Burger chain Byron em-broiled in controversy after immigration raid

Reputational disasters can emerge out of thin air.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 28 Jul 2016

From its vantage point near London’s Oxford Street, MT was able to snatch a glimpse through the windows into the head office of Byron Hamburgers yesterday. It didn’t exactly look like a company in crisis but on social media it was the subject of a political firestorm.

That’s because of a recent report in the Spanish-language newspaper El Iberico suggesting that the chain, which has 56 UK restuarants, colluded with the Home Office to help have dozens of its own workers deported for breaking immigration rules. An employee quoted by the paper claimed that after staff showed up for a compulsory ‘training’ session they were questioned by immigration officers before being detained. 

After Byron neglected to comment on the matter yesterday, the Home Office put out a statement confirming it had arrested 35 workers with the co-operation of the company’s management. The chain carried out the proper right-to-work checks, it said, but workers had presented forged or otherwise false documents. Consequently Byron will face no legal action as a result of employing them.

But that came too late to stop #BoycottByron trending on Twitter (in London at least). Angry posters suggested Byron had knowingly employed the undocumented workers and that the manner of their arrest had ‘a whiff of the Gestapo’ about it. Migrants rights groups set about organising protests outside several of its restaurants in the coming week. Meanwhile gleeful Ukippy types proclaimed their newfound respect for the chain and pledged to chow down on even more of its burgers in the future (which perhaps presents a marketing opportunity - try the all-new Farage Burger with British beef, stilton and the lingering smell of tobacco).

It might not have done anything wrong but Byron will not be pleased to have garnered all of this attention, which was later picked up by several national newspapers. It’s a reminder that reputational disasters really can come out of nowhere, and that you need to be ready to deal with them. Regardless of the rights or wrongs, this could damage Byron in the eyes of its cosmopolitan clientele, and it’s unlikely to be good for staff morale either.

It also illustrates the challenges faced by well-meaning businesses that (rightly) employ foreign workers in a country where migration has become such an emotive topic. If the Home Office hadn’t found in Byron’s favour then its bosses could have faced unlimited fines and prison sentences of up to five years. It’s hard to imagine even the most socially conscientious entrepreneur failing to co-operate.

Image credit: Ewan Munro/Flickr


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