Countering Political Risk in Colonial India: German Multinationals and the Challenge of Internment (1914–1947)

by Christina Lubinski, Valeria Giacomin, and Klara Schnitzer

Overview — Internment during wartime is a frequent occurrence, but little has been written about internment as a political risk for multinational enterprises. Examining German businesspeople interned in British camps in India during both World War I and II, this study identifies major issues and questions for future scholarly research on internment.

Author Abstract

Internment in so-called “enemy countries” was a frequent occurrence in the 20th century and created significant obstacles for multinational enterprises (MNEs). This article focuses on German MNEs in India and shows how they addressed the formidable challenge of the internment of their employees in British camps during both WWI and WWII. We find that internment impacted business relationships in India well beyond its endpoint and that the WWI internment shaped the subsequent perception of and strategic response to the WWII experience. We show that internment aggravated existing staffing challenges, impacted the perception of racial lines of distinctions, and re-casted the category “European business.” While internment was perceived and managed as a political risk, the case also shows that it created unexpected networking opportunities, generating a tight community of German businesspeople in India.

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