If our smug corporate elite really want to end the horror in Ukraine it’s not only Putin they must stand up to – but China, too

April 9, 2022

Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping proudly stood together in Beijing in February and told the world that their countries’ friendship ‘has no limits’.

Neither, it seems, does the shameless and disgraceful hypocrisy of Big Business – trumpeting its ‘principled’ stand against Russian aggression while continuing to support the equally brutal Chinese regime, which has become Putin’s lifeline in its war against Ukraine.

Within days of the Kremlin’s invasion, a parade of virtue-signalling global brands announced their oh-so-noble intentions to abandon their business interests and exit the Russian market.

Disney, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, BP, Shell… hundreds of companies joined the self-righteous corporate cavalcade. Profits be damned! We’re putting our values first! 

But how do those ‘values’ fit with tolerating genocide carried out by a country which has more than a billion potential consumers and is set to become the world’s largest economy by 2030?

China’s crimes against the Uighurs and other mainly Muslim ethnic groups have been well documented. More than a million people detained; women made to endure forced sterilisation; accusations of torture and sexual abuse.

Where is the stampede of Western companies falling over themselves to dissociate their brands from these crimes against humanity? In fact, far from condemnation, the titans of the business world have become apologists for Beijing.

This is not a one-off moral lapse. The examples of corporate leaders prostrating themselves in a humiliating kowtow to China over the years are far too numerous to list. But in the light of the sanctimonious grandstanding over Ukraine, some deserve special mention.

Oil giant BP was one of the first companies to leave Russia after the invasion, announcing the move with a statement from its chief executive, which read: ‘My heart goes out to everyone affected.’

Isn’t it curious, though, that his heart has seemingly been unmoved ‘by the situation unfolding’ in China, where far more people have been victimised, for far longer?

Indeed, BP’s website still states that it ‘is one of the leading foreign investors… one of the first foreign companies to begin operating in China… playing an active role in China’s economic development’, with ‘extensive interests’.

Disney announced that it was pulling out of Russia because of the ‘escalating humanitarian crisis’ caused by Russia’s ‘unrelenting assault on Ukraine’.

This might have been taken more seriously if we didn’t already know that Disney’s response to another escalating humanitarian crisis, caused by the Chinese regime’s unrelenting assault on the Uighurs, was to film its movie Mulan there.

More cynical are the companies which not only turn a blind eye to China’s human rights abuses, but may have gained commercial benefit from them.

Nike and Apple are among the 83 businesses accused in 2020 of using slave labour from Chinese concentration camps in their supply chains.

These same brands now proclaim their commitment to human rights by leaving Russia. Worse, Nike and Apple (along with Coca-Cola) lobbied against legislation in the US Congress designed to outlaw the use of slave labour from Xinjiang, home of the Uighurs.

While the firms strongly condemned forced labour, and denied using it, they argued that the legislation could wreak havoc on their supply chains.

For years, Apple’s boss, Tim Cook, has sucked up to the brutal authoritarian dictatorship in Beijing, legitimising the regime by headlining foreign investment conferences and collaborating in state censorship, invasions of privacy and assaults on civil liberties.

More recently it was reported that Cook (a self-styled champion of human rights, privacy and civil liberties) secretly signed a $275 billion deal with the Chinese government to boost China’s economy. In announcing the decision to close down its operations and services in Russia, Apple claimed to be ‘deeply concerned about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and stand with all of the people who are suffering’.