Hello and welcome to our weekly intelligence briefing for boards, where we help directors keep up to speed on the macro trends affecting businesses across the world, and corporate governance news.

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Each day FT Leader writers on the Editorial Board meet to discuss the topics to be considered for Leader columns. Here are the issues that dominated this week:

Our output this week is once again focused sharply on the war in Ukraine. On Tuesday, we wrote about Britain's "shameful" refugee policy which had seen just 500 visas granted, while Ukraine's immediate neighbour, Poland, had already accepted 1.2m migrants.

On Wednesday the topic was the (limited) likely effectiveness of US and UK embargoes on Russian oil and gas – and the warning that western countries need to be aware of the self-harm they will do. "Western leaders need to start preparing their voters for the impact that will have on energy prices," the editorial concluded.

In the coming days we are likely to zero in on how businesses can best manage the conflicting interests of staff, customers and geopolitical morality.


As Russian shelling and missiles continue to lay waste to towns and cities in Ukraine, foreign ministers from both sides began high level talks in Turkey.

Many consumer brands – including McDonald’s, Coke and Starbucks – have stopped or cut operations in Russia. In one of the most symbolic moves, Levi’s – whose blue 501 jeans were an emblem of dissent in the Soviet era – suspended sales this week.

The exodus made for difficult boardroom discussions on how to protect Russian workers, while condemning the military action. McDonald’s, for example, will continue to pay their employees in the country, while Starbucks said it would “provide support”.

It also raises a tough dilemma for multinationals who supply basic goods to the Russian population. They must balance pressure to exit with the effect on their business, staff in Russia and the wider population.

Indeed, Danone’s chief executive Antoine de Saint-Affrique defended its decision to continue operating in Russia saying: “We have a responsibility to the people we feed…”

“No one wants to be the one propping up Vladimir Putin’s regime,” argues UK business writer Cat Rutter Pooley. “But many businesses have been in Russia for 30 years now. The realities of extricating themselves are going to be slow and complicated.

But it’s more clear cut for British directors of Russian companies, who should relinquish their posts, writes business columnist Helen Thomas. “There is no sustainable middle ground… Those trying to cling on to jobs, businesses or pay cheques are kidding themselves that there is.”

Amongst the exits, the US and UK also announced bans on Russian oil this week. One major concern now is escalation – ​​analysts warn of “a supply shock nearly equivalent to” the 1979 crisis if there is a broader blockade.

Soaring energy prices and sanctions have also increased the threat of “the worst stagflationary shock to hit energy importing economies since the 1970s,” writes economics editor Chris Giles. Even before the bans, many experts questioned whether the global – and European in particular – economies could avoid an oil crisis and recession.

And rising prices are complicating monetary policy, with investors in the US betting on higher long-term inflation. On Tuesday, the five-year, five-year forward rate rose to 2.5 per cent, up from 2.1 per cent before Russia invaded Ukraine.

All eyes will be on the ECB, which meets today. Officials are divided over whether to tighten monetary policy, or remain more loose in the face of the Ukraine crisis. 

Meanwhile, in the UK, Rishi Sunak is facing pressure from his own party ahead of the spring statement, due later this month. He faces calls to cut taxes to help alleviate the cost of living crisis and boost defence spending.

Some relief could be on the horizon, however. On Tuesday, Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency, told the FT that members are ready to release more oil from reserves to combat spiralling energy prices.

But the IEA also published new research showing that global emissions reached record highs last year. Indeed, even before the war in Ukraine, coal was enjoying a post-pandemic comeback, leaving some questioning whether the latest crisis could really scupper the green energy transition.

It’s been up and down on the ESG front too. On Wednesday, investors at Credit Suisse filed a resolution calling for the bank to cut its exposure to oil, gas and coal assets. Yet the board of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, one of the biggest public pension schemes in the US, opposed a bill that would force it to divest from fossil fuel companies.

Interestingly, the war in Ukraine has prompted a rethink about ESG and the defence sector, notes international business editor Peggy Hollinger. “Surely an important component of the bloc’s ability to provide safety and security to its citizens should qualify for some recognition in the social element of ESG,” she argues.

And finally, a look to Asia. Life insurer Prudential emphasised its commitment to Hong Kong this week, despite acknowledging that Covid-19 measures there are making the operating environment “difficult”.

Cathay Pacific was also feeling the effects of Hong Kong’s Covid outbreak. The airline’s chief executive said it expected to be “burning” up to HK$1.5bn ($192mn) a month until “conditions improve”.

Indeed, the city is stuck in limbo, writes deputy Asia news editor Ravi Mattu. “The outbreak is the latest example of Hong Kong’s dwindling power to manage its own affairs,” he argues.


This week marked International Women’s Day, and with it a focus on gender equity.

“The neglect of the gender pay gap, in particular, as an issue for shareholders and companies is disappointing in the extreme,” writes Anne-Sophie d'Andlau, co-founder of asset manager CIAM.

“... Shareholders should hold board members to account by not voting for the re-election of directors at companies that do not seek to put in place transparent processes around diversity and the gender pay gap,” she adds.

If you would like to read more about gender inclusion, there are plenty of insights in PwC’s latest instalment of the Women in Work Index .
UK stewardship code adds 74 new signatories (News from the FT)
‘Responsible capitalism’ and the China conundrum (Blog from the European Corporate Governance Institute)
When should business take a stand? (Feature from the FT Moral Money Forum)
Why rewards for failure are toxic and how to end them (Opinion from the FT)
Gender pay gap (Insights from the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance)
Tim Cook pay vote shows ISS should not be judge and jury (Opinion from the FT)
Unilever chief executive’s pay jumps 42 per cent (News from the FT)
Seven priorities for EMEIA boards to transform their 2022 agenda (Insights from EY)
Moonshot with Dr. Albert Bourla (Podcast from the BCG Henderson Institute)

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has compounded pandemic-related supply chain woes. This has pushed supply chain resilience, bribery and fraud right up the risk agenda.

This article is brought to you by FT Specialist’s Agenda, a publication that focuses on corporate boards.

Next week, we are hosting an exclusive peer-to-peer exchange, reserved for our VIP members, on managing conflict. Conducted under Chatham House Rule and led by experienced chair and conflict specialist Patrick Dunne, we will look at: our understanding of difficult situations; our instinctive approaches to conflict; and some approaches used by “conflict maestros”.

Join the discussion on Tuesday 15 March at 4.30pm GMT. If you are a VIP member, you can
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