Sir Vince Cable has written to Premiership Rugby urging the organisation to consider ending a sponsorship deal with insurer Gallagher, after its UK boss made a racist comment about a departing employee.
AJ Gallagher International’s chief executive, Simon Matson, has admitted calling staff member Nawaf Hasan a “complicated fat Arab” in an exchange on the messaging service WhatsApp.
The high court heard that Gary Lashmar, chief operating officer of the company, whose website espouses its ethical credentials, responded: “And a very greedy one.”
The court also heard that international commercial director, Vyvienne Wade, referred to the Qur’an when discussing Hasan, writing: “Heaven – is that the awaiting 72 virgins??!!”
Details of the exchanges emerged during a court case brought by Gallagher against rival Ardonagh, which it accuses of orchestrating a “carefully planned conspiracy” to poach several of its staff illegally.
In a letter to the Premiership Rugby chief executive, Mark McCafferty, the Lib Dem leader – whose constituency includes the Twickenham rugby stadium – said the organisation should reconsider its commercial ties with Gallagher.
He said: “Such awful words from the chief executive of Premiership Rugby’s biggest and most prominent sponsor can only inflict damage on the sport.
“Campaigns such as the ‘Kick racism out of rugby’ group can only be severely undermined by such associations.
“This disgraceful culture should have been kicked out of Britain’s boardrooms decades ago and it is not Premiership Rugby’s fault that it has found itself in this situation.
“However, for the good of the sport, I urge you to review Premiership Rugby’s relationship with Gallagher immediately.”
Premiership Rugby declined to comment.
During evidence in court, Matson admitted the comment was “not a proud moment”.
But Cable dismissed Matson’s claim that his remarks had been the result of frustration at alleged illegal poaching of staff rather than discriminatory behaviour.
Cable also questioned whether US parent company Arthur J Gallagher should continue to employ members of staff embroiled in a racism row.
“If they were behaving with the standards expected of a British plc, these people would be out on their ear,” he said.
“If the US parent company are concerned about their standards, that’s what they should be doing.”
In an internal memo to staff, Gallagher’s UK chairman, Pat Gallagher, said: “The choice of words used in those conversations is both regrettable and not in keeping with the Gallagher Way.”
In a segment on the company’s website entitled the Gallagher Way, the company lists a 25-point manifesto laid down by former chairman and chief executive Bob Gallagher. One point reads: “We adhere to the highest standards of moral and ethical behavior.”
A spokesman for the company said: “Simon Matson takes his commitment to inclusion and diversity seriously, as does everyone in the leadership team at Gallagher.
“The private messages that have been made public through this trial are more than two years old and have been taken out of context.
“The individuals involved have expressed their deep regret, and apologised to colleagues for both the poor choice of language and the unintended offence this has caused.
“Gallagher has reinforced its own commitment over the past 18 months, having refreshed its inclusion and diversity programme and included sensitivity and unconscious bias training for all employees – top-down and bottom-up.”
The case continues.