Business Community Needs to Break Up With Saudi Arabia
It’s safe to say that the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia is complicated. The U.S. government and the business community have many strategic and economic reasons to work with the Saudis, but recent actions by the Kingdom have raised new questions about the virtue of the relationship.
This came into stark view last fall when Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was brutally assassinated in Turkey by Saudi forces. Despite denials by the Saudis, the evidence clearly implicates them in the murder.
Saudi Arabia is no stranger to human rights violations and cover-ups, but they’ve mostly been able to skate by with few real consequences for their actions. However, this latest affront — blatant murder on foreign soil — may have finally been the straw that broke the camel’s back.
The business community, for the most part, has also joined the chorus of condemnation. Many companies pulled out of the Saudi-hosted Future Investment Fund Initiative, known as “Davos in the Desert,” in response to the Khashoggi killing. And many others are rethinking their business dealings until real progress is made.
But not all businesses have been willing to put human rights above their bottom lines. Softbank will not rebuff Saudi Arabia despite the controversy surrounding the Khashoggi murder.
Softbank is a Japanese investment conglomerate with investments across multiple sectors. One of its subsidiaries, known as Vision Fund, falls under heavy Saudi influence. According to the U.K.’s Evening Standard, “Saudi Arabia is the biggest investor in the $93 billion superfund, having pumped in $45 billion.”
Which explains Softbank’s silence after Khashoggi’s murder. No amount of money or business is worth getting into bed with a murderous regime.
Softbank has major equity in many prominent companies, such as Uber, Wag, and WeWork. For many of these companies, their Softbank connection has only amplified the various other recent criticisms they have been facing.
Whether it's Uber garnering bad headlines for a fatal crash involving one of their driverless cars or WeWork, the trendy co-working company, receiving criticism for their botched rebranding campaign — which ended up taking the name of global nonprofit the WE Organization — the last thing these companies need is more criticism. That is why they, and every other company taking Saudi money, should perhaps consider finding some new investors.
Efforts by international lawmakers and businesses to finally hold Saudi Arabia accountable for its actions are encouraging trends. If the international community keeps up the pressure on the Kingdom, true reform might be possible.
It would be nice if companies like Softbank, with their partners such as Uber and WeWork, would end their relationships with the Saudis too.
Cory Sprunger is an attorney from Indiana. He is an alumnus of the Bush White House as well as the Republican National Committee.