Corporate moral philosophy on Russia: Is there such a thing?

Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash

In the early days and weeks of outrage at the February 24 invasion of Ukraine, more than 400 companies withdrew from Russia.

The purpose was clear…up to a point. It wasn’t exactly to force Russia to end the war, but to, as McDonald’s has always said, “Do the right thing”.

That sounds suspiciously like wanting to be heard saying the right thing. Do companies really have a moral philosophy? I’ve addressed this question before (click here for my open Democracy piece on the business of being woke), but not through the focussed lens of the invasion of Ukraine.

Business administration professor Nien-hê Hsieh, acting director of the Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard, often thinks about corporate morality. He recently told Quartz that it’s not easy to parse companies’ stance on Ukraine. However, the professor suggested framing their decision-making against three broader trends. “One is that companies are increasingly expected to have a position on, or do something about, specific issues in society. The second is there’s a lot of pressure within companies from employees to address issues. We’ve seen this, for example, with Black Lives Matter or other issues. And then the third is that increasingly, I think, companies are thinking about their role in society more generally.”

So far so good. But what about the corporate deplorables? Who are they, anyway?

Tomorrow, we’ll look at a shortlist.

Read the others in the series: