Sponsors, WE Charity ‘mutually’ agree to part ways, WE says amid controversy

Sponsors, WE Charity ‘mutually’ agree to part ways, WE says amid controversy

TORONTO — WE Charity says it has “mutually agreed” to suspend its partnerships after a flood of companies announced they were dropping their support for the embattled organization whose founders faced parliamentary hearings on Tuesday.

“We regret that the disruptive political conversations and inquiry have impacted our stakeholders,” WE Charity said in a statement Tuesday that did not specify which partnerships were being suspended.

“We do not want any of the individuals or organizations who participate in or support our programs to be adversely impacted by the challenges our organization is dealing with.”

WE’s remarks came after several companies, including Royal Bank of Canada, Loblaw Companies Ltd., GoodLife Fitness and KPMG said Tuesday they are ending their partnerships with the charity. WestJet and DHL said they are still deciding what to do about WE.

Companies are backing away from WE amid an ongoing controversy over a federal government deal to run a $900-million student volunteer program meant to help youths during the COVID-19 pandemic.

WE — a Toronto-based charity formed by brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger in 1995 —was awarded the contract, before stepping away from administering the program.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose mother and brother received money for speaking at WE events, and Finance Minister Bill Morneau, who has travelled on WE’s dime and has a daughter who works for the organization, face ethics probes after failing to recuse themselves from discussions about the contract.

Morneau has since paid back the more than $41,000 his WE travels cost, while Trudeau has apologized.

Meanwhile, WE has laid off 450 contract workers and said it is eyeing a restructuring. The Kielburger brothers are testifying Tuesday at a House of Commons committee looking into the student volunteer program’s agreement with the government.

WE’s statement Tuesday also noted that the organization had also ”provided notice to all our school board partners that we are suspending formal agreements at this time.”

The charity previously worked with schools to bring students to We Days, a series of star-studded, stadium events held across Canada to drum up awareness around the charity.

RBC chief executive Dave McKay served as co-chairman of last year’s We Day, but his company has since decided to end its ties to WE.

“After reviewing our partnership, RBC and WE Charity have reached a mutual agreement to end all sponsorship and donation programming,” said spokeswoman Gillian McArdle in an email to The Canadian Press, days after WE sponsor Virgin Atlantic Airways dropped the organization.

WE’s Global Learning Centre was brought to life with fundraising from a group of well-known philanthropists, including RBC executive Jennifer Tory, who mentions the charity in her online bank bio.

Loblaw also decided to end its relationship with WE after previously involvement with WE Day and school activities focused on the subject of childhood nutrition.

“We have no plans for future activities at this time,” spokesperson Catherine Thomas said in an email.

GoodLife Fitness, a chain of exercise facilities, also edged away from WE, whose staff it had given free gym memberships and Ford Canada said it was “pausing’ all sponsored activations with WE Charity.

KPMG, which provided the charity with pro bono business advisory and financial strategy services, also confirmed on Tuesday that it decided to suspend its relationship with WE.

WestJet, which has provided free flights for kids in remote areas and staff to get to WE Day events since 2014, was taking a different approach.

“With WE Days suspended for 2020, we will work towards understanding the situation in greater detail before making any determinations,” WestJet spokeswoman Morgan Bell said in an email to The Canadian Press.

Delivery company DHL’s involvement with WE is also still up in the air.

“In Canada, our contract with WE ended in March and we did not immediately renew due to COVID19-related impacts on the partnership. We have not yet made a decision on any future partnerships,” a company spokesperson said in an email.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 28, 2020.

Companies in this story: (TSX:RY, TSX:WJA, TSX:L)

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press

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