Still want to support Ukraine? Don’t buy from companies that refuse to leave Russia | Opinion

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It’s been 14 months since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s troops invaded Ukraine after Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea.

Bob Kustra
Bob Kustra

Thousands of Ukrainian civilians have been killed, as have soldiers on both sides of the conflict. Meanwhile back at home in America in those early weeks of the invasion, you couldn’t travel far in American cities and towns without seeing blue and yellow flags of Ukraine flying in support of this nation now a victim of Putin’s deadly invasion.

Unfortunately, as wars drag on folks lose interest and are distracted from the news of the day no matter how justified the war. That sure seems to be the case today, now that the war is just another daily news report.

A survey in March showed that 59% of Americans still support the U.S. providing weapons and financial support to Ukraine, but only 42% of Republicans support it. That could be a reaction to how Trump responded to the survey, claiming Ukraine was not a “vital interest” to the U.S. In all, 79% of Democrats and 60% of independents support the U.S. position on Ukraine.

For those of us who do support the Ukrainians in their fight for freedom from Putin’s grip, it’s a question of how we can help. Aside from a few American volunteers who joined Ukrainian soldiers in defense of the country or those who contributed to Ukrainian relief organizations, most of us simply watch the news for clues to who has the upper hand and is winning the war.

There are those who have devoted their lives and careers to fighting Putin and his stranglehold on his people; chief among them is Bill Browder, an American businessman, author and activist who has been challenging Putin for 30 years. His books “Red Notice” and “Freezing Order” are must-reads for anyone who cares to learn just how Putin manages to stay in power using his oligarchs to hide his wealth abroad and manipulating organizations like Interpol, an international law enforcement agency, that he uses to go after his enemies.

Browder has a good answer for those who want to know how to lend a hand to the Ukrainian war effort. After the 2022 invasion, the United States asked American companies to pull their businesses out of Russia, all part of the sanctions strategy the U.S. thought would damage Putin’s ability to conduct the war by crippling the Russian economy and encouraging the Russian people to overthrow the Putin regime.

The U.S. request of companies to pull out of Russia was easier said than done. While more than 1,000 companies left the country, some stayed and some committed to leaving but then didn’t.

Those who stayed send the wrong message about how committed the U.S. is in supporting Ukraine and punishing Putin’s Russia for its aggression.

To deal with the corporate laggards who failed to leave Russia, there is a movement underway that gives American consumers the information they need to play a supporting role in the defense of the Ukrainian people.

The Moral Ratings Agency was created after Russia invaded Ukraine to assist pro-democracy forces in Russia depose Putin and send him to criminal trials at the Hague. It tracks companies to determine if they are still doing business in Russia, so consumers will know not to buy their products.

For example, the Moral Ratings Agency identifies Nestle, Microsoft, Johnson and Johnson, PepsiCo, Proctor and Gamble and Unilever as companies that refused to leave. A consumer may not know all the products of a multinational corporation like Unilever that violate the U.S. sanctions, but the Moral Ratings Agency website lists Ben and Jerry’s, Breyer’s, Dove, Hellmann’s and Lipton as Unilever products to be avoided.

The Yale School of Management also tracks companies that have withdrawn from Russia and those that have not. Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, who serves as the president of the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute, dubbed the list of offenders that refused to leave Russia the “Hall of Shame.”

Now if we could only hear a steady drumbeat from our elected officials on how we can avoid purchasing from companies refusing to leave Russia.

It’s very possible our Idaho congressional delegation is hearing from some of the 47% of Republicans who do not support U.S. military aid to Ukraine, instead bowing to Trump followers who are infatuated with his love affair with Putin, one of his favorite autocrats. All four members of the Idaho delegation are as quiet as church mice when it comes to Ukraine.

Idaho Congressmen Mike Simpson and Russ Fulcher do not have a word about the war in Ukraine on their websites. Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo have brief, buried mention of their support of Senate resolutions declaring Russian actions in Ukraine as genocide, but nothing easily found by a visitor to their websites. Both did sign a letter to President Joe Biden calling for the U.S. to approve the transfer of jet fighters to Ukraine, but it looks more like Republicans finding a way to reprimand Biden on a detail of the war effort.

What’s missing in America at this most important moment of Ukraine’s counteroffensive is a renewal of that fighting spirit that most Americans displayed in the early weeks and months of the war. Publicly shaming companies that refuse to leave Russia is the first step as the Moral Ratings Agency and Yale’s Chief Executive Leadership Institute have done. The next step is ours: refusing to buy products of the companies who give aid and comfort to a Russian economy financing the invasion of Ukraine.

On the world stage, this war’s outcome may well determine whether authoritarianism takes root and spreads beyond Ukraine or democracy prevails and influences other countries on the verge of authoritarian rule to swing in the opposite direction.

Check out the websites of the Moral Ratings Agency and Yale’s Chief Executive Leadership Institute to learn what companies have not earned our loyalty. Then let’s buy only from those companies that are not in Yale’s Hall of Shame, but stand up for Ukrainians in defense of their democratic way of life.

Bob Kustra served as president of Boise State University from 2003 to 2018. He is host of Readers Corner on Boise State Public Radio and he writes a biweekly column for the Idaho Statesman. He served two terms as Illinois lieutenant governor and 10 years as a state legislator.