Posted: 1 year ago

War in Ukraine - Global Transformation of the Corporate World

The war waged by Russia in Ukraine fundamentally changed the geopolitical vision of the world. Changes have taken place in both political and other value systems. The world has been divided into two parts: supporters of Ukraine and its opponents.

Although business has its rules and, at first glance, does not engage in political rallies, in this situation businesses had to choose which side to stand on: light or dark. Companies with a high sense of corporate responsibility expressed their position against the war by stopping business in Russia, despite the large financial losses. The ongoing war in Ukraine have pushed companies to unite to create a better world, which is directly related to their sustainability and corporate responsibility.

The UN Global Compact and local networks have been actively involved in these processes. Their role was to develop a variety of recommendations and mobilize businesses to help Ukraine. In this regard, the work of the Global Compact Network Georgia was important, which in cooperation with the Ukrainian Network, did many things for war-torn Ukraine: both directly in the war zone and in Georgia, to help refugees who came here.

Salome Zurabishvili and Tatiana Sakharuk, Directors of the UN Global Compact Networks in Georgia and Ukraine, share their views on the aftermath of the war and the challenges of doing business now: what is the corporate responsibility of business during the current war in Ukraine and how it can be united for a better world.

Salome Zurabishvili, Executive Director of the Global Compact Network Georgia

- The 10 Principles of the UN Global Compact and the 17 Goals of Sustainable Development call on businesses to promote human rights. The war in Ukraine is a test for all companies. What are their response actions in the current situation?

- The United Nations Global Compact (UN Global Compact) is the largest corporate sustainability initiative in the world, helping to create a sustainable and inclusive global economy for people, communities and markets. Its goal is to unite and mobilize businesses to contribute to the sustainable development of countries in the socio-economic and environmental context. This, in itself, is a guarantee of creating a better world. The initiative is based on 10 principles, where peace and security issues are very important, as is the protection of universally recognized human rights by business. Our Network member companies follow these principles, according to which “businesses must support and respect universally recognized human rights. Also, businesses should not become abettors in human rights abuses."

There is also a very important document - the UN Guidelines on Business and Human Rights, which is a kind of standard in this regard. It directly instructs companies to respect human rights and to take special responsibility when the country in which they operate is at war or in a conflict-affected area.

Specifically, in the area of ​​humanitarian assistance during the war, the UN created additional guidelines for businesses to provide assistance to victims of hostilities, in addition to not violating human rights. Our Network is actively working in this direction, especially in Eastern European countries, to offer various services or products to war-affected Ukrainians.

- What was the immediate response of the Global Compact Network Georgia to the global agreement on the current events in Ukraine?

- As soon as the war started, we contacted the members of our organization's Ukrainian Network and tried to get information about current events from them. Unfortunately, these people had to move to Poland and are currently working there, although we are trying to find out from them the specific needs of war-torn Ukrainians in order to direct business action here.

One of the challenges in this process was the lack of coordination and information. People acted chaotically. The Ukrainian Network has taken on this mission and regularly provides us with important information, such as what Ukrainians scattered in various countries need. One of the most painful issues is employment. For this purpose, a single employment portal has been created, where businesses from different countries can post vacancies. They also provide information on food needs, per which companies can send them specific products or money.

-  In what way has the Global Compact Network Georgia been involved in the processes supporting Ukraine? What kind of activities did you participate in?

- As for the activities of our Network, we acted in several directions: it was very important to raise the awareness of the representatives of the business sector and talk to them about this topic. To this end, we collected information about their activities and disseminated it through various media and social networks in order to provoke the desire and motivation of others to take similar action.

In addition to ensuring the involvement of companies, which was reflected in the creation of special funds, money transfers to Ukraine, sending food, finding food and temporary accommodation for those who came here, our Network staff also participated in this process: we collected baby food, medicine and shipped to Ukraine.

Contributions to various causes were also important. Together with the organization Orbeliani Georgia we prepared an event called More for Ukraine, to which we invited member companies of the Network. They offered vouchers, products to attending Ukrainians, provided information about their company and employment opportunities there. It ended up a very interesting and useful event.

We also held several meetings directly with members of our Network to learn more about each other's activities and find ways to better collaborate. As a result, through the complex work of the financial engagement company Crystal and several representatives of the hospitality sector, Ukrainians were provided with financial assistance, and were accommodated in hotels free of charge. Thus, the duties and responsibilities were redistributed.

We also discussed this issue with NGOs. At a meeting held by the USAID Civic Engagement Program, we requested information from various organizations about the needs and steps being taken in this direction. The meeting was attended by several member companies of our network and new initiatives emerged. For example, GPI Holding stated that they want to employ foreigners, including Ukrainians, because in addition to the moral factor, it also has business benefits for them: they want to extend their services to foreigners coming to Georgia. On the other hand, NGOs work with Ukrainians and are leaning about their needs. This helps them connect with the business sector. As a result, both sides win.

- What is the corporate responsibility of business globally in wartime?

- Together with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which provides humanitarian assistance to conflict-affected regions in different countries, we have developed a guide for businesses on what steps to take to help conflict-affected Ukrainians. With general recommendations such as:

  • multi-sectoral integration of the business sector to achieve more effective results
  • helping people in a timely manner and delivering the products they need
  • providing necessary information for Ukrainians who have arrived in different countries and assistance in obtaining refugee status
  • ensuring the rights of children to health and education.

Recommendations dealing with gender-sensitive topics were also important. For example, providing resources to meet the needs of women when sending various types of humanitarian aid, and measures to avoid sexual violence and harassment, which is often faced by refugees arriving in other countries.

