In the latter half of the 1980s, roughly 200 American companies withdrew from South Africa, partly in protest against its apartheid system. As businesses fled the country, South Africa’s segregationist president, P.W. Botha, came under increasing economic pressure. The corporate exodus contributed to the end of apartheid, and was a remarkable display of the power that companies have. When they’re courageous enough to use that power for good, it can help topple repressive governments.
Over the past six weeks, we’ve witnessed a similarly extensive response from the private sector to Russia’s war in Ukraine. Hundreds of American companies have announced that they are voluntarily curtailing or halting their business in Russia, according to data compiled by our team of 24 researchers at the Yale School of Management. While it’s impossible to say whether all of these companies are motivated by purely moral concerns, they’ve all gone above and beyond what is legally required by international sanctions.