Monday 14 March 2022

I'm boycotting BETT, and I suggest you should too

DISCLAIMER: This blog is written in a very personal capacity. I work as an advisor to a range of companies in the education sector, and this blog is in no way intended to reflect their views. I'm not trying to speak for anyone other than me; I simply encourage anyone taking the time to read this to reflect for yourself on where you stand, and act accordingly.

[UPDATE: Quite a lot happened after I wrote this bog. Here's my Twitter thread following Hyve's announcement later that week. And here's the Hyve announcement about the disposal of the Russian business for "a maximum cash consideration of £72 million". I'm not planning to comment further]

If you're in Moscow between April 12th and April 15th you can attend Securika, which the organisers describe as "the must-attend security industry business event" (according to Google Translate). You'll have the chance to check out suppliers of surveillance systems, perimeter fencing and armored complexes. Obviously if you're a journalist you'll need accreditation (this is Russia, now) And don't miss the opportunities for CPD - you can attend sessions on the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in security and the application of AI in video surveillance.

But of course you're not going to Securika. Russia is at war with Ukraine for goodness sake. And anyway, if you read my blogs you probably work in education - why would you want to support the security industry (or any aspect of Russia's heavily sanctioned economy, for that matter) in a a country that is waging a war of conquest and arresting people for holding up blank signs?

Well, the problem is, Securika is staged by Hyve Group, the LSE-listed events business who also operate BETT. And Securika is not their only Russian event; Reuters reports that 27% of their revenue comes from Russia through events in electronics, laboratory equipment, mining and the like. So if you're off to Bett later this month, you're supporting the company behind Securika, whether you like it or not. 

Sure, you might say, but the world is complex and the Russia-Ukraine war is a very recent phenomenon - isn't it harsh to blame Hyve by association? Let's at least hear what they have to say about the situation before we throw them under the bus.

Well, here's an excerpt from their only public proclamation on the "Russia/Ukraine conflict" to date:

Hyve continues to closely monitor the situation in Russia and Ukraine. At present colleagues in both countries are safe and the Group remains in daily dialogue with its teams to provide support.
The Group has taken the decision to postpone events in Ukraine, which represent less than 3% of the Group's revenue, until further notice. At present the Group has seen no impact on its events schedule in Russia, but anticipates disruption to Western participation as a result of the ongoing conflict. The Group is currently assessing the potential impact of the latest sanctions by the EU, the UK and the USA. Revenues from the Group's Russian events are contracted in roubles and other currencies, while the costs of organising the events are incurred primarily in roubles, limiting the Group's exposure to the impact of rouble devaluation on profitability. 
A further update will be provided in due course as appropriate.    

So no condemnation (it's the "Russia/Ukraine conflict", dontcha know - you wouldn't want to be seen to be taking sides); no acknowledgment of any humanitarian impact other than the safety of their staff; just reassurances about the way the group is able to limit the financial impact of "disruption to Western participation". 

"Why are you telling me all this?", you might ask. You don't endorse Hyve's Russian operations - you just want to meet up with colleagues and customers in the education technology space and stay out of anything political.

And while I have sympathy with that view, I don't think it meets the moment. Companies in all industries are pulling out of Russia because, as Anna MacDonald from Amati Global Investors says in the linked BBC article, "it was just utterly inappropriate to continue to [generate profits from Russia]". And it's not like these events snuck up on Hyve - Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and things have festered or escalated ever since. 

So here's my bottom line: if Hyve want the sector to continue to support BETT, I think we should ask that they should announce the cancellation of all Russian events. If they don't do that, we should not go.

That's a tough thing to ask of them and I appreciate it's easy for me to say and much harder for them to do. Employees' jobs (and maybe also safety) would be at risk, I assume local authorities would be angry; money will be lost. And the world is complex: I would understand a Hyve employee or shareholder lamenting the hypocrisy of amateur do-gooders like me who criticise them while buy goods and services from other repressive regimes, wittingly or unwittingly. This isn't thrown in as polite window dressing - I absolutely don't think I (or any of us) have unimpeachable moral credentials, and I will approach any further public statement from Hyve with an open mind. My hope is that they do pull out of Russia, and I would give them huge respect and credit if they do so. 

It's also a tough thing to ask of you. Maybe you feel it's not your call to make; perhaps you don't want to get in trouble with your employer; or it could be that you feel you can't afford to lose money and custom by pulling out. These are all big decisions, and I'm not going to judge anyone for the way they make that decision. Honestly, I feel uncomfortable writing such a confrontational blog, and if I knew people at Hyve I'd probably prefer to petition them behind the scenes, at least at first.

But of course I have written this blog, and I've done so because I can think of no other event in my adult lifetime where the moral imperative to take a side is so clear cut. Global affairs are often complex. Civil wars can seem impenetrable from the outside. Some conflicts have been raging from before we were born. But never have I lived through a totalitarian country trying to extinguish its neighbour's desire to choose a democratic future for itself. It has echoes of the past and lessons for the future that require us to take a stand. If I were old enough, I want to believe I would not have done business with companies that operated in apartheid South Africa. Putin's Russia has earned for itself a place in the world no less deserving of pariah status.

It's time for Hyve to get out of Russia, and if they don't, I would encourage you to join me in boycotting BETT.