BrewDog, one of the biggest UK craft beer producers, has apologized after dozens of former employees accused the company of fostering a “culture of fear” and fomenting “toxic attitudes towards junior staff.”
In an open letter published on Wednesday, a group of more than 70 people describing themselves as former staffers said they felt “burnt out, afraid and miserable” after working at the company, a Scottish brewery and bar chain known for its punk rock attitude, liberal politics and aggressive marketing.
“Being treated like a human being was sadly not always a given for those working at BrewDog … The true culture of BrewDog is, and seemingly always has been, fear,” the former employees wrote in the letter, which said that an additional 45 ex-staffers endorsed the message but “did not feel safe to include either their names or initials.”
BrewDog CEO James Watt said in a statement that the letter was “upsetting, but so important.”
“Our focus now is not on contradicting or contesting the details of that letter, but to listen, learn and act,” he added. “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.”
He said that the company has “thousands of employees with positive stories to tell” but acknowledged that the letter “proves that on many occasions we haven’t got it right.” BrewDog has 1,215 UK employees, according to a spokesperson.
The letter singled out Watt, who co-founded the company in 2007, for creating the toxic atmosphere: “It is with you that the responsibility for this rotten culture lies. By valuing growth, speed and action above all else, your company has achieved incredible things, but at the expense of those who delivered your dreams.”
BrewDog’s rapid growth has seen the company establish breweries in the United States, Germany and Australia. It now has more than 100 bars worldwide and exports into 60 countries.
In 2017, an investment from US private equity group TSG Consumer Partners valued the company at $1.24 billion.
BrewDog’s quirky and irreverent marketing campaigns have helped grow its fan base. But the former employees alleged in the letter that some of the stunts were just lip service.
In 2014 the company launched a limited edition beer called “Hello My Name is Vladimir” in response to Russia’s “gay propaganda” law and claimed it had sent a case to President Vladimir Putin. According to the former employees, however, no beer was sent.
“How many more times will we see the stories about sending protest beer to Russia (you didn’t)?,” the letter said. It cited other examples in which the company allegedly bent the truth in marketing campaigns. BrewDog did not comment on whether it had sent the beer.
BrewDog has recently raised most of a £27.5 million ($39 million) target to fund sustainability initiatives by selling shares to the public and has touted a possible IPO later this year.