Hot topic: Do business boycotts risk dividing the workplace? Part one

Boycotting countries for moral or political reasons is nothing new, yet this decision may punish employees who have no control over where they are born. Following the instigation of a Russian invasion of Ukraine by president Putin, many organisations vowed to pull out of the Russian market, but do boycotts lead to a rise in conflict and division in the workplace rather than an end to injustice?

Shakil Butt, founder, HR Hero for Hire

It is very human to have empathy for those who are suffering, but this in turn often leads to forming a view on those inflicting the suffering. So begins the othering of a whole group of people – including those who have played no part and who have no control over events – rather than limiting it to just those perpetrating the suffering.

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We have all seen this played out repeatedly in response to terrorist attacks being carried by lone individuals, with a whole faith community being labelled and viewed as the problem.

This is the time for HR professionals to ensure their staff who have Russian or Belarusian heritage are feeling safe and not ‘othered’ by careless comments in the rush to show we care about Ukraine.

There is a need to communicate constantly with all your employees to ensure everyone feels respected and dignified in the workplace. We already have enough victims from this war, we do not need to add to the numbers afflicted.


Amina Folarin, chief inclusion and people officer, Inside Ideas Group

Companies have a responsibility to ensure that in supporting or boycotting Russia they are not marginalising employees in the process.

While I do not condone any act of war, we need to remember that on both sides there are people impacted by both the geopolitical situation and big businesses pulling out.

Leadership teams need to also ensure that any action they are taking is consistent. Have they taken a stand against other acts of war in other countries? If you are in a global company, be aware of cultural nuances.

Not every country and news outlet report the situation in the same way. How do you ensure the views of those employees are taken into account knowing their local context?

As a business we have done our best to incorporate this within our communications, considering whether we have ensured that our Russian employees feel safe – and that any communications we issue don’t put them at unnecessary risk.


Check back tomorrow for part two of this hot topic.


This article was first published in the March/April 2022 issue of HR magazine. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.