This word, which, if uttered by Renault, would have given 45,000 jobs in Russia on the floor, Analysis and Opinion

After two months without the word being uttered publicly by Renault’s CEO or written down in an official statement, Jean-Dominique Senar dropped it from the first minute of the carmaker’s general meeting. desk, passing the usual formalities. On Wednesday, May 25, shareholders, auditors, bailiffs, journalists, the entire Palace of Congresses in Paris, as well as those connected to the streaming, had the opportunity to hear the chairman of the board in front of the cameras, to speak “war”. Usually, even if it’s less frequent, a general meeting is not a place where leaders go to share elements of the current context, these meetings are usually about last year’s assessment, but frankly, unprecedented events are worth it. deviation from the protocol.

“Everyone means the painful war in Ukraine, which began in February last year, which became another test that added to all the foci of the crisis in 2021.”, said Jean-Dominique Senard, during this public meeting, during which everything is recorded, data is stored, minutes are kept. The sale of activities in Russia, announced a few days earlier, on May 16, released the words. Until then, Renault was just a question “conflict”, more neutral, as not necessarily armed, which may well, like the “invasion”, concern only part of the territory, without the idea of ​​total aggression. Semantics has become a political problem, a sign of the camp. If the “special operation” used by Vladimir Putin has a very large connotation, the “war” is also because the Russian president expelled it from the vocabulary. Those who break the law against “false information” and those who use this forbidden word face fifteen years in prison.

“Time to find a way out”

The Red Cross, whose neutrality is the basic principle, uses only “conflict”, which caused him protests, outrage on Twitter. But it has nothing to do with the outrage caused by the article in early March against the UN Irish Timesaccording to which the Department of Global Communications of the organization sent its employees an e-mail with the subject “Communication recommendations on the crisis in Ukraine” with a request not to describe the events as “war”recommending using conditions instead “conflict” or“Military offensive”. Faced with controversy, Melissa Fleming, head of the UN communications department, initially reacted with some objections, a little vaguely, noting in a tweet that there were no recommendations. “official” was done in this regard before indicating, after being asked about any “informal” directive, that the email had indeed “been sent by the local office without permission” regarding “about 25 people”and that this “Does not represent[ait] not the official position of the organization. »

We at Renault do not hide it, to say “conflict” and not “war” was a conscious choice, a necessity, the manager admits, “Time for negotiations, finding a way out” in Russia. The number one goal was to secure a future for the 45,000 employees who worked at Renault’s plant in Russia near Moscow before the bankruptcy. Because, as CEO Luca di Meo has repeatedly said, a factory that doesn’t work, that doesn’t produce anything because of a lack of parts, the whole supply chain is broken by sanctions, only burns cash. Bankruptcy was guaranteed if an agreement was not reached quickly. Negotiations were “intensive” but final because, according to the wishes of Renault “do not offend the future”the manufacturer was also able to create an option to return to Russia.

In early June, the war in Ukraine entered its 100th day. It broke out, shattered, depressed, filled, and then routineized. In the early days of Russian aggression, the word “war” was scrolled on the black screens of the financial news bible, Bloomberg, in more than 1,000 articles every hour every day, compared to three times less today. However, it is still one of the most commonly used words. Therefore, on the contrary, a company, whatever it may be, inevitably has a sharp conflict, which has systematically used a different term than “war” since the beginning of the large-scale military invasion of Ukraine.

The number of articles in which the word

The number of articles in which the word
The number of articles in which the word “war” appears daily on Bloomberg terminals Photo: Bloomberg

“Conflict”, “crisis”, “situation”

Since February 24, the date of the offensive, corporate regulatory communications, coincidentally, have been at breakneck speed. The first half of the year is particularly prosperous for the masses: in late February-early March, the last carriages of reports for 2021 appear, just before the first performance for the first quarter, intertwined with the general meeting. 38 Cac 40 companies announced their turnovers and / or results in late March, and 37 held a general meeting of shareholders. During these meetings, which also added “investor days” for several of them, there was a lot of talk about inflation, supply chain tensions, re-containment in China, the rise in oil prices and the “conflict” / “crisis”. ”/“ Situation ”in Ukraine, less often“ war ”, especially if the phrase is excluded from the count “War of Talents” that technology companies such as Thales and Capgemini regret.

