As of last week, it’s become nearly impossible to talk about anything but the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In response to the possible inclusion of Russia’s neighbor into NATO, an organization originally formed to prevent a Soviet invasion of Europe, the Russian Federation went on the offensive and stormed Kyiv. Since then, media, both social and news, have been filled with images of civilians impacted by the hostilities. Our own industry has even been impacted, with rocket 3D printing startup Launcher sending its Ukrainian staff to an office in Bulgaria.
Responses from concerned individuals abroad have included crowdfunding campaigns to finance Ukrainian weaponry, with some individuals even encouraging a distressed public to wire transfer money directly to the Central Bank of Ukraine and the Ministry of Defense. Of course, nation states are imposing their own sanctions against Russia, the latest coming from Switzerland as it freezes Russian banking assets.
Now, we’re beginning to see action from corporations, including the 3D printing industry’s own EOS. A leader in both metal and plastic sintering technology, the German firm is run by the Langer family, which is also behind the additive manufacturing (AM) investment firm AM Ventures. In a LinkedIn post, the company’s CEO, Marie Langer, wrote:
“This past weekend has left me in deep concern regarding the tragic situation in the Ukraine and the world. Putin and his supporters are invading a democratic country and are killing people who stand up for their democratic rights. That’s why we at EOS decided on Friday to stop any business with Russian customers and will make only exceptions in clear cases of humanitarian or medical applications. While this will have consequences for our business, this does not matter now! What matters is standing up for our democratic beliefs and acting consequently. I am convinced that many Russian citizens also do not want this war. For us, it was essential to draw a clear line and show Putin that we are not supporting his politics. I am sending my deepest sympathies to those of you who have friends and family directly affected by this war. Let’s all raise our voice towards political and business decision makers to do what is right. Let’s fight together for peace and a prosperous future for all!”
The move is an interesting one for a multitude of reasons, perhaps the most important being that it breaks the illusory fourth wall meant to separate business from politics. In reality, the two areas are so intrinsically linked that the former CEO of Exxon, Rex Tillerson, was allowed to act as Secretary of State for the United States without much word from the public or Congress.
The move by EOS suggests that, at any time, a company could take a stand on any political issue, whether that be the military actions, human rights issues, or the environmental record of a nation, potential partner or client firm, or individuals. In the U.S., we’ve seen a great deal of corporate social responsibility aimed at such issues as LGBTQ+ rights, abortion, racism and more.
The conflict in Ukraine broadens such strategies to the global level, meaning that if there is a country imposing apartheid on another, a nation fraught with human rights abuses, or a state that emits more than its fair share of carbon dioxide, companies could band together to force governmental or corporate action within those target societies.
With that in mind, will we begin to see more corporations attempting to replicate the South African apartheid boycott in 21st century scenarios? Will businesses in the 3D printing industry, for instance, call out firms that might operate in contested territories, rely on poorly treated labor, champion the use of conflict metals, or work with weapons manufacturers and aggressive national militaries? What about massive conglomerates in AM that have a history in mass extermination of entire peoples?
The lines are becoming blurred. Morality is becoming salient. Will this shake up our industry? Will it impact events worldwide? If 3D printing wants to lead not just a new era of manufacturing but of humanity, maybe it’s time we start having those necessary discussions. Otherwise, moves to respond to crises will be taken to simply be, at best, advanced marketing gimmicks or, at worst, economic warfare.
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