Corporate moralism on Russia: Suspended between pragmatism and principle

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Here’s a list of companies: Nestlé, Cargill, AstraZeneca, Oreo, Halliburton and Cloudflare.

They span different sectors, have different footprints and diverse audiences.

And yet, until late March, all of them shared a common characteristic. All were viewed as corporate deplorables because they continued to do business in Russia.

All of the companies on that list were the target of Anonymous, an anarchic online hacktivist. In tweets that named and shamed companies, Anonymous urged moral corporatism over the Ukrainian invasion. That was on March 20.

On March 22, Anonymous leaked 10Gb of data from Nestlé.

On March 23, Nestlé announced it was suspending operations in Russia.

This suggests a moral philosophy that remains dangerously suspended between pragmatism and principle.

Business administration professor and acting director of the Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard, Nien-hê Hsieh, says  corporate responses do appear to incline towards avoiding complicity. “Not trying to be complicit in some sense by operating within Russia,” the professor recently told Quartz.

Fair enough.

But how will big business behave as the Ukraine war continues to grind on, going from hot to still-smouldering and then a cooling and eventually, frozen conflict?

This is a key question, which we’ll consider next.

Read the others in the series: