Canadaland served with Notice of Libel by WE Charity

WE Charity has served online news site Canadaland with a Notice of Libel and a request for retraction and apology following publication of an article and podcast last month alleging that WE is promoting products made by children.

Formerly known as Free The Children, WE is a worldwide development charity and youth empowerment movement founded in 1995 by human rights advocates Marc and Craig Kielburger. 

Canadaland’s coverage entitled “Craig Kielburger founded WE to fight child labour. Now the WE brand promotes products made by children”, delves into the charity’s partnerships with Hershey, Unilever, and Kellogg’s (the latter a partnership WE denies) – companies known to use child labour in their supply chains. Canadaland cites former employees of the charity among its sources, who the crowd-funded news site says approached it after raising ethical concerns internally. Canadaland says it was also provided with internal supporting documents to back up the allegations.

WE’s Notice of Libel, among other things, charges that Canadaland manufactured evidence, altered documents without disclosing the alteration, and made reckless use of unnamed sources. It also accuses the organization of “malice through intimidation and financial gain” – maintaining that Canadaland’s “alleged ‘investigation'” is simply a means to raise revenue for its platform.

In a statement posted to its website Tuesday, WE Charity says it sought an independent opinion on the matter from the Honourable Justice Stephen Goudge (retired) who served on the Court of Appeal for Ontario. Goudge’s review concludes (based on information provided by WE), that the “allegations by Canadaland are without merit.”

WE’s statement reads: “We respect fair and independent journalism. But, as Justice Goudge’s conclusions highlight, in this circumstance our organization was subjected to coverage featuring knowingly false statements, including the use of manufactured evidence. Consequently we have taken the reluctant step, at the unanimous request of the WE Charity Board of Directors, to have our legal counsel send Canadaland a Notice of Libel, formally asking for an apology and a full retraction of the article…This is an extremely unfortunate distraction of resources and time from our mission. But we know that WE is built on 20+ years of earned public trust, and that trust is essential to continue our work. We remain focused on our mandate of serving children.”

Canadaland responded on Twitter saying “We wouldn’t have published our investigation of if we did not believe it to be 100% accurate. It was reported carefully & responsibly. We’ll review their libel notice. If we got anything wrong, we’ll correct.”