Ukraine Crisis: An Urgent Call for Business Action

The UN Global Compact Network UK calls on the business community to act now and help civilians caught up in the devasting humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. We understand that the private sector is contending with sanctions against Russia, supply chain cost inflation, and overall instability; however, at times like this it is more important than ever for businesses to conduct human rights and environmental due diligence, putting people and planet at the heart of their actions.

A woman hugs her son after crossing the Hungarian-Ukrainian border

A woman hugs her son after crossing the Hungarian-Ukrainian border

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is causing a humanitarian emergency on a scale not seen in Europe since the Second World War. It is difficult to turn a blind eye to the mass destruction and emergency evacuation of women and children, with images reminiscent of previous global conflicts.

The war has already led to massive loss of life, severe disruption to basic services, destruction of property and livelihoods, and widespread displacement. More than 1.5 million civilians have now fled Ukraine. Unless there is an immediate end to the conflict millions more will be forced to flee. News outlets report that people have waited up to 60 hours in freezing weather conditions to cross into neighbouring countries; the majority are women and children, cold, exhausted, and traumatised.

Why should businesses care?

The conflict has already caused an increase in the cost of energy, shipping, and some commodities, exacerbating the negative economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is likely to have huge impacts on supply chains worldwide. For example, Ukraine is one of the most important wheat-producing countries in the world and the ongoing conflict is driving wheat prices up globally. Disruption to Ukraine’s infrastructure (including ports) and the sanctions imposed on Russia mean that the private sector will continue grappling with the fallout from the conflict for years to come.

Firms are taking steps to halt their operations in the region, diversify their supply chains, and shift production. This can come at considerable cost for the environment and human rights. The ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis, as well as the mounting public scrutiny on business conduct, calls for urgent and ambitious responses on the part of companies to minimise any harmful impacts on people and the planet.

How are businesses responding?

The private sector is already taking action to help Ukraine and meet the needs of those affected by the conflict:

  • Airbnb has announced free accommodation for 100,000 Ukrainian refugees.[1]
  • Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, and more than a dozen telecoms suppliers are providing free international calls to Ukrainian people or are scrapping roaming charges with the country.[2]
  • Google has temporarily disabled Google Maps live traffic data in Ukraine following reports that the tool could be used to track the movements of civilians and troops.[3]
  • Warner Bros, Disney, and Marvel have suspended new film releases in Russia.[4]
  • H&M has become the latest retailer to withdraw temporarily from Russia.[5]
  • Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), General Motors, Aston Martin, and Rolls-Royce are among the car-makers that have halted deliveries of vehicles to Russia due to the conflict,[6] while construction equipment manufacturer JCB has paused all operations.[7]
  • IKEA has paused operations in Russia and Belarus, whilst the IKEA Foundation has donated €20 million for humanitarian assistance to those who have been forcibly displaced because of the conflict in Ukraine.[8]
  • Space X’s Starlink satellite internet service expanded its coverage in Ukraine, after an appeal from Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov.[9]
  • Polish company Predica Group have turned their Warsaw offices into a welcoming home for refugees from Ukraine. Three families are reported to be living there.[10]
  • Some companies with offices in Ukraine, such as Grammarly, Lyft, and Wix, have relocated their employees to safer locations, and are increasing their paid time off. Grammarly’s contingency plan included securing backup communication methods and temporary transfer of business-critical responsibilities to team members outside of Ukraine to ensure Ukraine-based team members can focus on the immediate safety of themselves and their families. [11]

 How your business can help

  • Conduct (Heightened) Human Rights and Environmental Due Diligence

Under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights and the environment, including in situations of armed conflict.

Businesses can know and show that they respect people and the planet by conducting human rights and environmental due diligence (HREDD). HREDD helps companies identify, prevent, mitigate, and account for the negative human rights and environmental impacts of their activities and those of their subsidiaries, subcontractors, and suppliers. This, in turn, helps companies thrive and prevent legal, financial, and reputational risks to their own businesses.

In conflict-affected areas, businesses should ensure that they do not exacerbate the situation and should engage in heightened HREDD. If disengagement is unavoidable because of ongoing conflict, companies should ensure they conduct themselves responsibly by balancing considerations for leaving with the rights of those affected.

  • Support the Flash Appeal for people in Ukraine and the Regional Refugee Response Plan

The UN Global Compact has partnered with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to produce a guide for businesses to support the Secretary-General’s three-month Flash Appeal for people in Ukraine, and a Regional Refugee Response Plan for the wider region, under the leadership of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The private sector can support by making financial and/or in-kind contributions, engaging in joint advocacy, and developing innovative solutions to meet the needs of those affected by the conflict.

  • Donate to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

Humanitarian organisations like UNHCR are working relentlessly on the ground to provide humanitarian assistance to all affected populations in Ukraine and its neighbouring countries. Companies are encouraged to donate towards UNHCR’s emergency response in support of the Ukrainian people.

  • Support Ukrainian Businesses and employ skilled Ukrainians

Support Ukrainian-born businesses with your wallet. For example, if your company is using Grammarly, start paying for their subscription rather than continuing to use the free version. Also consider employing skilled Ukrainian employees and sponsoring their visa to work safely in the UK.

Aid delivered to Kryvyi Rih ; Aid delivered to Kryvyi Rih: 2,000 blankets, 500 sleeping mats, 200 jerry cans, 100 kitchen sets. As people are fleeing the military offensive for safety and shelter, UNHCR is in constant touch with IDP communities across Ukraine, to identify needs and prepare responses.

Aid delivered to Kryvyi Rih ; Aid delivered to Kryvyi Rih: 2,000 blankets, 500 sleeping mats, 200 jerry cans, 100 kitchen sets. As people are fleeing the military offensive for safety and shelter, UNHCR is in constant touch with IDP communities across Ukraine, to identify needs and prepare responses. ©UNHCR

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The situation in Ukraine is dire. The country needs immediate and urgent assistance from all stakeholders, including the business community. Collective action is necessary to accelerate efforts to meet the humanitarian needs of millions of civilians caught in the middle of escalated hostilities. Businesses can play a crucial role in ensuring that the rights of the people of Ukraine are respected through their activities and their operations. We urge you all to step up and accelerate action that will support the Ukrainian economy and population.

The UN Global Compact Network UK is incredibly proud to collaborate with our colleagues from the UN Global Compact Network Ukraine who are continuing their important work in exile and our colleagues at the Global Compact Network Poland who are supporting them. Despite the horrific challenges, their courage and dedication to our mission is unwavering as they continue to offer guidance and leadership to Ukrainian businesses and the wider community.