Pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca has blanked our questions about its connections with Kubrick Group, the IT outsourcing firm that charges graduates up to £19,800 if they leave in less than two years.

Multiple graduates currently working for Kubrick have told Graduate Fog that ‘at least 60’ graduates are currently placed at AstraZeneca, as contractors on IT projects. ‘Kubrick senior managers are always boasting about AstraZeneca being one of their biggest and best clients,’ one of the graduates told us last week.

Regular readers will remember the heart-breaking story of ‘Tom’, the graduate who paid £14,520 to get out of Kubrick’s training programme after just 10 weeks. In his interview with us, he said he had been given less than half a day to sign and return his contract, so had not had time to properly consider the implications of the exit fees clause. He said the value of the training he received was worth nowhere near near what Kubrick claimed, and he was in poor mental health by the time he left, agreeing to settle his bill on one payment so he never had to deal with Kubrick again.

TERRIFIED: Kubrick graduates who leave in less than two years are sent bills of up to £19,800 when they leave. This one paid £14,520 for 10 weeks’ training

SILENCED: Kubrick graduates are warned not to speak to anyone about what has happened.

Happily, insurance company Aviva, investment banks JP Morgan and UBS, and cosmetics firm Avon appeared to distance themselves from Kubrick, as big-name clients continue to show concern about the conduct of suppliers who charge large exit fees. Last week, we reported that Virgin Media O2 was ‘discussing’ FDM Group’s exit fees policy with them. Meanwhile, mobile phone company Three said their relationship with Sparta Global had ‘ended’, and auction house Christie’s had insisted they had never worked with Sparta, and they had asked the firm to remove their logo from their website. Water company Severn Trent said last year that they had never used any of the exit fees firms, and they never would.

Having initially kicked off conversations with AstraZeneca’s early careers team, Graduate Fog’s founder Tanya de Grunwald was referred to their press office. She first wrote to them on 13 December 2021, asking the following questions:

1. How many graduate contractors are currently working for AZ, employed by Kubrick, or any of the other firms that we know charge huge exit fees – FDM, Sparta Global, QA Consulting, Revolent, Ten10, Geeks Ltd?
2. Before receiving this email, was AstraZeneca aware that these graduates are effectively unable to leave their role/ placement with you without paying huge fees to their employer (in the case of Kubrick, up to £19,800)?
3. Given the fact that these graduates are working on AZ projects and often on AZ premises, how does this fit with AZ’s own stated values, as well as your organisation’s commitments to diversity and social mobility, as an employer?
4. Will AstraZeneca consider dropping Kubrick (and the other exit fees firms listed in Q1) as a supplier, in light of what we have told you about how they operate, and the conditions under which their graduates are employed?

De Grunwald ended by writing:

‘I do hope you will be keen to investigate how this situation has been allowed to come about under AZ’s own ‘roof’, and to distance yourself from these suppliers without delay.’

We have chased several times (most recently on Friday 18 February) but AstraZeneca is yet to provide a response.

In happier news, four other Kubrick clients have appeared keen to distance themselves from the firm, since we wrote to draw their attention to Kubrick’s policy of charging large exit fees to graduates who leave their employment in less than two years. Cosmetics brand Avon told Graduate Fog:

‘Avon UK has not hired any Kubrick Graduates in the last five years.’

A spokesperson for insurance company Aviva said:

‘Aviva previously contracted a small number of graduates through Kubrick Group, but we are no longer working with Kubrick. We now handle our own apprenticeship and graduate hiring programmes.’

IT’S WORKING… Our campaign to stop exit fees is gathering momentum, as more big firms agree that exit fees are wrong

The press office at UBS investment bank said:

“UBS has no contractual relationship with Kubrick.”

A spokesperson for JP Morgan – another investment bank – declined to comment officially, but unofficial sources tell us JP Morgan has only worked with these providers on a ‘handful’ of occasions, on short contracts (12 months or less). This issue is now firmly on their radar.

Graduate Fog’s founder Tanya de Grunwald said AstraZeneca’s failure to engage was disappointing, but she hoped she would hear from them soon:

‘I continue to believe that the clients of the firms that charge large graduate exit fees – including Kubrick, whose fees are the biggest – have a vital role to play in creating the change we need to see here. In the last seven days, it has been a huge boost to see Virgin Media O2, Three, Christie’s, Avon, Aviva, UBS and JP Morgan realise they need to engage with this issue, and start to move to help. On the flip-side, it is disappointing that AstraZeneca have refused to engage.

‘It‘s fair to say that this issue has been a blind spot for a lot of big firms. As these graduates are, strictly speaking, ‘third party contractors’, it seems that responsibility for their wellbeing has been fractured and dispersed within large organisations, so that nobody there is ultimately accountable for their distress. The tech department buy in these services, with HR (including early careers teams) usually being completely cut out and not even aware that these graduates are there. Procurement (purchasing) teams feel they’ve done their bit by asking these companies to tick the right boxes for in their supplier code of conduct.

“But from the hundreds of distressing stories I’ve heard from graduates stuck in jobs they hate but are literally unable to quit, it’s obvious that these processes are not robust enough. Big firms that use suppliers like Kubrick, FDM and Sparta need to accept two things. One: if these suppliers are slipping through your systems, your systems are failing. And two: you cannot claim to care about diversity, social mobility and mental health if you continue to use these suppliers. It’s time to clarify your position. Come on – pick a side.’

We look forward to hearing from other Kubrick clients soon, including: Deliveroo, Sainsbury’s, Telegraph Group, Morgan Stanley, Legal & General, John Lewis, Jaguar Land Rover, Royal Bank of Canada, Proctor & Gamble, Schroders, Santander, Credit Suisse, Nomura, Nationwide, Vodafone and Santander.

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