BrewDog has found itself in the firing line after a drinks promotion to raise awareness of the gender pay gap backfired. The case highlights the danger of inadvertently discriminating one group when publicly trying to support another, and the need for a bespoke, effectively communicated anti-discrimination policy.
The trouble began when the brewer rebranded its flagship Punk IPA as Pink IPA and offered a 20 per cent discount to customers who identify as female to “expose the sexist marketing techniques used to target women, particularly within the beer industry”.
While the move was well intentioned, a male customer in Cardiff argued the promotion was perpetuating the very inequality it was trying to combat, and lodged a successful discrimination claim under the Equality Act 2016 when he was refused the discount. A judge awarded him £1,000 which he donated to a charity that supports women on low pay.
Even though the amount of money awarded was minor, the misstep was embarrassing and potentially harmful to the brand. Properly planning an initiative like the one BrewDog launched is essential, and should involve taking third party advice, either from a lawyer or relevant charities and awareness groups. However, at a more fundamental level, businesses need to ensure a policy that protects against discrimination within their own organisation is in place. This way, any public initiative designed to publicly support a minority group will stem from an organisational culture that understands the importance and value of inclusion.
In the eyes of the law, businesses don’t need to have to have official anti-discrimination policy. Not discriminating on the basis of the nine protected characteristics outlined in the Equality Act 2010 - age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation - is enough to comply. But without a formal policy, the effectiveness of any measure to protect and support these groups will be considerably harder to embed.
An effective anti-discrimination policy is bespoke. The policy of a retail business, for example, will include industry specific measures that aren’t appropriate for other sectors. These must be rolled out across an organisation with training for staff at every level.
If inclusion is sponsored company-wide, those designing public initiatives to support specific groups will, at the very least, be cognizant of their own origination’s position. At best, they will have greater appreciation of the issues impacting a wider spectrum of protected groups. This doesn’t mean mistakes such as BrewDog’s are avoidable. In all likelihood, the brewer will have its own anti-discrimination policy in place. Taking the right advice and proper planning are still a must.
- Carolyn Bowie, trainee solicitor at Weightmans