Since last week, it has become almost impossible to talk about anything other than the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In response to the possible inclusion of neighbor Russia in NATO, an organization originally formed to prevent a Soviet invasion of Europe, the Russian Federation went on the offensive and stormed Kiev. Since then, the media, both social and news, has been filled with images of civilians affected by hostilities. Our own industry has even been affected, with rocket 3D printing startup Launcher sending its Ukrainian staff to an office in Bulgaria.
Responses from affected people abroad have included crowdfunding campaigns to fund Ukrainian weaponry, with some people even encouraging a distressed public to transfer money directly to the Central Bank of Ukraine and the Ministry of Defense. Of course, nation states are imposing their own sanctions on Russia, the latest coming from Switzerland as it freezes Russian banking assets.
Now we’re starting to see action from companies, including the 3D printing industry’s own EOS. A leader in metal and plastics sintering technology, the German company is run by the Langer family, which is also behind additive manufacturing (AM) investment firm AM Ventures. In a post on LinkedIn, company CEO Marie Langer wrote:
“Last weekend left me deeply concerned about the tragic situation in Ukraine and around the world. Putin and his followers invade a democratic country and kill people who defend their democratic rights. This is why, at EOS, we decided on Friday to stop all activity with Russian customers and to make exceptions only in clear cases of humanitarian or medical applications. Even though it will impact our business, it doesn’t matter now! What matters is to defend our democratic convictions and to act accordingly. I am convinced that many Russian citizens do not want this war either. For us, it was essential to draw a clear line and show Putin that we do not support his policies. I offer my deepest condolences to those of you who have friends and family directly affected by this war. Let’s all raise our voices with policy and business decision makers to do the right thing. Let’s fight together for peace and a prosperous future for all!
This decision is interesting for a multitude of reasons, perhaps the most important being that it breaks the illusory fourth wall designed to separate business from politics. In fact, the two areas are so intertwined that former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson was cleared to act as Secretary of State for the United States without much news from the public or Congress.
The EOS decision suggests that at any time a company could take a stand on any political issue, whether military actions, human rights issues or the environmental record of a nation, a potential partner or a client company, or individuals. In the United States, we’ve seen a lot of corporate social responsibility aimed at issues like LGBTQ+ rights, abortion, racism, and more.
The conflict in Ukraine extends these strategies to the global level, which means that whether there is a country imposing apartheid on another, a nation struggling with human rights abuses or a state that emits more than its fair share of carbon dioxide, corporations could band together to force governmental or corporate action within these target corporations.
With this in mind, will we start to see more companies attempt to replicate the boycott of apartheid South Africa in 21st scenarios of the century? Will companies in the 3D printing industry, for example, appeal to companies that may operate in disputed territories, rely on poorly treated labor, advocate the use of metals of conflict or working with arms manufacturers and aggressive national armies? What about massive AM conglomerates that have a history of mass extermination of entire peoples?
The lines become blurred. Morality becomes predominant. Will this disrupt our industry? Will it impact events around the world? If 3D printing is to lead not just a new era of manufacturing but also of humanity, maybe it’s time we started having those necessary conversations. Otherwise, the measures taken to respond to the crises will be seen as mere advanced marketing gimmicks or, at worst, as economic warfare.
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