Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is an unjust war, and it has caused a humanitarian catastrophe. The situation in Ukraine is a tragedy.
But amidst this chaos are intense pockets of hope. Chief among them: the fighting spirit of the Ukrainian people, their refusal to give in to a larger and better-armed opponent, and their commitment to follow an inspiring leader to the very gates of hell if that’s what it takes to remain free.
The world has rallied around Ukraine, and that is another point of light we might not necessarily have expected given the global drift toward authoritarianism in recent years. Sure, some sorts of economic sanctions were predictable in response to such a situation. Even so, the severity and the swiftness of official sanctions imposed against Russia were unprecedented.
What’s more, many private companies stepped up to go above and beyond government-imposed obligations. Dozens of western businesses have voluntarily ceased or curtailed their operations in Russia, at a tremendous cost. For these companies, doing business with a regime actively demonstrating its willingness to kill thousands of innocent people so as to steal another country is a bridge too far, regardless of the results for the bottom line.
And other companies, well, don’t have such high moral standards. A senior professor from the Yale University School of Management, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, has compiled a list of companies he says have been “digging in” in defiance of the growing international chorus calling on private firms to get out of Russia. As of March 18, this list had 27 entries.
Some of the names on the list are old staples nearly synonymous with amoral business practices. Koch Industries, for instance, has operations in Russia, including two glass-manufacturing facilities operated by a subsidiary that it is declining to shut down.
“The horrific and abhorrent aggression against Ukraine is an affront to humanity,” Dave Robertson, the president and COO of Koch Industries, said in a statement. Nonetheless, Mr. Robertson claimed that walking away from the glass-making plants would only allow the Russian government to seize and benefit from them, adding that Koch is “complying with all applicable sanctions, laws and regulations governing our relationships and transactions within all countries where we operate.”
Perhaps he’s right — although it’s difficult to trust a company that has funneled millions of dollars to the modern Republican Party and whose patriarchs have long been hollowing out democracy.
This list also contains a few somewhat more confusing entries: Crappy sandwiches from Subway, for instance, are still available in Russia. Subway says that it doesn’t have any corporate operations in Russia and that the Subway restaurants which remain in Russia are run by independent franchisees beyond its control. I guess if Subway got off the hook for having a pedophile as their spokesman, perhaps they can weather some measure of involvement with the Putin regime too. Their tuna melt is the real crime against humanity anyway if you ask me.
It is difficult to imagine all of these companies ultimately bowing to public pressure. Yet, there is always room to be pleasantly surprised. On March 16, after Professor Sonnenfeld had revised his list to sort companies into categories and take into account a bit more nuance, the worst category contained 34 companies. Just one day later, the worst category was down to 27 holdouts. Seven companies acted swiftly to clean up their acts after being called out and shamed publicly.
We’ll see what happens with the few corporations that remain in Russia. I don’t see the list ever reaching zero. But a lot of unpredictable things have already happened in Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Universal corporate condemnation of the war may be unexpected. In seeing the stiff Ukrainian resistance, though, we have all received a big reminder that nothing is impossible.
Jonathan Wolf is a civil litigator and author of Your Debt-Free JD (affiliate link). He has taught legal writing, written for a wide variety of publications, and made it both his business and his pleasure to be financially and scientifically literate. Any views he expresses are probably pure gold, but are nonetheless solely his own and should not be attributed to any organization with which he is affiliated. He wouldn’t want to share the credit anyway. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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