Joint statement by BASW North East and Coventry & Warwickshire branches on UK social work’s links to global businesses reported to be engaged in unethical, immoral and illegal activities
Prompted by recent leaks indicating Credit Suisse, a major backer of the Frontline social work training scheme, profits from supporting war criminals, dictators, drug traffickers and oligarchs, the North East and Coventry & Warwickshire branches of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) condemn the activities of all businesses engaged in unethical, immoral and illegal activities which harm the rights and interests of people and communities in vulnerable situations throughout the world. It is unconscionable for any organisation representing the global profession of social work, in name or deed, to accept money or resources which are the product of enterprises which run starkly counter to our stated aims, missions, values and principles.
This is not just a topical issue. Since its inception, Frontline has partnered with a number of private sector organisations with histories of scandal and corruption, including KPMG, Credit Suisse, and Boston Consulting Group. It behoves us to ask what profit-maximising institutions such as these stand to gain through their collaboration and association with Frontline. We note that Frontline no longer promotes transparency regarding its supporters, having removed a page on their website that previously contained a full list of backers. However, according to Frontline’s accounts (see 2019 and 2020) the annual value of this support has been between £1.5m to £3.5m per year. Annual accounts for Credit Suisse EMEA Foundation show Frontline was regularly a top beneficiary of the Swiss bank’s grants over the previous five financial periods, amounting to just over £1M in total. (This is likely to be more as the Charity Commission only provides the last five years of accounts and Credit Suisse’s involvement with Frontline predates that.)
Not only is it plainly morally wrong to accept this ‘dirty money’ but doing so has a corrosive and insidious impact on the foundations of the social work profession because it seriously compromises our individual and collective capacity to challenge with any degree of moral authority the inequities and injustices resulting from the activities of organisations engaged in activities that actively harm people. We point to another example, Frontline’s founding partner, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), which was revealed within the Luanda Leaks as having aided the capturing of Angolan state assets by the Angolan president’s daughter Isabel dos Santos. BCG is also engaged in working for the Saudi regime, whose record on human rights is among the worst in the world, prompting Senator Elizabeth Warren to call on the consultancy to explain its links to the Saudi government. Despite this, BCG has continued to work for the Saudi regime, including on the NEOM desert city project which has seen tribal Huwaitat people displaced to make way for building development and led to the fatal shooting by Saudi security forces of protester Abdul Rahim al-Huwaiti when he refused to leave his home. We welcome news that BCG and other consultancies involved in the reform of children’s service in England have pledged to cut ties with the Kremlin following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but regretfully note that they actively chose and continue to partner with Russian state-owned businesses, as well as the Saudi regime, despite well-documented concerns about those governments’ deeply troubling records on human rights.
Above are just some examples of activities that run counter to the rights and interests of vulnerable and marginalised people and communities in which some of Frontline’s backers are involved. We therefore question the wisdom of enabling global businesses with records of unethical, immoral and/or illegal activities to launder their reputations through association with organisations supporting and representing the social work profession. Not only is there potential for these organisations to to seek to influence in their favour key players and policies within social work and social care and to use these connections to further extend their business interests within the public sector, we are also deeply concerned about damage to public trust in the profession arising from these associations and the undermining of social workers’ moral authority and capacity to challenge injustice and inequity.
Therefore, this is not just a matter of reputational damage for Frontline. This is a matter that impacts on the standing of — and trust in — the profession of social work as a whole. As pressure mounts on businesses and institutions to divest themselves of these connections, social work in the UK appears to be seriously lagging in its response to these issues. For a profession necessarily founded in espoused values and strong ethical principles, this is unacceptable. We are not exempt. And we would add that, while these comments are made in respect of the example of Frontline, given the clear and obvious funding links between that organisation and companies of dubious ethical standing, we include other providers of social work education and social work within this call. We all have a responsibility here; we all have a stake in guiding the moral compass of the profession, which of all professions, should be at the forefront of ethical leadership in rapidly changing, ever more complex political and economic landscapes.
For these reasons, the North East and Coventry and Warwickshire branches call on all providers of social work and social work education in the UK to undertake an ‘ethical audit’ of their funding arrangements to ensure the activities of any funders are consistent with the values of the social work profession, as espoused in the BASW Code of Ethics and IFSW Statement of Ethical Principles.
BASW North East and BASW Coventry & Warwickshire branches