Thursday, September 23

UK companies face pressure over ties to Belarusian regime | Belarus

The role of UK companies in supposedly helping shore up Europe’s so-called “last dictatorship” is coming under unprecedented pressure amid signs that lobbying by Belarusian exiles and others is paying off.

Rolls-Royce and British American Tobacco are among the companies that have responded to lobbying by the Belarusian diaspora and indicated that they were willing to act.

Following the “hijacking” of a Ryanair plane last Sunday and the arrest of two passengers on board, Belarusian journalist Raman Pratasevich and his Russian girlfriend, activists in the UK have stepped up their lobbying of Belarusian bondholders listed on the London Stock Exchange (LSE).

But among the UK-based companies that have responded there are some that have been alerted to alleged serious violations of workers’ rights to meet, strike and form independent unions in Belarusian state-owned companies.

Among them are Rolls-Royce, which is a supplier to BelAZ, a Belarusian vehicle factory and one of the largest large dump truck manufacturers in the world. Rolls-Royce confirmed to The Guardian that it was investigating concerns raised about the relationship between its Germany-based Power Systems business and BelAZ.

“Depending on the outcome, we may choose to take action in relation to our existing and future business relationship,” the company said. “We are guided by our values ​​when considering these matters and, of course, we fully comply with the applicable sanctions.”

Protests have continued outside the British American Tobacco offices over its connections to the state-owned Grodno Tobacco Factory (GTF) Neman. Belarus’ largest cigarette factory manufactures BAT-licensed cigarettes.

Britain is a window to the world. It is an elevated financial center. It has an important role in trade despite Brexit. So we are stepping up our campaign, ”said a spokesman for the Belarusian Professional Union in Great Britain. “BAT has been an important example, but we have also noticed, for example, signs that some British companies are buying wood from Belarus and the numbers there have been quite significant. We will investigate that as well.

“In terms of British business, their attitude so far has been more or less along the lines of ‘as long as we can make money, we will.’ Many large companies have codes of conduct with nice sounding wording, but there are questions about how they are used in practice when it comes to Belarus. “

A BAT spokesperson said the company was committed to complying with all applicable local and international legislative requirements, as well as its own standards.

“In accordance with our commitment to respect human rights, this year we will take additional action: BAT Belarus will be subject to an enhanced human rights due diligence process; and the GTF Neman factory, as a supplier to the BAT Group, will be subject to an on-site assessment of workplace conditions by our third-party audit provider. “

Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, was urged by his Labor shadow Lisa Nandy to impose sanctions against state-owned companies in Belarus, some of which continue to have subsidiaries in the UK, such as BNK (UK).

Raab has criticized what he described as a “reckless, cynical and dangerous hijacking of the Ryanair flight by the Belarusian government” and said new sanctions against Belarus were being considered. The operating permit for Belavia, the country’s state airline, has been suspended in the UK.

In June 2020, the Belarusian Ministry of Finance issued two sovereign Eurobonds on the London Stock Exchange for a total of $ 1.25 billion (£ 880 million). In a post On the LSE website, Ayuna Nechaeva, LSE Europe Director, described the listing as “testimony to the high level of investor demand in Belarusian history.” The LSE declined to comment when approached by the Guardian.

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