Senator Elizabeth Warren is urging McKinsey & Co. to be transparent about its relationship with Saudi Arabia and its consulting services that she said may have enabled the kingdom to crack down on dissent.
“I am concerned that McKinsey’s report on public perception may have been weaponized by the Saudi government to crush criticism of the kingdom’s policies, regardless of McKinsey’s intended purpose for the information,” Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, wrote in a letter to Kevin Sneader, a McKinsey global managing partner.
The letter was sent in the wake of a New York Times article that said McKinsey had prepared a nine-page report in 2015 on reaction within the kingdom to government austerity measures, which included traffic on social media. Some people who were thought to be driving negative comments were later arrested or had their online accounts shut down, according to the Times article.
Warren said that after the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and critic of the Riyadh government, and apparent efforts to cover up the crime, “it is important for McKinsey to be transparent about its consulting services used by the Saudi government and how these services may have enabled the kingdom to limit dissent.”
In her letter to Sneader, Warren laid out 13 questions she wanted answered. Those included explaining the rationale behind preparing the report, who had access to it, and which Saudi officials obtained the report. She also asked for details about McKinsey’s evaluation process for working with foreign governments.
She also requested “a full and unredacted copy of this report,” communications related to it, and a list of all McKinsey contracts “with or for the benefit of the Saudi government or entities affiliated with the government.”
“We have received and are reviewing the senator’s letter,” McKinsey said in a statement late Tuesday.
“The reported circumstances surrounding the 2015 report raise serious questions about whether the Saudi government used information prepared by the firm to crack down on multiple critics of the regime, whether McKinsey should have reasonably known that an authoritarian regime would use such information to repress dissidents, and whether the firm should reconsider the consulting services it currently provides at the direction, or for the benefit, of the kingdom,” Warren added in the letter.
McKinsey said in a statement on Saturday that the Saudi report was intended largely for the company’s use. It added that it was “horrified” that the report may have been misused.
McKinsey added in the weekend statement that firm “has not and never would engage in any work that seeks to target individuals based on their views.”
Warren requested a response from McKinsey by Nov. 7.
Other companies are trying to navigate their relationship with the Saudis in the wake of the international outcry over Khashoggi’s killing. Several firms have pulled out of the Future Investment Initiative conference taking place in Riyadh this week.