Racism Concerns Drive Brewers Association's New Code of Conduct

Under criticism for not doing enough to address racism and other forms of discrimination, the trade group is laying the groundwork for possible expulsion of unruly members.

Brewing Industry Guide Staff Aug 11, 2020 - 4 min read

Racism Concerns Drive Brewers Association's New Code of Conduct Primary Image

The Brewers Association has a new Code of Conduct, a step in holding accountable member breweries that engage in racial, sexual, or other forms of discrimination.

The next step: establishing a complaint process that could lead to the expulsion of members who violate that code. The BA already has been circulating new bylaws that would make it possible to remove members from the organization.

Bob Pease, the BA’s president and CEO, says in today’s announcement that the new Code puts into writing the responsibility to follow the law as well as eliminate “discrimination, harassment, and bias of all types.”

“We take our leadership role seriously and recognize that we must be actively anti-racist,” Pease says.

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Racism has been more prominent in the national conversation since late May, when a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd during an arrest, leading to nationwide protests and a resurgence in the Black Lives Matter movement.

It already was a challenging issue in the predominantly white brewing industry.

Michigan’s Founders Brewing—not an independent brewery nor a full BA member, since Spanish beer company Mahou owns most of it—faced a high-profile racial discrimination suit in 2018. Founders reached a settlement with its former employee, Tracy Evans, in October 2019.

In July, Kale Johnson, the CEO of Minneapolis-based 56 Brewing—which is a BA member—stepped down after allegedly waving a rope tied like a noose at a black employee and saying, “Come here, boy.”

Those incidents and others have led vocal critics on social media, including some BA members, to call on the association to do more to fight racism within its own ranks.

The new Code of Conduct puts discrimination alongside bad behavior such as irresponsible drinking and irresponsible marketing. In a section titled “Respect for the Individual and Groups,” it says, among other things, that members must “treat all individuals and groups respectfully, recognizing their human dignity, regardless of their diverse human characteristics: race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression, age, physical or mental disability, size or appearance, genetic pre-disposition, religion, ancestry, national origin, or veteran status.”

It also says that members must “speak out without fear of retaliation when the actions of others violate the rights of any individuals or groups.”

The complaint process would establish a way to flag BA members who may be violating the code—for example, by engaging in racist or sexist behavior. Pease says the BA’s Governance Committee is currently developing that member complaint process. “The intent of the complaint process is to hold our peers accountable for unacceptable behavior while pursuing an educational path forward that leads to a more inclusive and respectful craft beer community.”

Pease also notes that the BA’s Core Values and Beliefs explicitly include “fostering a diverse community within the craft brewing universe.”

As an internal measure, the BA staff also are to receive training on structural racism from the Racial Equity Institute. “We see this as a step toward building our staff’s collective awareness of the context of structural racism in which we are all operating,” Pease says.

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