Should Colorado punish American businesses that continue to work in Russia? One state lawmaker calls for action

Nathaniel Minor/CPR News
Cargill’s meat processing facility in Fort Morgan, Colorado employs more than 2,000 workers.

The state of Colorado has already shifted millions in public pension investments out of Russian banks in reaction to that country’s devastating invasion of Ukraine, but one state senator wants his colleagues to go further.

State Sen. Chris Hansen told fellow lawmakers that Colorado should now look at canceling contracts with American companies and others that continue to do business in Russia.

“President Putin yesterday was complaining about the West 'canceling' Russia, and my response is 'Absolutely, yes.' Let's cancel Putin's Russia. Not the Russians, but Putin's Russia,” Hansen said in a brief speech before the state Senate. 

Hansen cited companies like Cargill, Subway and the fast food conglomerate Yum! Brands that reportedly haven’t shut down their operations in Russia. Some of the companies, like Yum!, have taken lesser steps, such as suspending new investments, according to researchers at the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute.

“My question to the companies that haven't made that decision: What are you waiting for? We're three weeks in. Putin is bombing women and children,” Hansen said.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
State Sen. Chris Hansen, vice-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020.

Hansen said the state could take action via a bill or a budget amendment. It’s unclear how many of those companies the state actually does business with.

Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, a Republican, said that Putin’s actions have been deplorable, and he too wants to see companies temporarily stop doing business in Russia. But he said this proposal oversteps the legislature’s role.

“I don’t think a state legislature can tell a national company where it can do business internationally, but if we have business interests for the state of Colorado, that might be something we want to look at,” Holbert said in an interview

“Let’s cause as much pain for Vladimir as we can, and hopefully that will encourage the Russian people to … get out of Ukraine and leave the Ukranians alone,” he added.

Gov. Jared Polis' office pointed to actions the state has already taken, including divesting from Russian banks and state-owned assets. The state also is no longer recognizing the Russian honorary consul and is collecting body armor and helmets to send to Ukraine.

"The Governor is doing everything he and his administration can under our executive authority and is receptive to other concepts coming forward from the General Assembly to hold Putin and Russia accountable for their actions against democracy and freedom," wrote spokesperson Conor Cahill.

Representatives for Democratic statehouse leaders didn't comment on questions about Hansen's proposal.

Editor's note: This article was updated on March 18 with comment from Gov. Jared Polis' office.

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