London’s open economy has been exploited by corrupt money, now we must make it our strength

Wednesday 06 April 2022 6:00 am

The Ukrainian government has accused Russian forces of committing a “deliberate massacre” as they occupied and eventually retreated from Bucha, 25 km northwest of kyiv. (Photo by Alexey Furman/Getty Images)

For centuries, London has been a haven for people fleeing persecution, war, famine and other disasters. From 18th century French Huguenots to Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis, we have a strong and proud tradition in this city of welcoming, integrating and supporting refugees. It’s in London’s DNA and integral to our success as a rich, diverse and multi-ethnic global city. We haven’t always been perfect in our approach, but Londoners’ instinct has always been to welcome rather than flee.

As the horrors and atrocities wrought by Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine continue to displace millions of Ukrainian civilians, business leaders must respond in accordance with our collective duty, moral responsibility and ability to the difference. Companies must act in unison to play their part in the weeks and months to come, until this crisis is resolved.

The first step is the one started by the government: we must continue to economically isolate the Kremlin and its facilitators. This means implementing sanctions targeting Russian kleptocrats and Kremlin-linked businesses that fuel the war. Trade and conflict cannot be separated. There can be no prosperity without security, and Putin’s callous actions have shattered European security.

All businesses, and the City of London in particular, must quickly sever unethical ties with Russian companies and investors who have supported Kremlin power structures and enabled corruption. Professional services companies must stop working with oligarchs whose money is steeped in the Kremlin war. We must no longer be willfully naive to the sources of wealth or the political associations of companies and individuals investing in our city. Never again can London’s openness, professional services and capital markets be exploited so brazenly.

Second, we must be proactive in supporting Ukrainian refugees. The government’s slow response to creating a route for Ukrainian refugees coming to the UK, even to join their families, has been shameful. I wholeheartedly welcome the Home for Ukrainians program, but the devil is in the details. Its promise, in principle, of “health care, benefits, employment support, education and other supports” must be solid, in practice. Companies should be as welcoming as possible to new refugees and seek to place them in roles where they can be integrated quickly and also contribute to the economy. A number of major UK businesses, including Marks & Spencer, ASOS and Lush, have already stepped up to an initiative that will provide jobs for newly arrived refugees.

Third, we must harness the collective power of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). So far, efforts to place Ukrainian refugees in employment have come from big business, but SMEs have a vital role to play in this process. London is home to over a million SMEs. If we can harness this power, our capital can help make huge strides in integrating newcomers from Ukraine; help grow the city’s economy, increase employment and generate greater prosperity for London and the rest of the country. This must be done in concert with thoughtful government support.

The London Chamber of Commerce and Industry has provided – and continues to provide – advice to its members on how to manage the ramifications of this crisis themselves and support Ukrainian refugees where possible.

We probably should have done it before; for Hong Kong, for Afghanistan, for Syria. We will fix that now, and I hope the Ukraine crisis will lead to a change in our approach to refugees from all countries and all conflicts. For the benefit of Ukrainians, Londoners and Britons, let us remember London’s history as a haven for all and a place where everyone can thrive.