Note: If you prefer to read on a green background, not white, please delete amp/ in above url and reload. Linked from Twitter, for some reason it has white background and the additional amp/ to the url and comments won’t be visible. On green background comments at the very bottom will be visible compared to the white background page.
In my experience in Pret with the bullying culture and favouritism, racism is a subject that is present but denied across the board. At Pret’s Head Office the majority of staff are Brisith Caucasian, some Germans, some French, a few Black and Asian people. The majority of people working on the front-lines in shops are foreigners.
Before I link to The Voice’s article from 2012 I remember an incidence that still saddens me today, and it frustrates me that I didn’t respond faster.
Racism, I felt, does happen, but not only from white towards black, but from one country to another. And for any new reader to my story, I am a German Caucasian having worked on the “front-lines” in shops for years. In my first year in Pret, I just started my leadership role and was still new-ish to the whole concept of Pret. I realized early on that Pret is quite complex and micromanaging, but I put my sleeves up and went to work. In that first shop where I started early as a leader, one staff member who was also new, worked in the kitchen, and was from India.
His name I will never forget because it matched his personality. His name was Lovelu, and although his English wasn’t as fluent and he seemed to have been slow in the kitchen, he was lovely! He brought me to laugh, had a funny personality. He was new and worked in the kitchen for a few weeks.
One late morning I came to work for my late shift and was stopped immediately by the Assistant Manager when she saw me entering the shop. She urged me to go straight to the staff-room to Lovelu. I was often sent to Team Members by management when they needed someone to calm down a person. I usually had a coffee first thing when I came to work, as I was always 15-30 minutes early to have a slow start in the shop before work, but the AM sent me to the staff room immediately. I asked why, but she didn’t say, she just said, “please go to the staff-room.”. When I entered the staff-room, Lovelu was sitting there unusually quiet and serious looking. I asked him as usual “how’s it going”, and he looked at me with a perplexed look saying that he just got fired.
What??? Why?? Supposedly he was too slow in the kitchen! Aha? Okay? Hm!
I was still speechless, and still new to Pret and my leadership role, I couldn’t react fast enough, so in my own perplexed state I just waffled something to Lovelu, like I’m sorry and that I thought he was great etc. What pissed me off as well was that the AM didn’t even have the guts to fire Lovelu herself, but got a Manager from a neighbouring shop to do the dirty work, as our Manager was on holiday. But later I said to the AM that before they fire someone, please place them in the shop, I can take them under my wing and if they don’t improve within let’s say 2 weeks, in whatever area the management is unhappy with, then fair enough. But give them a chance, as some people were better in the kitchen, others in the shop. And Lovelu should have been put in the shop, where his personality would have bloomed and the much coveted Mystery Shopper rewards would have increased, I’m sure. Pret demands staff to smile, be friendly and chatty at all times, and for Lovelu this came naturally. He truly had a lovely personality, it was effortless for him to smile and crack jokes. He had a mischievous, cheeky personality that was refreshing!
He was from India, the Assistant Manager and most of the kitchen staff were from a certain country I will not name here, as I don’t want to come across racist towards this country or people. But I couldn’t help to think that Lovelu’s “fault” was not that he was slow in the kitchen, he probably was slow, but he was a male in a predominantly female group of workers, and he was the only Indian guy in the shop.
Another guy who worked with me in the shop was also slow, never smiled and because of his lack of smiling he lost us all the bonus one time when he served the Mystery Shopper. But he was from the same country the Assistant Manager was from and was even recruited by this AM, so his lack of smiling and slow service got him off the hook many times.
One recent review from the new LAX Pret shop beautifully puts into words what Lovelu experienced:
It didn’t make sense at all why he was fired with such a beaming personality! But this gave me a lesson to not be quiet and from then on when I got wind that a Team Member was about to be fired or put in a possition they didn’t like, I spoke with the Manager and asked if they can be put under my wing so-to-speak. Sometimes Managers listened and gave that TM another shot, other times they didn’t.
