Fears have been raised for vulnerable Ukrainian refugees arriving in the UK, as one of 40 big firms offering jobs to those fleeing the war is revealed to be FDM Group.

The IT outsourcing firm – worth £1bn – has faced a barrage of criticism in recent months, over its policy of charging graduates up to £15,000 ‘exit fees’ if they leave in less than two years.

As a result of the Graduate Fog campaign to Stop Exit Fees Now, FDM’s clients are under pressure abandon them, and the firm’s share price has dived 30% since January 2022.

FDM’s graduate contractors – who are sent out to work on-site for client organisations like HSBC and the Department for Work and Pensions – are also asked to agree to a ‘geoflex’ policy, which states they must work anywhere in the UK where they are posted, even if that means being separated from family.

(Here’s what happened when we alerted HSBC and the DwP to this issue. Spoiler: Both look bad).

So, what’s the link with Ukraine? At the weekend, the Sunday Times reported that FDM is one of more than 40 UK firms that have joined a coalition co-ordinated by entrepreneur Emma Sinclair telling the government they are ready and willing to offer 10,000 jobs to people fleeing the war in Ukraine.

The apparently well-meaning consortium of businesses also includes Marks & Spencer, PwC, Vodafone, ASOS and Greene King. The newspaper reported:

‘A coalition of more than 40 large businesses has been formed in an effort to push the government into opening its doors to Ukrainian women and children displaced by Vladimir Putin’s invasion…

‘The coalition has told the government it has up to 10,000 jobs available for refugees from the country…

‘The consortium of businesses, which is being co-ordinated by entrepreneur Emma Sinclair, includes M&S and recruitment giants Robert Walters and FDM, as well as jobs firm Impellam. They are working to ensure Ukrainians secure visas, but also suitable accommodation and even language training. Large high street companies were this weekend in talks to join the coalition.’

You can read the article here.

It is unclear how Ms Sinclair selected the businesses that have joined her consortium. She appears to be unaware of the controversy around FDM, after she proudly named the firm first on her list of backers in a LinkedIn post that included much bigger companies including M&S and PwC.

There is no suggestion that Ms Sinclair has anything but the best intentions when assembling these employers and the coalition appears to be a positive gesture by the UK’s business community.

…Except for the fact that it includes one of the UK’s most controversial employers: FDM Group.

It is unclear how many jobs FDM plans to offer to refugees arriving from Ukraine, or whether their contracts will definitely include a requirement to pay back large exit fees. It is also not yet known when the workers will be bound by FDM’s geoflex policy.

Tanya de Grunwald, founder of Graduate Fog, and whose grandfather was a Russian refugee, said today:

‘I nearly spat out my coffee when I read this Sunday Times story at the weekend — although I shouldn’t be surprised by anything that FDM does, having tracked them for four years, and spoken to well over 100 highly distressed graduates unlucky enough to have become entangled with this horrible firm.

‘My first thought was that FDM is using the Ukraine crisis to get some desperately-needed positive press, after so much bad PR lately.

‘But my next thought was much more troubling: Is FDM planning to charge these Ukrainian refugees £15,000 if they join the firm, and later decide the job isn’t for them, for any reason?

‘I also wondered how FDM’s monstrous ‘geoflex’ policy will be applied to these refugees, many of whom are likely to be mothers with young children. We know that FDM has had no qualms about separating families in the past, when ‘FDMers’ have had dependents they did not want to relocate away from. Will FDM do the same to these refugees from Ukraine? Will mothers be forced to work in parts of the UK that are far away from their children, because they signed a horrendous contract that FDM gave them, at the most vulnerable moment of their life?

‘I plan to write to Emma Sinclair to ask her to ask for a guarantee that all the jobs offered by the employers in her consortium will be of high quality, and none will create any additional distress for people who have already suffered unimaginable trauma. Given the calibre of the other businesses she has assembled and how busy she is likely to be collecting more, I will strongly suggest that the best way to preserve the integrity of her project is to kick FDM out of the group immediately.’

Graduate Fog wrote to FDM yesterday but has not yet received a response:

To: PR @ FDM Group
From Graduate Fog
Date: 14 March 2022
Subject: Will Ukrainian refugees have to pay £15,000 ‘exit fees’?

I read with interest in the Sunday Times that FDM Group is among a group of around 40 major UK firms that have pledged to offer employment opportunities to Ukrainian refugees arriving in the UK.
I would like to ask:
  1. How many opportunities does FDM Group plan to offer to Ukrainian refugees, and what sort of roles will they be?
  2. Does FDM Group plan to ask these individuals to sign contracts tying them into paying up to £15,000 in ‘exit fees’, should they wish to leave in less than two years?
  3. Will these individuals also have to move to anywhere in the UK that they are placed with a client? Could they be split from their children, as has happened with previous FDM employees?
  4. It is understood that the entrepreneur Emma Sinclair MBE co-ordinated the creation of this coalition of companies. Did FDM make Ms Sinclair aware of the controversy around FDM’s exit fees policy, during conversations about FDM joining this coalition?
  5. Were the other firms listed – including M&S, PwC and AstraZeneca – made aware about the controversy?
  6. Even if these Ukrainian refugees will not have to sign contracts tying them into their roles using exit fees, does FDM have any comment to make in response to concerns about whether the firm is a suitable employer of vulnerable workers, given the accounts that FDM graduates have been sharing with Graduate Fog recently, about the distress caused by the terms and conditions of their employment at FDM, including exit fees and the ‘geoflex’ policy?
I look forward to hearing from you.
Tanya de Grunwald
Founder and CEO, Graduate Fog

We will also make Emma Sinclair aware of this issue, and clarify her position on this issue. We very much hope that she will be keen to make sure that all the roles offered to Ukrainian refugees via her coalition will be of the highest standard. Watch this space for updates…

Find out more about Stop Exit Fees Now here

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