Corporate Morals, Corporate Money

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Dr. Malcolm Cross

The headline for an article by Washington Post columnist David von Drehle says that “Corporations’ quick shunning of Russia showcases the new morality of doing business.”  But their concerns for “morality” and “social justice” seem to be limited by their greater concern for their bottom lines.

This is not to criticize the 350 businesses which, to date, have abandoned Russia, currently the epitome of evil for its war against Ukraine. But one must wonder about the costs (or lack thereof) to the businesses which have fled.  Consider McDonald’s which, to its credit, has closed its 850 restaurants in Russia.  Sounds impressive.  But McDonald’s has over 39,000 restaurants throughout the world.  Its Russian restaurants constitute only about 2% of the total.  What if McDonald’s had a larger operation in Russia?  Would it be so willing to shut it down?  Currently McDonald’s has 3,787 restaurants in China—almost 10% of its total worldwide.  Neither China’s threats to Taiwan, nor its oppression of Hong Kong or Tibet, nor its Biden-recognized genocidal treatment of the Uyghurs has inspired it (or any other major corporation) to leave.

Or what about Disney’s fights for “social justice?”  In 2019 it threatened to cease filming movies in Georgia if a restrictive abortion ban were enacted.  It is currently attempting to block the enactment in Florida of a law which would, according to CNN, prohibit “schools from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in K-3 classrooms.”  It has also, to its credit, withdrawn from Russia.

Yet at the same time Disney has done extensive work in China.  It recently filmed “Mulan,” about the legend of a Chinese princess who battles warlords, in the same region of China where the government maintains its concentration camps to facilitate Uyghur genocide.  The film’s credits include, according to those who have seen them, statements of thanks to various state and party agencies for their assistance.  The actress who plays the title role has spoken out in favor of the repression of Hong Kong.  Disney runs its Shanghai resort in partnership with a corporation owned by the Chinese government.  How can Disney claim to be a champion of human rights and social justice when it partners with and otherwise kowtows to a government which practices political oppression and genocide?  

Other examples of corporate double standards abound.  The National Basketball Association moved its 2017 All-Star game from North Carolina to protest the state’s “bathroom bill” (now rescinded) requiring that the sex assigned at birth determine which bathroom one may use.  Yet the NBA, like Disney, maintains strong business ties to China.  And Major League Baseball, which removed its All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest the state’s efforts to (depending on one’s viewpoint) limit rights or promote “election integrity” nonetheless has sponsored exhibition games in Cuba, where voting rights simply don’t exist.

The inferable pattern is that corporations are most likely to proclaim their quests for social justice in relatively small markets and political systems where the risks to their profits are minimal.  The populations of Georgia and North Carolina (10.9 million and 10.8 million) are dwarfed by that of China (1.4 billion).  Russia’s vast area and its place in the international energy market may lead one to believe it’s an economic powerhouse.  But it’s population (about 145 million) is only about one tenth that of China’s, and its economy, measured by its gross domestic product (about $1.71 trillion) is only about 12% of China’s ($14.72 billion).  In fact, Russia GDP is smaller than that of Texas (about $1.76 trillion).  

So Corporate America’s newfound morality and expressed concerns for social justice should be taken with far more than a grain of salt—maybe, instead, with an ocean full of salt water instead.  Corporate America will do battle against the political authorities of relatively small markets and political systems.  But the truly populous political systems, where the profits are the greatest, will get free passes.  So much for corporate morality.


Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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