Pushing back against Pret – making headway against malevolent management

‘Late Night Girl’ reports on her continuing campaign for fairness and justice at Pret-A-Manger

As I continue to recuperate and come to terms with everything that happened in my personal life and from work since my last article (‘On the frontline: crushed by corporate capitalist culture’, Scottish Left Review, May/June 2019), a lot has happened in Pret. I continue to write blog posts about my Pret experience, other staff continue to contact me telling me of their experiences, and on Twitter customers still complain about ongoing mislabelling of food, even after two customers have died. The first customer, 15-year old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, died from unlabelled allergen in a baguette, and the second person, mother of five Celia Marsh, died from dairy traces in a non-dairy product.

Apart from getting some normal and much expected criticism, I also receive a lot of public positive feedback from customers/readers on Twitter as well as encouraging messages in private. Every single day at least one person is new to my writings which still astonishes me after writing for over a year! I can also see the statistics on my website and how it has increased since last year. People are astonished and surprised to learn about Pret, as Pret has been successful in putting on a happy and ethical front for years.

I have uploaded to my website reviews of staff working at Pret that are to be found on Glassdoor, Indeed, and other social media. I have also kept an eye on Pret worldwide developments including lawsuits, in particular two over wages which Pret settled in New York, repaying 4,000 workers. This has shown that it is much harder for workers in Britain to obtain justice through the courts compared to in the US, where Pret is constantly sued by staff, customers and other organisations on various issues. Image of worker's power

I’m also of the opinion that I’m continually disappointed by the ongoing unprofessional conduct of Pret and its leadership. On 30 June 2019, I checked casually on Pret CEO, Clive Schlee’s Twitter feed and found a tweet by a person to Schlee wishing him well on his retirement. But no official announcement had been made on this issue. Schlee responded to the well-wisher on the same day yet did not respond to two tweets by a customer on 29 June 2019 regarding hellish work conditions in a shop, where the air conditioning was broken for a prolonged time.

On 1 July 2019 after I wrote a blog entry on Schlee’s ‘legacy’ given that on Glassdoor only 44% of staff recommended working at Pret and only 50% of staff endorsed him, I tweeted to the press about Schlee’s retirement. After my tweet, the first tweets started to flood in about his retirement after Pret’s HQ was contacted and confirmed the news. Also, Pret and then Schlee circulated the official announcements of his retirement set for September 2019. Within an hour a person tweeted a response to Pret that the new CEO, Pano Christou, has his work cut out for him, as Pret and Schlee have poor Glassdoor reviews.

In mid-July, Christou was placed on Glassdoor, even though Schlee’s official retirement was set for September. On 20 September 2019, Pret then tweeted a last Tweet bidding farewell to Schlee , who is still present (at the time of writing in mid-October) on Twitter as the CEO of Pret. Also on 1 July 2019, Christou deleted his Twitter account after I made a link to it on my blog entry on Schlee’s legacy. I was blocked by Christou though I am not being blocked by Pret and Schlee as I believe they both keep my Tweets for a potential court case after I withdrew my tribunal claim when my dad died and I went deeper into trauma and was not able to finance a lawyer. It was notable that there were very few tweet responses, ‘likes’ and retweets for this announcement compared to the previous year.

Why, you might ask, is all of this necessary and important? It is to show how arrogant, insensitive and unprofessional the leadership of Pret appears to be when it does not even officially announce Schlee’s retirement (at 60) and while he remains as a non-executive director in the background. There is also the clumsiness of Schlee’s responding to a well-wisher before giving an official retirement announcement and the seeming indifference, portrayed in the lack of action, after two customers died and before that news became ‘public’. Overall, I believe, this story shows how when private equity takes over and with Pret expanding into having a huge high street presence, the company shows no ethical understanding of its responsibility to customers and employees alike.

I can only speculate on why Schlee finally stepped down. But it is hard not to think that the poor handling of customer deaths, my blog confronting Pret and Schlee, the negative staff reviews that I collated and posted, and the various lawsuits have not somehow tipped the scales against him.

After what Pret put me through in bullying and gaslighting me, I still struggle with anger and post-traumatic behaviour so that I have difficulties trusting people when I am contacted by former and current Pret staff and others. I have written the most comprehensive website on Pret-A-Manger from a behind the scenes look on various subjects on which the company falls short. The disappointment and anger I feel is heightened by that fact that Pret is neither responding to me nor confronting me legally after all the fear management, threats, bullying, tricks and traps they put me through.

This shows what impact one very active and dedicated person on social media can have. If this was to be replicated many times over, I believe that ‘impact’ could turn into ‘influence’. Pret certainly will not change from the inside and from the top for the better by its own volition. The hope is that this outside pressure and Pret being the perfect example of striving for ever increasing profits backfiring in the long run will create a ‘perfect storm’. Sure, Schlee, Christou and the other top leaders will have rich retirements and enjoy the fruits of the low-wage workers’ labour they employed. But the legacy they leave behind is not something I would want to swap for – and not for any amount of money.

‘Late Night Girl’ also tweets at https://twitter.com/LateNightGirlMe and has a website at https://expret.org. One of her most recent blog posts look at the quote of Clive Schlee’s wife where she said that ‘any god damn fool can run Pret’ (https://expret.org/2019/09/21/pret-a-manger-has-a-new-fool/)