Maybe We Can Stop With the Empty Corporate Virtue Signaling Regarding the Ukraine Invasion

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

Some of these announcements about support for Ukraine feel like they are more about corporate posturing.

Earlier this week in my column Dipsology: Beyond The Basics, I covered how there is a push to remove Russian vodkas from the marketplace. While this is a well-intentioned move, and probably one done more on a moral basis than on trying to enact punishment on Vladamir Putin, it makes for a moment when we start to edge closer to self-indulgence rather than selfless action. In the days since, there have been a number of announcements made which truly feel less like support for freedom than striving for some free advertising.


There have been some moves made by American companies which put the squeeze on the Russian government. Overnight, Elon Musk made the internet available for Ukrainian citizens with his Starlink hookup. Numerous banks have locked Russia out of their funds stored internationally, and ApplePay and GooglePay suspended their services inside the nation. These are serious moves that will hinder Russia in severe ways.

I do, however, have to question the significance of Air BnB announcing it would halt operations in Russia. I’m dubious that making it harder to reserve a townhome in Sochi will have Putin coming to his senses. New York Metropolitan Opera has announced that Russian singer Anna Netrebko will no longer be permitted to perform, despite her speaking out against the invasion. She will be replaced with a Ukrainian soprano, and this will curtail the invasion, for certain.

Some media moves made perfect sense. Direct TV removed the propaganda outlet Russia Today from its channel lineup, and this along with other similar moves has led to the channel announcing it will shut down entirely. Less important is hearing the pampered elites attending the Cannes Film Festival will not be made uncomfortable this summer, as all Russian entrants and delegations have been disinvited. Following their cue, The Glasgow Film Festival has pulled two Russian films from its schedule. And in a severe blow, Warner Brothers has now pulled back from releasing its new blockbuster “The Batman” from Russian theaters.


The ownership of discount retailers TJ Maxx and Marshals announced it was divesting from its ownership of a similar chain of stores in Russia. It is not closing any of the stores, just selling off its stake in that company. It remains to be seen if anyone will even notice. Clothing chain Canada Goose will suspend all commerce with Russian interests, and in another move of dubious merit the chain store company is also donating $100,000 to the United Nations.

Another fashion retailer, Mango, declared it was closing its stores in Russia – sort of. The company operates 120 stores in that country, but more than half of those are franchises, which will remain open. It might have been better to simply not announce anything.

Then you have the European brewer Carlsberg, which appears to be in conflict or is being squeezed by conflicting concerns, as the beer maker is taking the opposite approach. The company has closed three breweries in Ukraine, out of concern for the safety of its workers, but it is keeping five operating in Russia because they feel supporting its employees in a dissolving economy is important.

This current wave of announcements represents an odd position for companies to take. There is this need for them to come forward and make the proper statements regarding the turmoil in Ukraine. If you do not say something properly can you be seen as a company tacitly supporting the invasion? If you do not take action pulling away from Russian commerce are you thought to be funding it? There is a tightrope to be walked, and the messaging is equally dicey for companies.


At what point do you depart from taking a stand and cross over to signaling for more of a promotional sake? This is trending towards the Green Washing we have seen over the years, with false environmental claims made to burnish a corporate image. There is also a similar minefield that was seen during the Black Lives Matter protest months. Companies committed to making corporate moves in support of POC advocacy, but in another fashion, it became acknowledgment of a lack of such action prior. As they pledged to hire more minorities in management positions, for example, it could be seen as an admission they had not been doing so.

Now, as companies are boasting about how they will suspend operations or divest from the country of Russia, in order to do so it has to be said that there was a willingness to do business within a questionable marketplace, to begin with. It is not as if this action by Putin is a sudden surprise on everyone. But I am sure the plight of those in Kyiv is mitigated by the move of Netflix to suspend any dramatic projects from studios in Moscow.


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