War in Ukraine: companies bear geopolitical responsibility

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine concerns two countries that have been open to market economies and globalized brands such as Apple, Netflix, Starbucks, Ikea, Louis Vuitton… Montesquieu’s “dux-commerce” or “the end of Fukuyama’s story” is yet to come. Just as the electrification of Weimar Germany did not prevent the transition to Nazism, today’s China has been democratized only thanks to mobile phones, the Internet and a private car. Doesn’t the consumer society inevitably lead to a pacified parliamentary democracy? On the contrary, one could even say that in the case of Russia and China, abundance and enrichment function as an analogue of acceptance of authoritarianism and consolidation of the regime. You can consume from 21th century, subject to submission, as in the 19th! In short, goods and free trade alone are not vectors of peace and prosperity. Conversely, the wealth accumulated by Russia’s gas and oil revenues turns against our values. It is not enough to trade, sell and buy to move to Western values. Nationalism, revenge and imperialism are insoluble in a mall.

The company must use its economic and social firepower

In this sense, companies immersed in the turmoil of history can no longer claim to be agents of peace and dialogue in their own right. To continue to sell screwdrivers or cars in Russia, as Leroy-Merlin or Renault do, remains at least ambiguous. Is it enough to deprive Russians of desserts, and hence leisure consumption or luxury goods, and justify maintaining other sectors in the name of basic needs? “Leroy-Merlin” was bombed in Ukraine, isn’t it time for him to close in Russia? Here it is about highlighting a fact that we have hidden: for companies there is a new responsibility, a geopolitical responsibility, which is added to the social and economic responsibility.

This geopolitical responsibility is, of course, associated with reputational risk: the fear of being branded as a war profiteer or even an arms dealer. But it doesn’t stop there if we think about the period when companies declare their commitment. The geopolitical responsibility associated with this deadly conflict at the gates of Europe must be an integral part of the raison d’être, formal or informal, of company in a world where wars, famines and pestilences are their great return. The company cannot and should not take advantage of the tragic situation; on the contrary, it must use its economic and social impact force.

Our Energy Addiction Weakens Our Moral Sense

The issue of presence in Russia is complicated: on social networks we find many calls to boycott most Western companies still operating with the aggressor. Such a boycott may be based on respect for 16th United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG): Promoting peaceful societies. If one can doubt the position of Danone, referring to the food supply of the population of Russia, then the position of the oil company TotalEnergies is certainly the worst: the only one among the oil companies, it announced the continuation of its activities in Russia, now promises to stop its oil activities by the end of 2022, an eternity Kiev time, and without any changes in its most strategic gas activities. This is the minimum favor that deserves a massive boycott…if we could do it. Our energy dependence significantly weakens our moral sense.

The war in Ukraine culminates in the small deals that the globalization of trade has made for decades with respect for human rights, in the name of purchasing power and lower costs. If we could relativize the suffering of those who sew our T-shirts, then the complete denial of humanity in such a dirty and close war as the one that began in Ukraine would be harder to come to terms with.

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