The outbreak of hostilities – a weak way of saying ‘the invasion’ – by Russia towards Ukraine has put multinational brand owners in a very sticky position. Morally, the simple thing to do would be to join the worldwide wave of outrage and state in no uncertain terms a condemnation of the move.
And yet, with the exception of SPI Group, there has been nothing. While many are talking about their humanitarian efforts in light of the subsequent refugee crisis, we’ve not yet received anything along the lines of Unilever’s statement late yesterday, in which CEO Alan Jope described Russia’s attacks as “a brutal act of war against a neighbouring sovereign country”.
If we take a breath, though – ‘a fast-moving situation’ doesn’t come close to describing the last week and a half – it’s hard to see how the multinationals with operations in Russia can, or necessarily should, do anything else.
Footage coming out of Russia highlights the treatment being meted out to members of the public opposing the invasion. With short shrift, those citizens are being pulled off the streets and taken away. Consider, then, the employees of, say, Diageo Russia, Pernod Ricard Russia and, more prolifically, Carlsberg’s Baltic Beverages Holding division.
From the relative luxury of London, Paris and Copenhagen, firing off a “senseless acts of violence being perpetrated” missive is easy. For those on the ground, however – and I’ve been told that some of the outspoken multinationals have had their Russian offices visited by authorities in recent days – such statements could have dire consequences.
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This isn’t about business. It’s about doing the right thing by your employees and their families. Politicians would do well to consider that before piling into companies with Russian operations.