Broken trust, not sanctions —

Acer reportedly sent Russia $70M in PC gear after saying it paused business there

Reuters says Acer used Swiss subsidiary to send Russia "at least" 744 shipments.

Man holdering two Acer laptop boxes
Enlarge / Acer continued selling laptops, like these Chromebooks, in Russia after saying it suspended business there, Reuters reports.

Per a report by Reuters on Thursday, Acer said it sold monitors in Russia after publicly declaring that it would suspend business there due to the Russia-Ukraine war. In Reuters' report, Acer claimed it only sold a "limited number of displays and accessories" for "civilian daily use." Additionally, Reuters reported that Acer sold laptops in Russia after saying it wouldn't.

On April 8, 2022, Acer, like many tech companies (see: HP, Dell, Microsoft, Intel, Nvidia, etc.), said it would no longer do business in Russia for the foreseeable future.

"Acer strictly adheres to applicable international trade laws and regulations and is closely monitoring the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Due to recent developments, Acer has decided to suspend its business in Russia," the company's statement said at the time.

Despite that, Acer reportedly continued to sell monitors to Russia, primarily through delivery services ordered by Swiss subsidiary Acer Sales International SA. Acer never explained why it sold anything to Russia after saying it suspended business there, Reuters noted.

The subsidiary didn't respond to Reuters' request for comment, and neither did Russia's Ministry of Industry and Trade. Switzerland's State Secretariat for Economic Affairs told the publication that it doesn't comment on specific cases or companies. Acer's Russian business told Reuters "nothing has changed" since Acer claimed it would stop conducting business in Russia.

Reuters said it viewed "customs records drawn from a commercial trade data provider" that show Acer sold "at least $70.4 million worth of computer hardware to Russia between April 8, 2022 and March 31, 2023."

Acer purportedly did less business with Russia than before 2022. In terms of dollars and cents, business declined 71.1 percent year over year from April 8, 2022, to March 31, 2023, and went from 3,735 shipments to 744. But that's likely more than anyone who heard Acer's statement about doing business with Russia last year would expect.

Although Acer said it only shipped some consumer-use screens and accessories, Reuters cited an anonymous person "familiar with details of the shipments, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue" and reported that Acer shipped laptops and computer monitors to Russia since the company's April 2022 statement. Acer denied selling any laptops or desktops to Russia since making its statement.

Reuters said it couldn't determine where some of Acer's available products in Russia came from or when they got into Russia, but an Acer spokesperson told Reuters that Russian importers could have received them from other countries.

IDC Russia data Reuters cited suggests Acer recently had notable business in Russia. In Q4 2021, before Acer said it would pause business in Russia, Acer reportedly represented 18.5 percent of computers sold in Russia, compared to 20.8 percent for HP and Dell combined, for example.

Sanctions intact, but what about Acer’s reputation?

The sales Acer said it conducted in Russia after April 2022 were made "while ensuring compliance with international sanctions," a spokesperson for Acer in Taiwan told Reuters.

"We strictly adhere to applicable international regulations and trade laws regarding exports to Russia," they said.

The reported exports came from Switzerland, which, despite its historically neutral stance, adopted the European Union's sanctions against Russia in February 2022. But going through Switzerland still allowed Acer to send computers to Russia until December 16, 2022. Nothing was sent after that time, Reuters said.

The publication didn't report any exports from Taipei and said Taiwan has no customs records of Acer exporting goods to Russia. If it did, Acer would have violated sanctions that include electronics like laptops and monitors, Taiwan's Economy Ministry told Reuters.

But as previously detailed, sanctions have not prevented people in Russia from getting goods made outside of the country. A January 2023 report from The New York Times, for example, found data showing "surges in trade for some of Russia’s neighbors and allies, suggesting that countries like Turkey, China, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan are stepping in to provide Russia with many of the products that Western countries have tried to cut off."

"Analysts estimate that Russia’s imports may have already recovered to prewar levels, or will soon do so, depending on their models," the January report said.

It's not hard to find examples of customers already proclaiming lost respect for Acer on social media since Reuters' report broke. In an interview with a Taiwan-based TV station, corporate compliance expert John Eastwood is among those taking it further, saying Acer's actions are "embarrassing" for not just Acer, but Taiwan, which has long faced its own potential outside threats.

Channel Ars Technica