“It’s Groundhog Day . . . again” says a deadpan Bill Murray in 1992’s Groundhog Day, a film so classic that the title itself has become an idiom in our culture. I think the film works not only because it’s hilarious, but also because its never-ending-day concept reminds us that life can be frustratingly repetitive.
So, too, is global politics. On the other side of the Red Sea, Saudi Arabia once again committed a heinous human rights violation, sparking international outrage. And once again, American companies – including Uber, Compass Realty, and Wag – are refusing to stop taking money from the offenders.
So what did Saudi Arabia do this time? Recently, The New York Times ran a story detailing the imprisonment and torture of Dr. Walid Fitaihi, a dual American and Saudi citizen, by the Saudi government. According to Fitaihi’s son, Dr. Fitaihi was captured and brutally tortured based on no allegations or evidence of any wrongdoing.
This is another incident in a longstanding pattern of human rights violations in Saudi Arabia, including the murder of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi last year, and the perpetual oppression of women and minority groups.
And there’s another pattern at play here too: businesses giddily taking investments from the Saudi government despite the country’s atrocious record.
There’s perhaps no worse offender than SoftBank. SoftBank is a Japanese investment firm that, through its subsidiary Vision Fund, pumps serious bucks into many major companies across the globe. Normally, that would be a normal case of capital-as-usual. But this isn’t a normal case.
The biggest investor in Vision Fund’s $100 billion fortune is none other than the Saudi government’s Public Investment Fund.
Many major American companies are reaping the rewards of the Saudi money. Uber, DoorDash, Wag, and Compass Realtyare all major beneficiaries of Vision Fund. Which also means, by six degrees of Kevin Bacon, that they’re beneficiaries of the oppressive, rights-violating, journalist-killing Saudi Kingdom.
It’s all the more concerning when you consider the implications of such major investment in American firms by our pseudo-friend in the Middle East. If lawmakers decided to push away from the Saudis, the Kingdom could still have major strings in our country that would be tough to snip.
This is especially true when you look at the magnitude of the investments pouring in from Riyadh. Compass Realty, for example, took in a whopping $450 million from Softbank when it was still fairly small back in 2017. Now, thanks to that Saudi-tinged cash, Compass is able to make big acquisitions of their own.
At a time when Congress is making several moves to push back on the Saudis, and many businesses are rethinking their engagements in the country, it’s disappointing that other major companies like Compass and Uber aren’t following suit. It begs the question – what strings come with that money?
And there are questions for consumers as well. When we buy a condo or call a ride, is our money staying here in the U.S., or is it going overseas to people who violate our values?
In Saudi Arabia, it’s like it’s always Groundhog Day, as atrocities committed by the government seem to hit the news perpetually. Lawmakers and some businesses here in America seem finally ready to push back, but some companies, like those taking money from SoftBank, seem determined to put their bottom lines over doing what’s right.