Meat is off the menu for the employees of one of the world’s hottest startups. WeWork, the shared office space provider valued at $20bn, has told its 6,000 staff it will not pay expenses for meals containing meat.
The policy was announced in an internal memo written by Miguel McKelvey, WeWork’s billionaire co-founder. “We have made a commitment to be a meat-free organization,” McKelvey wrote. “Moving forward, we will not serve or pay for meat at WeWork events and want to clarify that this includes poultry and pork, as well as red meat.”
McKelvey cited new research from the journal Science that "avoiding meat is one of the biggest things an individual can do to reduce their personal environmental impact". He added that the policy will “save an estimated 16.7 billion gallons of water, 445.1 million pounds of CO2 emissions, and over 15 million animals by 2023”.
A WeWork spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch that the new policy will remove red meat, poultry and pork from the expenses policy. The company was, however, “not prohibiting WeWork staff or members from bringing in meat-based meals they’ve paid for themselves”.
Members can also still host their own events at WeWork locations and serve meat they’ve paid for themselves. And fish is still covered by WeWork’s T&E policy.
WeWork’s new policy has inspired some criticism already. The UK’s largest union told the BBC that workers shouldn’t be punished for their dietary choices. "Employees should be encouraged to make healthy choices. They should not be left out of pocket if they choose to eat meat."
The new policy also received a mixed response on Any Answers. “I'd be looking for a pay rise,” wrote AccountingWEB member LionofLudesch. DJKL was similarly critical: “Seems to me employers need to decide if employment is a contractual relationship or whether they think they own their employees.
“I can see the need for an employer to control employee behaviour in the workplace if it might be detrimental to other employees but this, casting their values onto an employee, is a nonsense.”
The reaction wasn’t exclusively negative, though: “I'm sure most will disagree but I think this is a good idea on behalf of the company,” wrote Jholm.
“While incentives are offered for other 'greener' options (such as mileage rates for cycling to temporary workplaces), it does make sense to me especially since animal agriculture is one of the largest single contributors to carbon dioxide emissions.”
For Jonny Vowles, CEO of automated expenses tool Expend, the move also raises questions around the practical application of the policy.
“While potentially a divisive policy change, WeWork’s heart is in the right place. However, this may be overshadowed by how to police the regulation with over 6,000 employees worldwide. No one is going to manually check every food receipt to ensure it is meat free and not all receipts will be as obvious as stating 'steak and chips,'" said Vowles.
According to Vowles, a new breed of expense tools will help finance and HR teams apply the policy more rigorously and allow businesses to itemise details of employees’ expenditure, quickly and efficiently.
"In WeWork’s case, the finance and HR teams can then perform spot checks that food claims appear to be meat-free if they so wish," continued Vowles. "The ability to log expenses with the required level of detail at the point of purchase will be more likely to drive employee compliance with this expenses policy, helping it to serve a long-lasting purpose, beyond simply grabbing news headlines.”
About Francois Badenhorst
Francois is a writer, editor and broadcaster specialising in business.