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These companies exiting Russia have been going well beyond what’s required by sanctions

March 7, 2022, 11:52 AM UTC

Good morning.

I’ve been impressed over the past 10 days at how businesses have responded to the war in Europe. Some of their actions have been in compliance with, or anticipation of, government sanctions. But others go well beyond what’s required. Some notable examples:

  • Major oil companies, including Exxon, BP, and Shell, have ended multiple joint investment projects with Russian oil companies.
  • Major retailers, including H&M, Nike, Ikea, and TJX, have shut down Russian sales and closed stores.
  • Visa, [hotlink]Mastercard,[/hotlink] and American Express shut down global services in Russia.
  • Accenture closed its Russian offices, and EY, [hotlink]KPMG,[/hotlink] and PwC are also cutting ties with their Russian member firms.
  • Boeing cut off support for Russian airlines and closed its offices in Moscow, while Delta ended its Russian code-sharing arrangement.
  • Airbnb is freeing up housing for 100,000 Ukrainian refugees.
  • FedEx and UPS shut services to Russia.
  • [hotlink]Apple,[/hotlink] [hotlink]Alphabet,[/hotlink] Meta, and Microsoft all have taken significant action to combat Russian aggression and disinformation.

“What I find most encouraging is the speed with which companies have acted, and how united EU and U.S. companies have been,” Just Capital CEO Martin Whittaker told me. “Have there been any serious dissenting voices about whether corporations should respond to what has happened? I’m not aware of any. That universality of cause is rare these days, and it’s good to see. A reminder of how good the business community really is in coming together in the face of a crisis.” Just Capital is tracking the various corporate actions here; Jeffrey Sonnenfeld’s team at Yale is doing something similar here, and Sonnenfeld also has a Fortune piece out today that compares the current boycotts with those against South Africa in 1986.

This is stakeholder capitalism at work. Many of these actions have real costs, but companies are taking the short-term hit out of a conviction that capitalism and democracy are linked. They can’t thrive in a world where ruthless dictators can ignore sovereign borders without consequence.

Careful reporting over time, I’m sure, will uncover cases where corporate self-interest trumped the general interest. And there will always be a point at which the cost to companies is greater than they are willing to bear. As a thought experiment, it’s worth imagining if this were China invading Taiwan, rather than Russia invading Ukraine. The corporate cost calculations would change by orders of magnitude. 

But such calculations are no different than the tradeoffs political leaders are now weighing. The most important to watch: Will Western countries be willing to block Russian oil and gas imports? Until they do, current sanctions could have the perverse effect of enriching Russia, whose oil-dependent economy benefits from higher prices. But blocking oil and gas imports will impose costs on the West that, so far, political leaders have been unwilling to bear.

I was spending time with my family last week, but the Fortune team was hard at work covering the war and its effects. Check out Aman Kidwai’s piece on the lessons corporate leaders can learn from Volodymyr Zelenskyy here, and Lance Lambert’s look at Russians dumping American real estate here. You can find our ongoing coverage here. Other news below.

Alan Murray


Market turbulence

The potential for a Western ban on Russian oil imports has helped push investors to dump assets. Europe’s Stoxx 600 is down 2.6%, and U.S. futures are in the –1.6% zone. Crypto’s also in the red. (Bonus read: Eamon Barrett on how soaring oil prices give the West less reason to hold back from that embargo.) Fortune

Evacuation routes

Russian forces have killed some civilians, including children, who were trying to use agreed humanitarian corridors to flee a town on the outskirts of Kyiv. Other escape routes have also been bombarded in breach of agreed cease-fires, and the International Committee of the Red Cross says one route out of Mariupol was mined. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has sworn vengeance. Russia is now again promising humanitarian corridors…leading to Russia and its vassal Belarus. Reuters

Uniqlo stays

Uniqlo parent Fast Retailing has decided to maintain its Russian operations because, according to CEO Tadashi Yanai, “clothing is a necessity of life” and “the people of Russia have the same right to life as we do.” Yanai does not appear to be very bothered about ESG issues, having previously declined to comment on Uniqlo’s sourcing of cotton from China’s oppressed Xinjiang region. Fortune

Aeroflot fears

Russian flag carrier Aeroflot has canceled almost all its international flights to avoid overseas authorities impounding its planes under sanctions. Fortune


Icahn and Occidental

Activist investor Carl Icahn has sold the last of his 10% stake in Occidental, and his two representatives on the fossil fuel firm’s board are resigning. Icahn said his relationship with Occidental and CEO Vicki Hollub was “activism at its best.” Wall Street Journal

Jets to Ukraine

The U.S. is trying to broker a complex deal that could get Poland’s MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine. Poland would like the U.S. to first promise that it can replace the aircraft with new jets. All this is part of efforts to fight Russia in Ukrainian airspace without the West being part of the fighting as such. Fortune

Sanctions exposure

UBS has $10 million in outstanding loans to now-sanctioned clients, plus around $200 million of exposure to Russian assets that were used as collateral in Lombard lending. That makes UBS a lot less exposed than the likes of Raiffeisen, Société Générale, Crédit Agricole, and ING. Financial Times

Wood optimism

Embattled investor Cathie Wood insists ARK will make “spectacular returns” over the next five years. Wood: “We’ve been in a terrible bear market for innovation. However, if you look from the bottom of the coronavirus to that peak [of the ARK Innovation ETF] in February of ’21, we were up 358%.” CNBC

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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