Everything told, about A thousand companies have decided to leave Russia so far, according to a running tally by Yale management professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld.
We are scholars of human rights, political economy and international relations. We believe this joint corporate action shows how companies can leverage their bargaining power abroad – just as it is doing to landincluding the United States, and private organizations as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are trying to do.
Which makes the invasion more expensive
On top of Pressuring Russia to leave Ukraine and stop targeting civilians there, foreign companies are urging Vladimir Putin’s government to stop breaking down about Russian citizens protesting against the war.
Through a combination of withholding money, selling assets and refusing to do business with Russian clients and companies, global corporations and investors are fueling Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and domestic repression more expensive. Even after the conflict has ended, this may still be the case bigger shifts in investments, making it more difficult for Russia to recover.
General, recent estimates point to hundreds of thousands of job losses for Russians as a result of this unrest.
South African precedent
This kind of private sector pressure, aimed at improving human rights conditions, is not new.
One clear precedent emerged when anti-apartheid movements emerged worldwide to protest the racist system in South Africa. Led by people in Britain, these movements brought about widespread development boycotts of South African goods in the seventies and eighties.
Remarkable results include the ban of white South Africans to participate in international cricket and rugby events and drive Barclays Bank out of South Africa. We see echoes of that campaign the ban on a prominent Russian gymnast for wearing a Z, symbolizing support for Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Many governments imposed sanctions in the 1970s and 1980s, led by European countries. American involvement, through a law passed in 1986 over President Ronald Reagan’s objections, adding to the economic pressure.
However, many of the blows to the South African economy came from where divestment campaigns largely led by anti-apartheid groups on college and university campuses.
These groups attempted to pressure higher education institutions to sell shares and other assets in their endowments linked to companies doing business in South Africa. In 1990, more than 180 U.S. colleges and universities had divested at least part of these assets. These efforts then spread to local and state governments and the private sector. More than 200 companies have severed their ties with South Africa.
What tech companies are doing
International efforts to put pressure on abusive regimes to stop violence have evolved since the anti-apartheid era, reflecting the growing role of technology in business and society.
Technology and social media companies have also sought to protect civil and political rights in both Ukraine and Russia.
Snapchatfor example, disabled the heatmap capabilities of its users in Ukraine to prevent the Russian military from locating groups of Ukrainian citizens.
In Russia, however, at least some of these efforts could backfire.
The Russian government has chosen to block civilian access within Russia to both Facebook and Twitter, after those platforms blocked Russian state media on their websites. These are important platforms that dissidents use to quickly and efficiently document and share rights violations by Russian officials with a global audience. Furthermore, Russian opponents of Vladimir Putin increasingly used social media to coordinate their protests and dissent before the war against Ukraine began.
Cutting off these services significantly reduces the ability of Russian citizens to do so plan protests and share images of these events.
New cracks in Putin’s support at home
Global pressure campaigns are generally better at this preventing the onset of violence than ending a deadly conflict. But even if that pressure starts in wartime, it is possible limit the severity of the most extreme forms of violence, such as genocide, researchers have discovered.
This approach seems to work best when external pressure is matched by demands from domestic groups, especially secular, cultural, and religious organizations that are not involved in politics but generally seek to benefit society.
While these organizations are generally weak in Russiathe country has an organized – albeit suppressed – political opposition. Over in February and March 2022 14,000 people were arrested for protesting the waraccording to OVD-Info, an independent protest monitoring group.
The largest mass arrest in post-Soviet Russian history took place on March 6, 2022, when authorities… arrested 5,000 people in almost 70 cities who peacefully protested the invasion of Ukraine.
And new cracks are emerging in Putin’s support.
Russian business leadersas self-made tycoon Oleg Tinkov – who founded one of Russia’s largest banks – speaks out, as do government employees and members of the military community.
Boris Bondareva diplomat at Russia’s permanent mission in Geneva, also resigned, saying: “I simply can no longer share in this bloody, senseless and absolutely unnecessary shame.”
These acts of resistance indicate that there is a growing campaign within Russia to stop violence in Ukraine, at a time when global corporate pressure is undoubtedly hurting Putin.
But to be sure, he has taken a number of steps isolates the Russian economy before attacking Ukraine, including stockpiling foreign reserves, cutting imports from Western countries and increasing trade with countries like China. That makes it too early to know whether the growing corporate exodus will make a big difference in ending Russian violence.