COLUMBUS, Ohio (COLUMBUS BUSINESS FIRST) – BrewDog is facing more criticism about its culture following a BBC report focused on the Scotland-based brewery, including several allegations related to events at its Central Ohio facilities.
The news program Disclosure featured BrewDog in its episode that aired Jan. 24 in the United Kingdom.
While the episode tackles a variety of topics – from the company’s marketing tactics and its Equity for Punks crowdfunding program to co-founder James Watt’s personal investments – the issue of most local interest concerns Watt’s behavior when visiting operations in Central Ohio and the United States.
BrewDog bases its American operations in Canal Winchester.
The BBC said it spoke with a dozen current and former U.S. employees, and although there are no allegations of criminal behavior toward women, those who were interviewed said Watt has behaved “inappropriately” in numerous ways.
Two employees said they witnessed Watt kissing and putting his hand up a woman’s shirt at BrewDog’s Franklinton location, according to the BBC. Others interviewed said that female employees were encouraged by coworkers to dress so they would not attract Watt’s attention and one manager said he’d schedule fewer women on nights when he knew Watt would be there.
Watt’s lawyers, both in the program and in an accompanying article published Monday, denied the allegations against him.
In a statement sent to Columbus Business First, BrewDog Chairman Allan Leighton said complaints about the instances in the United States were investigated by an external third party and “found to be without substance.”
“(Watt) has provided full assurance that the BBC’s claims are not accurate and are based on rumor and misinformation,” the statement said, though it also said Watt has “expressed considerable regret if his manner has in any way made crew feel uncomfortable” and that Watt is committed to improving his management style.
Following up to questions from Columbus Business First, a source with the company said that Watt has acknowledged he needs to be aware of how his actions may make others feel and if employees feel uncomfortable or unsafe around him, that needs to change.
TSG Consumer Partners, a private equity firm that owns 22% of BrewDog, declined to comment on the BBC’s reporting.
Leighton, who said he is mentoring Watt, joined the business in fall 2021 after former and current employees voiced concerns about company culture. A group called Punks With Purpose published an open letter – eventually signed by more than 300 former and current employees – that questioned the environment created within the business.
“The single biggest shared experience of former staff is a residual feeling of fear,” that group’s letter stated. “Fear to speak out about the atmosphere we were immersed in and fear of repercussions even after we have left.”
Some employees who spoke to the BBC, including one of the founders of Punks With Purpose, reiterated that concern.
BrewDog previously laid out the assorted actions it was taking to improve the environment for employees including a workplace code of conduct, which it admitted was the first time it had put “a clear set of standards in one place.”
The brewery also launched independently managed hotline through which employees could report concerns.
“To those who felt strongly enough about their experience to participate in the (program), we urge them to get in touch with our HR Team or use our independent ethics hotline so we can listen and act,” Leighton’s statement said.
In all, the BBC said it interviewed nearly 100 current and former BrewDog workers. The BBC program can be viewed in its entirety here.
The BBC also reported that BrewDog in 2016 and 2017 sent beer to the U.S. that did not properly declare all ingredients, which would be a violation of U.S. laws.
A former employee cited by BBC said that was intentional. Watt, in a social media post last week, admitted the shipments occurred, but characterized it as a paperwork oversight.
Columbus Business First has not yet heard back from the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau about the matter, though the BBC did note that a three-year statute of limitations for any investigation has passed.
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