16 June 2023

Rapper Diddy files lawsuit against Diageo alleging racial discrimination

USA | The rapper and businessman Sean Combs - also known as Diddy – is suing spirits firm Diageo for racism. He says Diageo undermined their joint venture by typecasting Ciroc vodka and DeLeon tequila as “Black brands” meant only for “urban” customers.

In a complaint registered on 31 May with the New York Supreme Court the entrepreneur accused the British firm of intentionally starving the brands of resources. The Grammy-winning star said he intends to seek “billions of dollars” in damages in other legal actions against Diageo.

He says Diageo let him down

The suit also states that Diageo extended more support to celebrity-backed rival brands, while failing to deliver on promises to Combs Wines and Spirits.

Since 2007, the marketing and promotion for Ciroc in the US has been handled by Mr Combs in a 50:50 joint venture, with profits from the brand being split between Combs and Diageo. In 2014, he announced a 50:50 partnership with Diageo to buy DeLeon, an “ultra premium” tequila.

But Diageo bought two other tequila brands after the DeLeon deal: Don Julio (2015) and Casamigos (2017), the spirit company Diageo acquired from co-founder and actor George Clooney for up to USD 1 billion.

Mr Combs’s suit claims the company has “effectively abandoned DeLeon”. He may have a point here: Don Julio and Casamigos made up nearly 25 percent of the USD 11.7 billion in global tequila sales last year, according to The Wall Street Journal, whereas DeLeon only ranked 28th, representing 0.4 percent of tequila sales in 2022.

Instead, Diageo’s focus has allegedly been on Casamigos, Aviation Gin (owned by the actor Ryan Reynolds), and Ketel One vodka, Mr Combs’ lawyers stress.

Diageo denies the allegations

In a statement to AFP news agency, Diageo denied the allegations, describing its 15-year partnership with Mr Combs as “productive and mutually beneficial.”

“This is a business dispute, and we are saddened that Mr Combs has chosen to recast this matter as anything other than that,” a spokesperson said.

“Our steadfast commitment to diversity within our company and the communities we serve is something we take very seriously. We categorically deny the allegations that have been made and will vigorously defend ourselves in the appropriate forum.”

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