Hundreds of European companies are to be 'outed' over their links to Iran in a bid to shame them into cutting ties.
A pressure group, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), has embarked on a campaign to persuade hundreds of businesses to sever links with Iran and will hold events in European capitals to publicly name companies that do business in the country.
UANI said that research had led to the identification of 2,500 businesses around the world, suspected of having involvement with Iran, with hundreds in Europe. They will publish their names if they do not receive satisfactory answers.
The companies have been contacted to seek “clarification” about their dealings in the country.
The pressure group has chosen Sweden, which has at least two citizens being held by Iran, to launch its campaign.
Its launch will be held at Sweden’s parliament, and UANI says it hopes the project will represent a significant "push-back" against Tehran's tactic of hostage- taking.
Swedish-Iranian MP Alireza Akhondi, who sits on the UANI advisory board, said the campaign seeks to achieve the same effect caused by pressure exerted on companies to leave Russia and stop engaging with its businesses.
“The big difference with Russia is that almost everything was public and we knew which companies were engaged with Russia,” the Centre Party politician told The National.
“In the Iranian case, it’s much more difficult because Iran has built up a network of shell companies to get around sanctions.”
Before that happens, he said, UANI will be sending letters to companies seeking information as to whether they “are engaged or not” with Iran.
It could be, for example, a simple matter of websites not being updated, Mr Akhondi said.
So far, about 45 letters have been sent to Swedish companies but Mr Akhondi said there are about 500 companies they suspect of having dealings with Iran in the UK, France and Germany.
The list is changing as companies clarify their positions, he said.
“We are starting in Sweden, but we are going to every country in Europe, including the UK, and revealing companies engaged with trade with Iran in different ways,” he added.
“The first phase, because we don't know exactly how they are involved but we have suspicions that they are, is to seek clarification.
“We wrote to one of these companies and they replied that they didn't know why their name was on Iranian websites and have taken measures to make sure that their logo doesn’t appear because they don't sell to Iran.”
After the companies are publicly named, Mr Akhondi said legal action will begin against selected companies.
“It depends which company we are targeting. We are going to take different action in different places. For example, let's say we have a Swedish bank involved in a shell company laundering money, we use the financial legislation to deal with it.”
Iran is under US-led sanctions imposed on its oil and gas industry, as well as those aimed at particular individuals accused of human rights abuses and supplying drones to Russia.
President Joe Biden this week announced a fresh round of measures on the anniversary of Mahsa Amini's death in Iranian police custody which led to protests.
But despite being one of the most heavily sanctioned countries in the world, many companies in Europe and elsewhere continue to do business in Iran. The UK's Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office provides extensive advice about business opportunties in Iran.
UANI argues doing that companies who trade with Iran are providing support for the regime, given the extent to which it exerts control over the economy, particularly through the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Mr Akhondi said he wants companies to “take their share of responsibility” and believes pressure from consumers will play a part.
“In western cultures, consumers demand that the companies they will buy merchandise or services from take a share of global responsibility.
“These companies don't want to be shamed and be a part of any legal action.”
While the measures are not the “golden ticket” when it comes to preventing the taking of hostages, he believes they can play a part in the “payback” for Tehran’s actions.
“This is a method that I think will strongly send a clear message to Tehran,” he said.