We “will not walk away from our employees” in Russia. Those were the uplifting words of a Koch Industries spokesman in March, and as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was at its apex.
What was notable about Koch’s proper stance was how singular it was. Indeed, around the time that the Wichita-based conglomerate made plain that it would neither desert its employees nor sell its assets to the Russian government, 450+ multi-national corporations had already withdrawn from Russia. Which requires a pause.
In particular, it’s useful to stop and think what the withdrawals meant for the Russian people. It’s important to contemplate simply because governments and politicians start wars, not the people. Yet the Russian people were going to suffer Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.
It’s a reminder that Koch Industries did what was humane, but what also made business sense. Indeed, as was reported in the Wall Street Journal at the time that Koch stood its ground, corporations rushing to exit Russia were “tallying up tens of billions in losses from their Russian operations” as they dealt “with the impact of asset sales, shutdowns and sanctions.” Such is the consequence of quick exits that are telegraphed by political events. The buyers know the seller is motivated.
Better yet, there had to have been a good reason that so many major corporations were operating in Russia to begin with: the economy there must have offered fruitful opportunity. Yet corporations exited, and they did so quickly. It all raises a question about why so little was said at the time. Without defending Putin’s rather primitive and ruthless decision to invade Ukraine, what happened to the belief that “the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits”? Left and Right, but Right in particular doesn’t want businesses to be political, yet the silence was deafening when corporations lost billions amid their rapid departures from Russia.
The quietude about the politicization of Russia’s invasion arguably raises questions, after which bigger questions come up about similar silence with regard to Koch Industries. For doing the right thing from a profits angle, and also by its employees, Koch won itself blistering critiques. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank did what was predictable, and described Koch Industries as a “recidivist corporate offender” that had earned a “worst of the worst” designation for “refusing to reduce activities in Russia.”
Milbank’s reaction was predictable simply because members of the Left have never excused Koch Industries Chairman and CEO Charles Koch for believing so deeply in liberty. And yes, that’s what Koch believes in. Long before marital freedom was politically acceptable (as in when Bill Clinton was signing the Defense of Marriage Act and Barack Obama was punting on the issue), Koch was for it. Long before the disastrous war in Iraq cured Americans yet again of their excitement about foreign adventurism, Koch was against it. And while Americans are finally coming around to the tragedy of drug laws that needlessly bring on the incarceration of all-too-many good people, Charles Koch has been on the side of drug legalization for decades. Donald Trump? One guesses Koch’s critiques would be quite a bit more articulate than Milbank’s.
Nonetheless, Koch’s decades-long libertarianism has won him the enmity of the Left. And when he and the corporation he runs did the right thing by their Russian employees, this provided a chance for individuals like Milbank to pounce. Charles Koch is incredibly rich, and also for limited government. To Milbank and his ilk, the combination is inexcusable.
Fast forward to the present, and it’s useful to report that Koch Industries has sold its Guardian Glass plants that are based in Russia, and that employ 600. As Koch Industries president Dave Robertson explained it, while they had long condemned “Russia’s actions and aggression in Ukraine,” the latter wouldn’t come at the expense of their employees. They wouldn’t just sell for PR purposes; rather they would carefully pursue “an exit strategy that maintained our commitment to employees’ safety” and that “did not result in the Russian government taking over the plants and financially benefiting from them.” Guardian Glass was sold to Vladimir Alexandrovich Voronin, president of FSK Group, and the sale was facilitated by Guardian’s local employees. In other words, by protecting their own assets Koch would protect the innocent people showing up for work each day at Guardian Glass.
Notable is that Robertson announced Koch’s exit from Russia on July 28th. The timing of the announcement is useful simply because there were over 30 media accounts back in March that were highly critical of Koch Industries for not succumbing to peer pressure. Months later, and after having carefully found a worthy buyer of its assets, there’s been silence from the media. While Milbank childishly Tweeted about Koch Industries “funding Putin’s war in Ukraine” in March, he’s said nothing about the same company protecting its employees while also not handing over its Russian assets cheaply to the Russian government which Putin heads.
Should we be surprised by all this? Plainly not. As this opinion piece’s title argues, Koch Industries is only newsworthy when it’s doing what reporters disdain. Which is arguably the biggest critique of Milbank and others in his orbit: they’re just so obvious.