October 24, 2018

Warren Examines McKinsey & Company's Services to Saudi Government

Senator seeks answers about McKinsey report that may have helped Saudi Arabia suppress critics of its policies

Letter to McKinsey & Company (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) sent a letter to McKinsey & Company asking a series of questions about the scope of its consulting services to, or for the benefit of, the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In her letter to Kevin Sneader, the global managing partner of the firm, Senator Warren requests that McKinsey provide a full, transparent accounting of how McKinsey's work may have enabled the Kingdom to repress critics and commit other human rights abuses.

According to the New York Times, McKinsey prepared a report in 2015 on how the public perceives Saudi "economic austerity measures" that found that criticism of Saudi government policies was led primarily by three individuals allegedly named in the report. After reviewing the McKinsey report, Saudi government officials reportedly arrested one of these critics, imprisoned two family members of the second, and shut down the Twitter account of the third.

"I am concerned that McKinsey's report ... may have been weaponized by the Saudi government to crush criticism of the Kingdom's policies," Senator Warren wrote. "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 ... for ... the Kingdom."

After the Times reported the apparent use of the McKinsey report by the Saudi government, the firm claimed that it was an internal document based on public information and not prepared for any government entity. The firm also claimed that it was never commissioned by any authority in Saudi Arabia to prepare a report of any kind or in any form to identify critics. However, McKinsey has previously touted its extensive work in Saudi Arabia, noting in a research document that the firm "started serving clients in Saudi Arabia in 1957 and has had a dedicated focus there since 2000." In addition, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman's observed in January 2016 that "McKinsey participates with us in many studies," and a Financial Times report during that same period described Saudi businessmen referring sarcastically to the Saudi government's Ministry of Planning as the "McKinsey Ministry."

In order to have a full, transparent accounting of McKinsey's consulting services for the Saudi government, Senator Warren has requested answers to the following questions:

  1. For whom was the 2015 report on the Saudi public's views of the Kingdom's economic austerity policies prepared? 
  2. To whom was the report distributed? Was it labeled or treated as a restricted access document?
  3. Specifically, are you aware of any Saudi officials who obtained this report? If so, please provide a complete list and explain how they received the report.
  4. Please provide copies of any written communications related to this 2015 report, including, if they exist, communications between McKinsey employees and Saudi government officials or any entity associated with the Saudi government in relation to the report, or any internal McKinsey communications regarding the Saudi government's use of this report.
  5. Please provide a complete list of all McKinsey contracts with or for the benefit of the Saudi government or entities affiliated with the government, including all currently valid contracts.  Please include copies of all contracts, and the amount of payments received under these contracts, for each year from 2013 to 2018.
  6. Does McKinsey intend to continue providing any consulting services to, or for the benefit of, the Saudi government or any entity associated with the Saudi government?
  7. How does McKinsey evaluate which foreign governments to accept as clients? If available, please provide any official McKinsey documents, in electronic form, that explain this process.
  8. Does McKinsey have a review or risk management process in place to evaluate prospective business projects with foreign governments that could lead to potential human rights abuses or other adverse consequences? If available, please provide any official McKinsey documents, in electronic form, that explain this process.

In response to McKinsey's official statement on October 20, 2018, that the firm is "urgently investigating how and with whom the document was shared," Senator Warren has also requested that McKinsey provide an unredacted copy of the investigation when it is complete.