union Unite has now urged the government to end investment in the company until it “commits to transformative improvements”.

‘Culture of fear’

Lead organiser Bryan Simpson: “Since June last year, our members at Brewdog have reported a systemic ‘culture of fear’ across the organisation as well as inappropriate conduct from the CEO as detailed in the Disclosure documentary aired on January 24.

“This is hardly the kind of employer that the Scottish Government should be supporting with public funds, particularly given incongruence with Fair Work principles.”

“We call upon the Scottish Government to cease public investment in the company until it commits to transformative improvements in working conditions.”

‘I truly apologise’

Writing to investors, he said: “This is absolutely the last thing I want and something I will learn from immediately.

“I truly apologise to anyone who felt that way. This was never my intention.

“However, I would argue that people feeling uncomfortable around me based on false rumours and misinformation does not represent inappropriate behaviour on my behalf.

“I am trying to be a better leader, and to be far more mindful of the impact I have on our team when I am on site.”

Mr Watt said the company had made “some mistakes” since starting up in 2007 but claimed that the “establishment” were not fans of the firm.

Brewdog boss James Watt has said sorry to former workers.
Brewdog boss James Watt has said sorry to former workers.

He added: “We are working so hard to be the company we know we can be.

“We’ve made huge changes over the last few years – the company they left is very different to the one we are today, and very different to the company we will be, as we continue to invest in our people and business.”

Since its launch BrewDog – which is headquartered in Ellon – has opened bars in Scotland’s four biggest cities and has expanded to the United States.

The SNP’s political rivals also urged the government to boycott future investment in BrewDog following the recent accusations.

They should not be receiving any more Scottish Government cash.

– Willie Rennie MSP

Ex-Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said: “There has been a regular drip-drip of bad news about Brewdog culminating in the recent BBC Disclosure programme.

“Unless there is evidence that complaints are being addressed, they should not be receiving any more Scottish Government cash.”

Scottish Labour’s finance spokesperson Daniel Johnson said: “The allegations made during the BBC documentary are serious and the testimony of both current and former Brewdog staff should be heard.

“Decarbonising the economy is a vital part of achieving net zero, but our priority has to be helping people reduce their energy costs via upgrades to homes and providing grants to lower income households purchase insulation.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is firmly committed to promoting fair working practices and workers’ rights.

“Despite employment law being reserved to the UK Government, we are doing all we can through our promotion of Fair Work principles to work in partnership with unions, workers and employers across all sectors of the economy to build fairer and more inclusive workplaces.”

‘We are sorry’

BrewDog chairman Allan Leighton said: “Since the publication of the open letter in 2021, we have overseen a major independent review into our culture, which included reaching out to all signatories and all leavers over the past 12 months, and we have implemented a wide-ranging action plan to address the issues raised.

“To those former crew members for whom BrewDog failed to meet their expectations, we are sorry.

“To those who felt strongly enough about their experience to participate in the programme, we urge them to get in touch with our HR Team or use our independent ethics hotline so we can listen and act.

“Any allegations of impropriety are taken extremely seriously. James has provided full assurance that the BBC’s claims are not accurate and are based on rumour and misinformation.”

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