Monday, 12 April 2010

Denmark: freedom of speech, beer and cartoons

Jesus may have turned water into wine but it is beer that the average Dane seems to take more seriously. With almost eleven billion Dollars in worldwide sales, Carlsberg employees understand the criticality of the global beer economy.

However, like global corporations in any industry brewers also find themselves under pressure during the current economic crisis. Compared to 2008, Carlsberg's 2009 net revenue marginally dropped. Granted most manufacturers may have been happy with a 1% year on year drop in sales but let's be real: cans of beer are not directly comparable with Alcoa's aluminium, Toyota's cars or even Pfizer's Viagra tablets!
Power has shifted from employees to employers and managements' are using the shift to implement difficult policies that may have been impossible to put into practice in earlier years, layoffs aside. Some corporations tighten up medical reimbursements, others reduce overtime benefits but Carlsberg is no ordinary company.
The first Carlsberg brewery was established by Jacob Christian Jacobsen in 1847 at the Valby Hill area just outside Copenhagen, Denmark. The first batch of beer was brewed on 10 November 1847. By 1860, the brewery was producing 20,000 barrels.
In 2009, Carlsberg sold 135 million hectolitres of beer in more than 150 countries. A hectolitre is equivalent to 100 litres.
It might be difficult to visualize 135 million hectolitres but it just might be enough to top up the Indus River enough so as to avoid a confrontation between India and Pakistan over their bilateral 1960 Indus Waters Treaty!
On April 8, Carlsberg management took one of its toughest corporate decisions ever. From that date, free beer is only available to employees during their lunch break. What nerve?!

The strict 'lunch-only' policy prompted 800 workers to strike and disrupted delivery of the golden ale across Copenhagen.
While truck drivers are exempt from the new policy, they joined the strike to express solidarity with their less privileged colleagues. Drivers "are permitted to bring three beers from the canteen because they often don't have time to have lunch there."
Denmark may respect freedom of speech more than Islam. But, at least for Carlsberg employees, beer is obviously higher up the pecking order than both freedom of speech and Islam.

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