KPMG Canada has joined Telus and Virgin Atlantic Airlines in halting partnerships with WE Charity as concern grows among some corporate donors about the scandal surrounding the organization.
KPMG has been a partner with WE for 10 years and the accounting firm has been involved in a variety of projects with the charity. It sponsored a career training program, supported the WE Social Entrepreneurship Centre and provided WE with “pro bono business advisory services and financial strategy.” KPMG’s chief executive, Elio Luongo, has also been a co-chair of WE Day in Toronto while another executive, Tania Carnegie, who heads KPMG’s Impact Ventures practice, has been a WE global ambassador since 2005.
“KPMG in Canada has decided to suspend its relationship/sponsorship with WE,” Kevin Dove, a spokesman for the firm, said in an e-mail on Friday. “Given the organization is pausing its operations to reassess its focus and we had no further engagements planned with them, we agreed with WE to suspend our relationship.”
KPMG’s British division has also cut ties with WE Charity U.K. The company signed a three-year partnership deal with WE in 2017 to launch a numeracy program for schools across Britain and conduct employee engagement activities with KPMG offices. The agreement expired this spring and KPMG did not renew it.
In a statement, WE said that after the charity announced plans recently to reorganize and pause WE Day events, it “reached out to our Canadian corporate partners of WE Schools and WE Day to proactively pause our related partnerships.” The charity added: “Our corporate partners’ 25 year commitment helping youth serve Canada should be celebrated, rather than expose them to undue criticism.”
WE has been enmeshed in controversy for weeks over a federal government contract the organization received to administer the $912-million Canada Student Service Grant. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the grant program on April 22 and the government disclosed in June that WE would run it. The contract was cancelled on July 3 after accusations of conflicts of interest.
Telus Corp. said on Thursday that it had terminated its sponsorship with WE, which was supposed to expire in 2022. Telus has been a sponsor of WE Day since its inception in 2007 and the company has contributed more than $20-million to the charity.
On Friday, Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. said it had suspended its donations to WE. The airline has been a partner with WE Charity U.K. since 2010 and contributed more than £6-million, or $10.2-million, through the Virgin Atlantic Foundation.
Earlier this week, a Virgin Atlantic spokesperson said the company was investigating the controversy surrounding WE. On Friday the airline issued a further statement: “We’re aware of reports relating to WE Charity and WE Day speaker payments. We are in contact with WE Charity and whilst investigations continue, we are temporarily pausing our donations to them.”
The Royal Bank of Canada also said this week that it was reviewing its ties to WE and a bank spokesperson said an executive listed as a director of WE Charity U.K., Carlos Pinto, no longer worked at the bank. WE said he remains a director although the charity’s website still identified him as an RBC executive this week. WE also confirmed that Meigan Terry, senior vice-president of global communications and sustainable business at the Bank of Nova Scotia, had also left the U.K. board. She had been a director of WE Charity U.K. since 2017 and was listed as a U.K. director on the WE website this week.
Loblaw Cos. Ltd. said it had no plans to resume its partnerships with WE. The grocer has teamed up with WE on a number of programs and the President’s Choice Children’s Charity has donated $1.5-million to WE since 2017. “Over the past few years, Loblaws has been involved with WE Day, and President’s Choice Children’s Charity with WE School activities, focused on the subject of childhood nutrition. We have no plans for future activities at this time,” spokeswoman Catherine Thomas said Friday.
Some partners are standing by WE. U.S. drug store giant Walgreen Boots Alliance Inc. declined to comment on the controversy surrounding WE, but said in a statement: “However, we can speak to the work we’ve done in our long-standing partnership with WE, which has empowered thousands of young people through various initiatives.” Walgreen Boots is a major WE sponsor in Canada, the U.S. and Britain.
The City of London is also sticking with WE. The city has been involved with WE Charity U.K. since 2013 on a program that promotes volunteerism among young people. The program concluded in July, but the city and WE plan to collaborate on a school-based project until December, a city spokesman said Friday.
The Globe and Mail has a sponsorship partnership with WE Charity. The agreement expires on Aug. 31 and will not be renewed.
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