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Investors warn of unintended consequences as companies cut Russian ties

Randy Mancini 28 Mar 3
Illustration shows letters arranged to read
FILE PHOTO: Plastic letters arranged to read "Sanctions" are placed in front of Russian flag colors in this illustration taken February 25, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

March 3, 2022

By Ross Kerber

(Reuters) – A responsible-investing group representing $10 trillion of assets under management and advisement said companies could be right to cut Russian business ties to protest Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, but urged executives to take care to avoid causing unintended harm to employees, political dissidents or consumers.

In a statement to be released on Thursday, the New York-based Investor Alliance for Human Rights said companies must consider ending Russian business deals if they cannot avoid contributing to human rights harms.

However, divestment decisions “must be scrutinized for any unintended human rights consequences” said the statement, issued on behalf of more than 200 global members.

Alliance officials said Western companies should do a deep analysis as they decide whether to stay or go, and take steps like protecting workers from retaliation if they join demonstrations against the invasion.

Some businesses like state-owned banks and energy firms might be obvious partners to drop, said Rebecca DeWinter-Schmitt, associate director for the alliance. But, she said, “It’s another thing if you’re a company that’s primarily producing milk for the domestic market and you decide its too messy and pull out, that could cut food supplies.”

The statement shows the tensions facing many U.S. and European corporations and investors as companies including Boeing, BP and Norway’s sovereign wealth fund end business relationships.

Western sanctions against Russia have increased since last week including new export curbs announced on Wednesday.

Russia, which characterizes its action in Ukraine as a “special operation,” has responded by raising interest rates and limiting asset sales by foreigners. Some western companies have noted concerns for workers as they pull back.

In a statement announcing its exit from managing oil and gas facilities on Sakhalin Island on Tuesday, for instance, ExxonMobil said it would careful manage the process and that it had “an obligation to ensure the safety of people, protection of the environment and integrity of operations.”

An Exxon spokesman declined further comment.

(Reporting by Ross Kerber; Editing by David Gregorio)