Russia and Ukraine: where is the ethical corporate response?

Blog
23 March 2022

Tags: Ethical Values

Dr Ian Peters, IBE Director, discusses the corporate response to the invasion of Ukraine.

Four weeks into the invasion of Ukraine and the situation continues to develop, not just from a military perspective but also from an economic one. The response from the West has been to impose economic sanctions, restricting the import and export of goods and services to and from Russia. Business has no choice but to comply with these sanctions and regulatory restrictions on trade. However, the conflict has raised ethical questions for them as well as compliance-related ones.

For many companies, the focus has been on risk mitigation. Regulatory compliance has quickly been overtaken by reputational risk with the pressure of public opinion reflected in negative headlines and investor pressure on those companies who thought that simply halting new investment in Russia would be sufficient to satisfy the calls for action. Gradually more and more companies have closed their Russian operations. Some did u-turns within 24 hours having initially stated they would stay open for business. 

Those companies that moved the quickest are likely to have drawn on their companies’ stated purpose and values to reach their decision. These values should provide an ‘ethical compass’ to help companies choose the right path when faced with an ethical dilemma such as this. The decision on whether or not to pull out of Russia also has ethical downsides. Companies have a ‘duty of care’ to their Russian employees not just in their own businesses but often throughout the supply chain. In response to this, we have seen several companies commit to continuing to pay their employees in Russia or provide some other form of compensation. 

And some businesses may be supplying essential goods such as medical supplies or pharmaceuticals and feel that they have an ethical duty to continue to supply these products. But ultimately companies will need to consider whether they can justify their claim that their products are ‘essential’ or whether they are just competing in the Russian market with other Russian suppliers.

Will western businesses return to Russia when this is all over? It is difficult to see how things can return to how they were in the short term, especially if Putin’s regime remains in power. Companies’ decisions should ultimately be based on their ethical values but these are not set in isolation; they must reflect their stakeholders’ and society’s values, which is why a return to Russia is not likely any time soon.

Author

Dr Ian Peters MBE
Dr Ian Peters MBE

Director

As Director of the Institute, Ian is responsible for implementing strategy, leading the team and ensuring that the Institute meets its charitable aims of raising awareness and spreading best practice in the field of business ethics.

Ian’s career has spanned business policy, government relations and corporate communications.  He has extensive experience of working at the highest levels with business, government, regulators and the professions.

After studying for a degree in geography at Lancaster University and taking his PhD at Southampton (on the drivers of small business growth) Ian joined the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) as a small business policy specialist.  In 1989 he moved to international public relations firm Burson-Marsteller where he worked for a number of major corporate clients.  Following a second stint at the CBI Ian became Deputy Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce in 1996 where he led the policy, research and communications functions.  From 2001 to 2008 he was Director of External Affairs and Marketing at the Engineering Employers Federation (EEF) and in 2009 joined the Chartered Institute of Internal Auditors as Chief Executive, a post he held until December 2019.

Ian has held a number of non-executive and public appointments including Chair of the Independent Monitoring Panel of the UK Chartered Banker Professional Standards Board, member of the UK government’s Regulatory Policy Committee and Better Regulation Task Force, and member of the Court of the University of Lancaster.

In 2015 Ian was awarded an MBE for services to regulatory reform.

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