In the age of fully digital data science, it is easy, with the help of appropriate tools, to consider the content of the meeting: what topics were most discussed, how many times such a word was uttered, look! and if I type “Ukraine”, what noun is next? If Air Liquide, Airbus, Axa, Bouygues, Legrand, Michelin, Publicis, Safran, Saint-Gobain or Schneider Electric indiscriminately speak of “war” or “conflict”, moving from one term to another, as we do with synonyms, others remain only until the second. “War” is missing in the communications of Alstom, Worldline and Société Générale. Regarding the latter, which, like the other two, did not respond to our inquiries, the term “war” still appears in the analytical notes of the Investment Banking Department, which are sent to clients in the world of finance.

In late March, the Sino-British bank HSBC, which is present in Russia, sparked controversy by removing references to its analysts’ research publications about the “war” in Ukraine. “The HSBC committees, which review all published research and communication with clients abroad, have amended many reports to soften the language used on the subject, including replacing the word ‘war’ with ‘conflict’.”revealed FinancialTimesreferring to two people who are directly aware of this issue. “These language changes have provoked internal debate and complaints from some employees. These changes contrast with explicit references to the Russian “war” in studies by rival banks such as UBS, Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank. »

Of course, the higher clergy of industry and banking knows their semantic catechism, distinguishes the palette of nuances, knows that there is a lexicographic gradation. At BNP Paribas during the general meeting on May 17, the chairman of the board of directors wanted “Let’s say a few words about the situation in Ukraine after the events that began on February 24, and about the known military actions. » Jean Lemierre had a very special opinion of the 5,000 Ukrainian employees (the bank has a subsidiary in Ukraine, Ukrsibbank, headquartered in Kyiv, with branches across the country), which “Have done an excellent job as bankers in this field. They kept the agencies as open as possible to do their job. And to do your job in difficult times, during the war, let’s call it what it is, is to provide banking services to customers, including ensuring the payment of wages to customer accounts and ensuring that customers can withdraw cash, so that during a conflict this is very important. »

“An acceptable rhetorical compromise”

“A company that doesn’t want to get completely wet can use the term conflictdeciphers Arno Mercier, professor of political communication at the University of Paris Pantheon-Assass. She did not say the word war, but no one will reproach her for pretending to be a peaceful operation because she used the word conflict. This is an intermediate decision that can be described as wise. You manage to find a way not to offend Ukraine and its allies, and at the same time, if you still have interests in Russia, you have not said the wrong word. This is an acceptable rhetorical compromise. This is definitely the result of tactical thinking. Obviously, when you know that political and government actors are arguing over whether or not to call things that way, you can’t help but know it, and you can’t act like it doesn’t reflect the company’s position. rhetorical conflict. It is wise to start by saying to ourselves: well, there is a semantic dispute, how do we feel about it? »

TotalEnergies had no thoughts, “We call a spade a spade”says one “war”. In the Russian subsidiary alone, for security reasons, the word is missing from the dictionary of about 200 employees. If the oil company is still one of the most French companies in Russia today, it is because it is a shareholder in Novatek and owns shares in Yamal LNG thanks to its No. 2 alliance with Russian gas. deposit in Western Siberia. The local partner TotalEnergies is as private as it can be a Russian company run by an oligarch, but it is enough that the French giant, with its most political activity, did not have to keep his mouth shut, unlike Renault, which in order to be able to to leave Russia in order, it was necessary not to offend the Kremlin. The automaker has indeed sold its Moscow plant and its stake in Avtovaz to government agencies that are not subject to sanctions, and therefore, indirectly, to the same state that criminalized the word “war.”