From the very first days of the war, Georgia was actively involved in the campaign in support of Ukraine: the state and the business sector provided assistance in various ways to the country itself, as well as to the war-affected Ukrainians who came here, which we are very proud of.

- Looking at it globally, the countries of the world have imposed quite severe sanctions on Russia by  restricting trade and business. However, there are companies that have refused to close their businesses and are still operating in this market. In terms of corporate sustainability, what should be the response of the community and world leaders to businesses that continue to operate in Russia?

- Our organization is international and we follow international standards. The UN Guidelines directly indicate to businesses that they should not be involved with a country that grossly violates human rights. That is why many multinational companies stopped operating in Russia and, despite the huge financial losses, decided to protest Russia's actions in this way. On their part, this was also a certain responsibility, because the resources of the company that entered the aggressor’s economy help it to destroy the civilian population in Ukraine. This is a responsible business decision that we certainly agree with. A similar approach applies to every member of our organization.

Representatives of the Global Compact Network Ukraine recently came up with an interesting initiative: to impose additional taxes on companies that continue to operate in Russia for the export of products and services. This is a relatively new offer and let’s see what the result will be. The fact is that the attitude of the progressive world towards this type of business is sharply negative. Of course, doing business is important, however there are moral categories that stand far above any kind of activity. It is companies with such values ​​that we need to create a better world today.

Tatiana Sakharuk, Executive Director of the Global Compact Network Ukraine

  - What does the war in Ukraine mean for business and what are the consequences of the war for business leaders, what risks should they consider? How should corporations respond to the Russian invasion?

- The war in Ukraine gave a start to the global transformation of the corporate world. Russia has created a threat to the security of the whole world. For this reason, the private sector has to be actively engaged in protecting those who suffer from aggression as well as in punishing the aggressor. It is impossible for a company that pursues sustainability to do business as usual, be apolitical, and continue to work with Russian companies while Ukrainian children and civilians are dying from shellings, bombings, and hunger because of the Russian invasion. Common people around the globe support Ukrainians. So, business leaders should realize that their response to the war in Ukraine today determines the loyalty of customers and employees to their brand in the long run. 

- World leaders have heavily sanctioned Russia by restricting trade, banning businesses, and closing down operations. But several corporations are still operating in Russia. In terms of corporate responsibility, what should be the response of the world leaders and the society to the businesses still operating in Russia? What does it mean to be a business with a human face?

- Businesses that still operate in Russia and pay taxes to its budget are complicit in the Russian Federation's war and humanitarian crimes. One of the initiatives of our local Network is to address Ukrainian and international businesses, to stop operating in the Russian Federation and to terminate partnerships with Russian companies. Nowadays, the concept of moral choice applies not only to individuals but also to business companies. Businesses with a human face realize their responsibility for each decision (financial, marketing, communication, etc.), make fair moral choices, and stand on the side of truth and justice.

- How has the sense of corporate responsibility of businesses changed in Ukraine during the war?

Not a single Ukrainian business today is out of politics today. A direct threat to your life and the lives of your loved ones is a factor that no one can ignore. In the first days of the war, everyone was shocked. Every business and every single person had to decide how to live in conditions of war. Many of yesterday's office workers took up arms. Some of them are busy in the rear providing volunteer assistance. Other people fled abroad. Ukrainian businesses adopted the new reality where some workers join the team meetings, for instance, from the bomb shelters. All Ukrainian businesses are involved in charity. Indeed, in the conditions of war to continue to work, give jobs to people, and support the country's economy. This is a true feat.

- The most pressing question is how can we assist Ukraine during the war either from a humanitarian or human rights perspective. Please tell us more about what needs to be done. How can businesses help in the short and medium-term?

Ukraine needs help from business and civil society in all countries of the world in two main directions. Firstly, this includes advocating for Ukrainian interests on all international platforms. We cannot allow the world and business leaders to get tired of this war in Ukraine. Secondly, this means comprehensive financial assistance. It is not only about humanitarian aid for internally displaced persons and civilians suffering from Russian aggression in Ukrainian cities, although this help is extremely important. But Ukraine primarily needs military assistance and funds to purchase military goods for our soldiers. Today, only a powerful and well-equipped army can ensure victory in war and peaceful life for Ukrainian children.

- The conflict has forced up to 79% of Ukrainian businesses to cease operations entirely or partially. Global Compact Network Ukraine has launched an initiative called ‘Give a Job for UA’ to support Ukrainian workers, refugees, and migrants by connecting them with potential employers throughout the world. Can you tell us more about the campaign?

We launched this project in partnership with Local Network Poland and such Ukrainian companies as Parimatch, Jooble, and Happy Monday. Many job opportunities are already available for Ukrainians on their websites. Ukrainians, primarily women who were forced to leave their homes, were successfully pursuing careers and were an active part of Ukrainian society. They are not used to depending on anyone's charitable assistance. That is why providing them with a job means giving them a sense of usefulness to someone as well as a possibility to help their families in Ukraine. I am sure that European companies that give Ukrainians a job get benefits from this. They definitely get loyal employees ready to help companies with their knowledge and skills.

- What does the war in Ukraine mean for Sustainable Development and for our collective future?

The war showed that work on sustainable development is almost impossible in wartime. The 16th Sustainable Development Goal is peace and justice. But how can we work on reducing poverty or creating innovative technologies to build energy-efficient cities if these cities are under constant rocket fire? How can we talk about equal pay for men and women if they may be raped, tortured, or killed at any time? Since the founding of the United Nations, the world has not faced such a large-scale challenge to global security as we have today in Ukraine. The slow response of the world to this war and its terrible consequences mean that we need to review the entire world security system and pay more attention to the security aspect in terms of Sustainable Development Goals` achievement.