I’ve seen these ganging up situations many times in Pret when the majority of the Team are from a certain country, because the management is from that country. Good luck if you’re not from that country!
There’s a reason why Pret and its leadership have such poor scores on Glassdoor & Co, and why Cliver Schlee, former CEO, left with this legacy:
There are countless more reviews and complaints on various platforms along the lines of racism, slavery, favouritism etc., not just on Glassdoor and Indeed. But I just stumbled across a 2012 article by The Voice of two black employees who are very specific in describing their experience. And their experience sounds very familiar of the systemic bullying environment in Pret A Manger.
The claim that Pret treated them as “slaves” is a very common complaint on Review sites and YouTube etc. I can post many more reviews on this, but just post one more from recently which is even from a Manager. And I can underline that claim, But the “modern slavery” claim is not just due to colour or country, this is due to an abuse of power and the rampant exploitation in Pret. I am Caucasian from Germany and have been exploited and bullied, even or especially during bereavement! And I was bullied and exploited also by black management and various nationalities across the board. My story is in the audio player at the bottom of this page. But I agree that there is racism in Pret.
»TWO BLACK employees have accused fresh food retail chain Pret A Manger of racism, claiming they were treated as “slaves” at one of the company’s outlets.
Deborah Ainon and Leyo Mbolo, who are now participating in a grievance process within the company told The Voice they wrote to company CEO, Clive Schlee, to raise concerns over ‘the real examples of modern day slavery’ they have faced over the last few months at a Pret outlet in east London.
Ainon and Mbolo, both originally from France, told how they had written several letters to Schlee after being subjected to humiliation, ‘discrimination and racism’ and ‘bullying and harassment’ at the King William, east London branch of the food retailer.
Ainon said her experience of prejudice included being singled out and put in situations where she felt ‘humiliated’. She said for example, on one occasion, she was forcibly stopped and searched in front of customers at the store’s entrance, the only employee to be stopped on that day without any warning or reason.
She said a fellow employee was told that he was to stop her and search for ‘company property’, to see whether she had taken food from the store, which was against company policy. She said this incident happened in front of customers.
In a second incident, Mbolo was given file notes and had a discussion about improving her performance in front of customers. She said one customer, who allegedly witnessed the discussion, said to Mbolo later that he “suspected it to be either a warning or some form of blame”. Mbolo said she felt ‘humiliated and embarrassed’ after this statement.
Both Ainon and Mbolo alleged they were given a huge work load and told to meet unrealistic targets and often worked ‘42 hours a week’ when in fact they were only contracted to work ‘30 hours’, without getting paid for overtime.
They claimed they were denied sick leave and had to be signed off by doctors because of stress.
Both also claimed that black co-workers at Pret, who had been working at the establishment around 12 years, were only ‘earning £7 per hour’. They also claimed one manager would ‘block the promotion of people whose colour does not please you.’
In a statement on June 26, a Pret A Manger spokesperson told The Voice: “Leyo Mbolo and Deborah Ainon are both currently employed by Pret. We can confirm that a personnel process is underway with every effort being made to investigate and resolve their issues. As such, it is not possible for us to comment any further.”«
Posted on: 11/07/2012 10:56 AM
I worked at Pret A Manger and survived systemic workplace bullying during bereavement that involved HR, the top leadership, HQ and even the now “retired” former CEO Clive Schlee. I declined 4 settlement offers if I am silent about my ordeal. But I rather speak out to help others. For an overview of important blog entries of my experience with Pret, please visit “My Ordeal with Pret A Manger”. The little arrow to the right next to each heading will lead directly to the post.
An incomplete list on what other Pret staff say about Pret’s bullying environment: Caught in the Act Bullying at Pret.
I tell my story for the first time verbally in below audio player interview on a podcast by The Adam Paradox, and wrote two articles in the Scottish Left Review.
Thank you for reading/listening.