“Silence is the preferred communication mode for most companies that keep doing business in Russia,” said a spokeswoman for B4Ukraine, which carried out the research. B4Ukraine is a coalition of Ukrainian and international civil society groups that aims to block access to economic and financial resources enabling Russian aggression.
The spokeswoman added that, according to KSE Institute data, as of the end of July 2022, 1,179 companies have “continued doing business as usual or operating at a smaller scale” and that “B4Ukraine analysis of their public communications shows that eight in 10 companies have kept silent about keeping operations in Russia”.
Of those that have offered an explanation, B4Ukraine said only one in 10 companies (137 out of 1,179) “actually explained the reasons behind it" (as opposed to issuing a basic statement), and those that did speak out “usually referred to one or several of five common excuses: provision of essential goods, protection of employees, cutting operations as the law prescribes, fulfilling existing contracts, and continuing operations while they are legal”.
Businesses with a consumer-facing UK presence that have remained open for business in Russia and have explained their reasoning include Nestlé, Italian food company Barilla and Procter & Gamble (which manufactures UK brands including Pantene, Pampers, Gillette and Fairy).
Emotional reasoning was also high on the agenda, said the spokeswoman. “Around 17 per cent of companies emphasise the human rights of the Russian people and their potential suffering in case of a company’s withdrawal and another 15 per cent contrast them with the values and principles of a company.
“For example, P&G described the possible dire consequences of their withdrawal from Russia, saying: ‘Our many Russian colleagues, and the people of Russia, face challenges and uncertainty for their futures that are also significant. P&G will continue to support them, but the situation necessitates important changes immediately and over time.’”
She also highlighted a recent Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report, saying it “demonstrated a rising call from consumers, employees and other stakeholders ‘for business to be more engaged in geopolitics’, with CEOs ‘expected to shape policy on societal and geopolitical issues’.
“The public demands businesses to acknowledge geopolitical issues and demonstrate corporate transparency and accountability in response to them,” she added. “The days when it was ‘just business’ are gone. Companies use public statements to shield their reputation but don’t back them up with real actions.
“Less than a quarter of the statements include any kind of commitment to curtail operations, downscale the business or even pull out from the market eventually. Moreover, only 28 per cent of 258 companies that made any kind of statements revisited them afterward to update, or issued additional statements with new information.”