Walgreens to End Ties as a Top Donor to Embattled WE Charity

Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. said it is ending its relationship with WE Charity as the latter finds itself at the center of a widening controversy about its dealings with donors.

The pharmacy giant has been one of the WE organization’s biggest corporate backers in recent times, donating more than $8 million over five years, according to U.S tax filings. It also ran campaigns that directed a portion of proceeds from some retail sales at its drugstores to WE programs.

“Walgreens Boots Alliance is in the process of ending its relationship with WE, which will end on March 30, 2021,” the company said in an email on Friday in response to questions about recent Canadian parliamentary hearings and investigations by Bloomberg and other media into WE’s handling of donations. The company declined to say whether its move was prompted by those revelations.

“Walgreens indicated to WE Charity in early 2020 (before COVID) that it did not expect to renew certain WE Charity partnership programs in 2021,” WE said in an email Saturday. “Later in 2020, Walgreens confirmed its business decision to end its relationship with WE Charity as of March 30, 2021.”

The WE organization, founded by Canadian brothers Marc and Craig Kielburger, was lauded over its 25-year history by Fortune 500 companies, politicians, and celebrities from Prince Harry to Oprah Winfrey. But it came under scrutiny last year after getting embroiled in a political scandal involving Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, opening the door to closer inspection of the organization itself and the Kielburgers.

Parliamentary committees, nonprofit experts and journalists have raised questions about WE’s complex corporate structure -- one that mixed philanthropy with for-profit activities -- and whether it was as forthright with donors as it could’ve been.

In recent weeks, at least two donors have come forward to say they believe their plaques were removed without permission from schools in Kenya and those schoolhouses dedicated to other donors. WE has acknowledged removing the two donors’ plaques and said it’s conducting a review to see if there were additional cases.

Walgreens was among a raft of corporate sponsors, including Dow Inc. and the Virgin Group, that helped fund WE’s expansion into thousands of Canadian, U.K., and U.S. schools, sponsoring curriculum kits and the stadium-sized WE Day rallies promoting the Kielburgers’ brand of do-goodism.

On Friday, WE said in an email that due to Covid-19 all of its WE Day sponsorship partnerships, including with Walgreens, had been suspended. Those signature events drew thousands of young people to arenas -- an impossibility during the pandemic.

“We are grateful to Walgreens that in 2020 they provided 3-years of funding to enable the WE Teachers Program to benefit over 100,000 educators across America reaching millions of students with service learning curriculum, trauma-informed classroom resources, and mental health support,” the email said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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