A professor who wants to shame the business that remains in Russia

Auchan french supermarkets logo at a shopping center in Moscow, Russia, March 24, 2022. (NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP)

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld published a list of companies that decided to leave Russia or stay there after the invasion of Ukraine, available to all consumers and investors.

A corporate social responsibility professor at American Yale University is used to debating with big bosses.

He decided to step up after the attack on Russia because there is no “golden mean” against Moscow, he explains in an interview with AFP.

– Why did you start this list?

Immediately after the start of the war, a dozen companies took the initiative to cut ties with Russia, and they do not usually take the first steps on human rights or social issues: oil companies (BP, Shell, Exxon), business services companies (McKinsey, Deloitte and large law firms ) and technology giants (Apple, Oracle, Twitter, Amazon).

A woman walks past a Leroy Merlin store in Moscow, Russia on March 24, 2022.
A woman walks in front of a Leroy Merlin store in Moscow, Russia on March 24, 2022. (NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP)

But soon we also saw a lot of impostors, companies that, with a smart PR team, were trying to get away from the misleading messages. I put together a small team without any ideology or affiliation with any of these companies to objectively evaluate what these companies do.

Initially, it was a list of two categories: companies that stay and those that leave. But we quickly realized that this was not enough, because some companies broadcast very vague and ambiguous messages. Now we have five categories, from companies that leave completely (from Russia) to those that stay.

– What motivated the companies to act?

Some of the companies that took the first steps can be said to have acted in their own interests because, for example, they were too connected with the oligarchs and wanted to avoid damage to their reputation.

A woman walks along a bridge in the center of Moscow, Russia on March 23, 2022.
A woman walks on a bridge in the center of Moscow, Russia, March 23, 2022 (- / AFP)

Some companies that have faced controversy in recent years (like climate change oil companies or privacy tech companies) have used this opportunity to show that sometimes they can choose the right side.

And in some companies, employees themselves rebelled. Gen Z really do have certain principles and believe that where they buy, where they invest, and where they work matters. There was definitely some anger in the big consulting firms about serving the devil.

– Some companies that have remained in Russia claim that they are acting in the interests of their employees or for humanitarian reasons. Isn’t it justified?

The fact that companies try to justify their presence in Russia on humanitarian grounds or supposed concern for their employees is simply appalling. This is pure greed. They must be held accountable and condemned.

Companies like Nestlé and Mondelez have been claiming for weeks that they are making essential goods. These so-called essentials include KitKat bars, Nesquik chocolates, Oreo cookies (…).

First of all, (such positioning) undermines the very purpose of economic sanctions and voluntary exit of corporations. The idea is not to console the population of Russia, but to keep them calm. The idea is to make them feel uncomfortable, increase their stress so that they doubt their leaders.

Some try to show understanding by saying that “the Russian population only has access to filtered information.” But the Russians themselves know this (…). They must question what they are told. If they don’t, they are willfully ignorant.

Ukrainians don’t have that luxury. They were thrown in the face of a harsh reality. The Russians are violating the ceasefire, bombing children’s hospitals. There is no “golden mean” here.

Every day companies let us know that they are furious (to be listed as companies still operating in Russia). They send us threats they receive from hacker groups like Anonymous. But it’s not our problem, it’s their choice. And if there are negative reactions, they just need to change their position.

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