Hundreds of companies operating in Russia bolstering war efforts without examining risks
Companies operating in Russia can no longer avoid contributing to the war efforts. Alongside providing financial resources to Russia via their taxes, the country’s mobilisation law mandates all organisations to assist the Government with drafting army recruits, creating enormous legal risks for companies and potential complicity in war crimes.
The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) asked 143 companies operating in Russia about their response to the implications of this mobilisation law. There was scant evidence to suggest companies understand their human rights obligations during wartime under international law.
While some companies justified their presence in Russia by filing requests for exemption from the mobilisation law, a deferral can only release workers from military service for a certain period of time, which means there is still the likelihood they will end up having employees mobilised. In addition, companies operating in the country still contribute to war efforts through corporate taxes, which are estimated to contribute 50% of Russia’s military budget.
Only 33 companies (23%) responded to our survey on Russia’s mobilisation law. Among those who failed to respond were Amazone Group, Apple, BMW, BP, Coca-Cola, Colgate-Palmolive, Glencore, Johnson & Johnson, Philip Morris, Schlumberger, TotalEnergies, Toyota and Volkswagen.
Even fewer companies provided a clear explanation of what steps they have taken or will take in response to the mobilisation law. Key findings from the survey responses included:
- No company disclosed it would withdraw from the country because of the mobilisation law.
- Seven companies (Cargill, Bayer, Raiffeisen Bank, Ericsson, SAP, NovoNordisk, Roche) said they had requested an exemption from the mobilisation list for their employees. Despite Raiffeisen Bank putting one of their employees on the exemption list, this employee was still conscripted and killed in Ukraine.
- Nine companies (Puratos, Bayer, Cargill, Pfizer, Nestle, Novartis, Novo Nordisk, Roche and Unilever) justified their presence in Russia by insisting they are providing essential goods and services to Russian people. However, the basic needs of affected Russians can still be guaranteed through tax-exempt humanitarian aid.
- One company (Continental) declined to respond.
Companies must follow their obligations under a new guide on Heightened Human Rights Due Diligence for Business in Conflict-Affected Contexts, which states businesses should “at a minimum, assess, and avoid or mitigate its connection to the war efforts of the aggressor country”.
Under international law, all businesses operating in conflict-affected areas – including those providing essential services and goods, such as food and healthcare – must undertake heightened due diligence to investigate the possibility of their complicity in human rights abuses through their activities. If their investigation shows human rights risks which cannot be addressed, they should exit responsibly.
Ella Skybenko, Eastern Europe & Central Asia Senior Researcher & Representative, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said: “As we enter the second year of Russian aggression in Ukraine, businesses and investors must urgently take responsible action to ensure they are not contributing to further suffering of millions of innocent civilians. Russian aggression in Ukraine has resulted in the destruction of critical infrastructure, as well as the torture and mass killings of Ukrainian civilians. Ukrainians have been deprived of access to essential services, such as electricity, water, heating, internet and mobile connection. Cutting off resources to the aggressor is a critical way to help end these atrocities.
“Instead, Russia’s mobilisation law has pulled multinational companies into the war efforts. Evidence already suggests companies are becoming one of the main sources of new recruits for the Russian army. Companies cannot avoid contributing to Russian war efforts and cannot deny the increased risk of being directly linked to an army implicated in war crimes. Despite this, companies continue to operate in Russia without conducting any effective due diligence to ensure they are not complicit in war crimes or human rights abuses. Companies' lack of understanding of their responsibilities during armed conflict is of profound concern.”
Examples of company responses to the survey can be provided upon request.
Note to editors:
- The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is an international NGO that tracks the human rights impacts (positive and negative) of more than 10,000 companies across nearly 200 countries. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, we have been closely monitoring company activity and the private sector response to the rapidly changing situation.
- Russia’s mobilisation law: On 21 September 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced partial mobilisation in Russia. The accompanying legislation on mobilisation - known as Article 9 of Federal Law No. 31-FZ - mandates all organisations, including international companies, to conduct military registration of the staff if at least one of the employees is liable for military service. They must also assist with delivering the summons from the military to their employees, ensure the delivery of equipment to assembly points or military units, and provide buildings, communications, land plots, transport and other material means as well as information.
- Company survey on due diligence: Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre has invited more than 400 companies to answer questions about the heightened human rights due diligence they are expected to undertake in situations of armed conflict. We heard back from 115 companies, but only 43 fully or partially answered the survey questions. Responses revealed most companies are failing to conduct any meaningful due diligence, with a disconnect between public commitments and actual performance.
Media contact: Priyanka Mogul (London-based), Media Officer, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, +44 (0) 7880 956239, [email protected]