It’s snowing in London and while we are all freezing and reaching for hot beverages, the campaign to be the next Mayor is beginning to heat up.  Already, a key issue has emerged: “Who is serving your latte?” asks incumbent Boris Johnson.

Speaking to The Sun The Sun | The Best for News, Sport, Showbiz, Celebrities | The Sun  last week, Boris said: “Look at Prêt á Manger Pret A Manger – Welcome to Pret. If you’ve been to one recently, how many native Londoners served you? What’s going on? London is a fantastic creator of jobs — but many of these jobs are going to people who don’t originate in this country. They are hard-working, good people, and we need to learn from them and understand what it is that they have got that makes them able to get those jobs that young Londoners don’t have.”

Never one to miss a cheap gibe former Mayor and campaign rival Ken Livingstone was quick to respond, accusing Boris of calling young Londoners “workshy”.  Boris suggests that maybe some of our young people simply lack the focus and energy to chase after vacancies for service jobs like Prêt (some of which require a 5am start).   Perhaps £7.25 per hour is just not enough to get our young Londoners out of bed?  Or perhaps they just cannot get the jobs in the first place?

From an HR perspective, Prêt’s recruitment practices are interesting. They state proudly: “We employ many different nationalities and value the cosmopolitan feel this gives the company.”  We would be the first to commend any employer for their efforts to achieve a diverse workforce.   But this policy does raise an interesting question as to where the line lies between creating a “cosmopolitan feel” as a brand strategy on the one hand and operating recruitment practices which favour overseas candidates on the other.

Could it be the ethnic or national origins of young Brits, rather than a love of the duvet that is holding them back?  Are recruiters turning away young British people because they do not create the right international image?  Are we Brits as a race genuinely less able to demonstrate the qualities the service industry demands?   Or are our young people losing out because of an assumption that they lack the work ethic of their overseas counterparts?

The “Prêt Perfect” barista “is charming to people”, “always does their best” and “cares about other people’s happiness”. The Prêt Perfect barista is also recruited through the Prêt “Experience Day”, whereby in true Big Brother style, each member of the existing Prêt team (in London 81% non-British) votes for the candidates that they think will be “a good fit” with the existing team.

If ever there was an arrangement calculated to prolong any existing racial imbalances in the workforce, that would be it.  It would quite wrong to accuse Prêt of deliberate race discrimination, but it seems to us that any company which recruits either on generic assumptions as to work ethic/charm/caring for other people or by “jury of their peers” is taking significant risks in that respect.