AS the brutal invasion of Ukraine has intensified in recent days, a growing number of Scottish companies have been reviewing their trading links with Russia.

The exodus appeared to begin in earnest last week, when abrdn, the investment giant formerly called Standard Life Aberdeen, declared it would not invest in Russia and ally Belarus “for the foreseeable future”, with chief executive Stephen Bird stating the company was reducing its holdings in the two countries.

More dramatically, Weir Group boss Jon Stanton revealed the Glasgow-based company had to move its 30-strong workforce in Ukraine to safety following the invasion.

Weir has suspended its operations in Ukraine and Russia while it watches events unfold. Mr Stanton said it had still to make a decision on the future of its operation in Russia, which has 270 employees. “The business is effectively suspended,” Mr Stanton told The Herald. “We are taking our time to decide what we do in the future.”

Since then, the number of Scottish firms reviewing their operations in Russia has steadily increased. AG Barr said it would stop fulfilling orders from Russia’s Moscow Brewing Company, which buys concentrate to make Irn-Bru from the Cumbernauld-based manufacturer. Whisky giants Diageo and Edrington have suspended exports to Russia, with the former also pausing shipments to Ukraine. Walker’s shortbread and Tunnock’s have stopped exporting to Russia too.

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These decisions have coincided with higher-profile announcements by oil giants Shell and BP, which declared they would end their links with Russia, and moves by international sporting bodies to cast the country into the wilderness in terms of sponsorships and hosting major events. Chelsea FC has been put on the market by its oligarch owner, Roman Abramovich.

While the exporting activities of Scottish businesses may seem like small fry compared with the unfolding horror in Ukraine, it is nonetheless encouraging to see company bosses respond in a conscientious manner to events. Even where a company’s exposure to Russia is small it is important that Scottish businesses signal their concern about the conflict, and show solidarity with the people of Ukraine in such desperate circumstances.

“We support these decisions and would encourage all Scottish businesses to follow their example,” said Scottish Finance Secretary Kate Forbes last week. “Beyond direct investments, reviewing operations for links and connections to Russia – however indirect – and then severing them is the right decision.”

In cases where trade with Russia accounts for a relatively small amount of business for the Scottish firms concerned, it could be argued it has been straightforward for them to suspend activities, at least for the time being. Such companies may also have been aware of a potential backlash from people at home if it had become known that they were continuing to profit from their links with Russia while so much suffering is being endured in Ukraine.

But there will undoubtedly be major commercial ramifications for most by cutting ties with Russia.

The importance of Russia to Scotland in commercial terms is illustrated in the most recent official figures, which show Scotland exported £245 million of goods and services to Russia in 2019. Food and drink exports alone to the country were worth £25m in 2020, according to Scotland Food & Drink.

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On the basis of these sums, the Scottish companies that have decided to turn their backs on Russia deserve credit for putting their money where their mouths are.

The current moves by companies to shun Russia should add weight to the broad range of sanctions that western nations are imposing on Russia in a bid to alter its course in Ukraine. But they also, arguably, elicit broader questions concerning the relationship between the behaviour of states, and the willingness of companies to do business with them.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the atrocities that have been committed mean most company leaders would not have had to think twice about reviewing their links with the country. However, there have been examples where companies were seemingly prepared to look the other way when the behaviour of oppressive regimes should have brought into question the reality of trading with those countries. That is not to say there are many countries acting towards their neighbours in the manner that Russia is treating Ukraine. But there are certainly nations with trading links with the UK that have poor records when it comes to human rights, for example.

International trade is governed by a framework of legal agreements, of course, and if a company is not breaking any laws in terms of engaging in trade with another nation, there is no compulsion for them to stop operating in countries where the method of governing is less than tasteful. Company executives also have a legal responsibility to act in the interests of shareholders.

But perhaps, in light of the Ukraine crisis, more thought should be given by globally trading firms to the type of countries they do business with. Sure, it is always important for companies to grow because of the jobs this brings, and again because of the responsibility to maximise returns for investors. It could be argued, though, that there are occasions when moral factors should be taken into consideration.

The unfolding crisis in Ukraine has shown that companies here in Scotland are prepared to act in an ethical manner when human lives are at stake. But it is to be hoped businesses also have the conviction to stay away from markets where human rights are violated in different ways, be it the suppression of ethnic groups or people on the basis of gender or sexuality.

The plight of Ukraine has elicited a remarkable response from individuals and companies which are horrified by events and want to help in any way they can. The reaction to the crisis has restored our faith in the ability of humans to show kindness while acts of savagery are taking place. Hopefully it will provide a catalyst for more people to “do the right thing” more often going forward – and not just during times of crisis.