Concerns from Free The Children

December 14, 2011

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The author and Dawn.com regret the errors and inconvenience caused.

Hello Dr. Haider,

My name is Tamara Kaftalovich, and I am the Director of Public Relations at Free The Children.

A blog that you wrote on October 26, 2011, at the following url: https://www.dawn.com/2011/10/26/ saving-child-labourers-is-big-business-for-a-canadian-ngo.html, titled “Saving child labourers is big business”, was recently brought to our attention.

We respect that individuals hold a diversity of views on issues of international development, however, we are proactively contacting you in order to correct a significant number of factual errors in the published piece.

Firstly, Free The Children takes strong offence to the following statement:

“While many organisations receiving millions in donations for the poor in Pakistan help the needy, others have used the money to build small real estate fortunes while subsidising extravagant lifestyle of their founders.

One such organisation is Free the Children [web link], a not-for-profit started in Toronto by Craig and Marc Kielburger while they were only teenagers.”

This statement is incorrect. The founders of Free The Children, namely, Craig Kielburger and Marc Kielburger, have never received a salary or any form of payment from Free The Children. In the past they have served as members of the Board of Directors, and today continue to serve as active volunteers.

Secondly, Free The Children wishes to also note the inaccuracy of the following statement:

“The Kielburgers generated $23 million in donations in 2009 alone. According to the Globe and Mail, their not-for-profit real estate holdings in downtown Toronto exceed $11 million.”

As clearly noted in the Globe and Mail article to which you refer, the real estate holding of the not-for-profit Free The Children are substantially less. The figure that you attribute to the not-for-profit, and imply is garnered from donations, is based on your calculations combining the real estate holdings of three separate groups. These groups include: Free The Children, a not-for-profit organization which accepts charitable donations; Me to We, a for-profit social enterprise which earns income through the sale of products and services; Fred and Theresa Kielburger (the parents of Marc and Craig Kielburger) private real estate assets. Combining the real estate holdings of three separate groups, and misrepresenting the total as the “not-for-profit real estate holdings” of Free The Children is unacceptable and inaccurate. It is especially disconcerting given that the correct information is clearly published in the Globe and Mail article to which you attribute this information.

Thirdly, we respectfully, but strongly, assert that it is incorrect to state in your article that Free The Children seeks to purposely mislead the public on the issue of Iqbal Mashi. I wish to draw to your attention the extraordinary lengths undertaken by Craig Kielburger to verify the facts surrounding the life and death of Iqbal Mashi, as reported on the Free The Children website and other materials. A number of these measures are documented in the book Free The Children, by Craig Kielburger and published in Canada in 1997 by McClelland & Stewart.

The book details Mr. Kielburger’s travels to Asia. During his travels in Pakistan in January 1996 Craig met and interviewed Iqbal’s cousins Liaquat Masih and Faryab Masih, the two individuals with Iqbal at the time of the death of the young man, who verified the facts as presented in the April 15, 1995, Toronto Star article. During the same visit, Mr. Kielburger also met with and interviewed Inayat Bibi, Iqbal Masih’s mother, who also verified the facts as presented in the April 15, 1995, Toronto Star article.

In addition, Mr. Kielburger travelled to Iqbal Mashi’s home town to personally examine the original baptismal records identifying the date of birth of Iqbal Mashi. Moreover, Mr. Kielburger also met with and interviewed the author of the report that you cite issued by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

In the years following, Mr. Kielburger has also met with and interviewed the founders of the Bonded Labour Liberation Front, and the Bonded Labour Freedom Front. Mr. Kielburger also travelled to Sweden to interview Swedish film director Magnus Bergmar who met with Iqbal several times and helped him to tell his story through the documentary, The Carpet. Mr. Begmar showed Mr. Kielburger film footage

There will never be full clarity on many aspects of the life and death of Iqbal Mashi. However, based on the extensive research and first-person interviews conducted by Mr. Kielburger, Free The Children presents information on the matter to the best of its knowledge.

It is noteworthy that you published the article listing your academic title and stating your place of employment. At the end of the published article you include your full title: Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Programs at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto. Given your senior position in this esteemed institution, your writings carry the significant credibility of The Ted Rogers School of Management and Ryerson University. As such, I am certain that you appreciate the importance of publishing factually accurate materials.

We respectfully request that within thirty days of receiving this letter you a) remove the published article from online and any writings that repeat similar claims; b) provide a written confirmation that you have understood the facts as presented in this letter, and commit to not publish inaccurate or defamatory statements regarding Free The Children, Me to We, or members of the Kielburger family.

Should these actions not be forthcoming, we will refer the matter to our Board of Directors for further action.

Thank you for the consideration on this matter.

Best, Tamara

Tamara Kaftalovich | PR & Publicity Director | Free The Children