Let’s make one thing clear: There is not a damn thing moral about giant conglomerate companies. They exist to create wealth for shareholders, and doing any kind of business with Russia right now is bad for business. The optics problem has companies taking historic steps to go above and beyond international sanctions.
Shipping experts told Business Insider that historically, shipping companies have done the bare minimum to stick to the letter of the law. But that’s changed due to widespread support of Ukraine in its struggle against Russian invaders, which BI calls “moral sanctions.” (The publication is alone in using this nauseating term, and let’s hope it stays that way.)
Take Shell for example, which quickly apologized for buying steeply discounted Russian oil last month, even though the oil was not under sanctions yet. After attempting to defend the purchase, not only did Shell apologize, it pulled out of the country completely.
While the Russia-Ukraine conflict isn’t the first crisis to be broadcasted on social media, it is the “most viral” war, as The Economist reported. For many global companies, keeping a clean name is more valuable than keeping Russian clients.
The energy giant’s response is just one example of what experts are calling “moral sanctions,” or voluntary business limitations created in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In the notoriously ruthless shipping and commodities industry, the trend has led companies like Shell to avoid all trade associated with Russia — even when it’s legal.
“Historically, companies have done the minimum amount of sanctions,” Ami Daniel, CEO of the maritime risk consultancy Windward, told Insider. “However, what we’ve seen in the last month is a lot of companies do the maximum.”
This wasn’t due to any essential goodness of the company, of course. The company was uncomfortable with all the bad publicity it received on social media, which BI just barely touches on with this weak ass quote:
“In practice, I think those grounds can get mixed.” Raj Bhala, a distinguished professor at the University of Kansas Law School, told Insider.
“I think there are lots of [companies] who genuinely want to do the right thing,” he added, noting that more businesses are incorporating ESG into their decisions as younger generations come into leadership.
Yeah, OK professor.
Oil companies and large shipping companies in particular are ditching Russia, citing security concerns and financial sanctions while going above what international law demands. One expert told BI that these companies couldn’t possibly go back to being amoral money machines wrecking havoc across our planet. That is a pretty optimistic view, considering these are the very companies that have for the entirety of their existences exploited workers, poisoned the planet, raised prices while crying inflation and pocketing record profits and worked just fine with past dictators and strongmen. If anything is permanently changed, it’ll be due to public opinion, which happens to be a very finicky force in the world.