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EXCLUSIVE: Pernod Ricard CEO speaks out against ‘drinking pressure’ claims

The CEO of Pernod Ricard has expressed “shock” at recent allegations the firm promotes a culture of excessive drinking within its workforce, stressing “there’s absolutely zero obligation” for staff to consume alcohol.

Alexandre Ricard, CEO of French drinks group Pernod Ricard

Earlier this week, Le Parisien published testimonies from three salespeople who claimed they faced “permanent pressure” to drink at work and during client meetings, leading to a series of health issues.

One man said he knocked back 12 glasses of pastis a day, another recalled three-day binges, while a woman said she suffered hallucinations caused by excessive drinking.

Two of the accusers no longer work at the French drinks group. One reportedly gave evidence at a court hearing in September, which is expected to conclude at the end of this month. All three people were part of the same affiliate: the French distribution unit Ricard.

However, Absolut Vodka and Jameson Irish whiskey maker Pernod Ricard has strenuously denied the allegations, stating it “firmly refutes the existence of a policy to incentivise the consumption of alcohol among its employees”.

In an exclusive interview with The Spirits Business, Alexandre Ricard, chairman and CEO of Pernod Ricard, said his firm’s code of conduct is “extremely clear” with regards to responsible drinking.

“There’s absolutely zero obligation to drink,” he said. “So it’s quite saddening because it not only shocked me – I can take a shock – it shocked people on the ground.”

He added: “In the code of conduct, the charter, we say not only is there no obligation [to drink], but if there’s inappropriate behaviour and abuse of alcohol, it can go all the way through to termination, and it has happened.”

Ricard also highlighted a court hearing last November, which specified that “there is no incentive on the part of Société Ricard to consume alcohol”, as mentioned in a rebuttal by the group published in Le Parisien yesterday .

The hearing, held by the Tribunal des Affaires de la Sécurité Sociale, involved one of the cases cited by the French newspaper, The Spirits Business understands.

Pernod Ricard argued that “the facts reported in no way reflect the reality of our culture”, stating that within its new sustainability and responsibility strategy, unveiled earlier this year, one of the four key ‘pillars’ was ‘responsible hosting’.

Change ahead

“We are extremely clear about it and it’s saddening to see as we are going through a huge transformation in France,” said Ricard, referring to the proposed merger of the French subsidiaries Pernod and Ricard.

In October, Pernod Ricard announced major plans to restructure its domestic business, which if approved will see Pernod and Ricard morphed into a single entity: Pernod Ricard France.

The move would see approximately 280 roles in Pernod and Ricard’s sales and marketing departments cut through voluntary redundancies, with 90 new positions created. Pernod Ricard’s discussions with trade unions are ongoing.

According to Ricard, the recent accusations “give the wrong impression of what people really do” within the group’s French business. He also said a directive to drink excessively would “not make sense” and be at odds with Pernod Ricard’s corporate tagline: ‘créateurs de convivialité’. “We always say there cannot be any conviviality if there is abuse of alcohol,” he said.

To read The Spirits Business’s full interview with Alexandre Ricard, see the December 2019 issue, out soon.

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