Involvement of international workers in program designed to support Canadian businesses sparks criticism
Export Development Canada (EDC) has revealed one-third of the outsourced employees working on a federal COVID-19 business program are based in Brazil, contradicting an earlier statement from the government that nearly all of the outsourced employees were in Canada.
The Globe and Mail were the first to reveal last year that international consulting firm Accenture Inc was given a series of sole-sourced contracts to help EDC administer the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) program. CEBA was the most widely used pandemic support program for businesses, with more than $49 billion of loans provided to almost 900,000 companies, the Globe and Mail reported.
The CEBA agreement with Accenture is one of the largest contracts ever given to a consulting firm, with the value reaching $208 million. The report noted it has been raised in Parliament as an example of opaque and expensive outsourcing. The Liberal government has promised to cut down on such contracts.
Previously, Ottawa moved the deadline for the repayment for partial loan forgiveness of up to 33 per cent under the program to Jan. 18, 2024, “recognizing that the end of December is a busy time for many Canadian businesses”.
‘Front-line’ delivery of CEBA done from U.S., Canada
According to the Globe and Mail report, Accenture’s work was being done through a subsidiary in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Spokespeople for the government declined to provide more information for weeks, until recently when they confirmed that a third of Accenture’s CEBA workforce was based in Brazil to do software development work.
Shelley Maclean, a spokesperson for EDC, said about 100 workers in Canada and three in the United States work on “front-line delivery” of CEBA, including operating a call center. She also said a 46-person team in Brazil work on configuring the software for the loan-accounting system that Ottawa will start using to keep track of CEBA loan repayments, but she noted the software team will not access the personal information of CEBA loan recipients.
“Only the delivery teams at EDC and Accenture handle the data of Canadian small businesses,” Maclean said in a statement.
Criticism of overseas outsourcing
However, the involvement of overseas workers in a program designed to support Canadian businesses sparked criticism. NDP MP Richard Cannings questioned why a non-Canadian company received such an important contract, particularly when a substantial number of employees involved were based outside the country.
Dan Kelly of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business acknowledged the need for outsourcing during the pandemic's onset but criticized ongoing program administration issues, affecting small-business owners seeking assistance through CEBA.
While the Brazilian team played a significant role in Accenture's CEBA projects, they seemingly received a smaller proportion of federal funds compared to their Canadian counterparts, the report said. This discrepancy likely stems from lower average salaries in Brazil than in Canada, with estimates showing a significant disparity in compensation for software developers between the two countries.
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