Dove owner Unilever says it will permit conscription of its Russia employees

11 months ago 17

Russian army new conscripts attend a ceremony outside the Trinity Cathedral before their departure for garrisons in Saint Petersburg on May 23, 2023.

Olga Maltseva | Afp | Getty Images

Consumer goods giant Unilever has confirmed it will comply with legislation that could see its employees in Russia conscripted into the war in Ukraine.

In a letter to campaign group B4Ukraine, dated 11 July 2023 and published by the BBC on Sunday, Chief Business Operations and Supply Chain Officer Reginaldo Ecclissato notes the Russian law requiring firms to "permit the conscription of employees should they be called," and says Unilever will "always comply with all the laws of the countries we operate in."

The legislation applies to holders of Russian citizenship.

Unilever confirmed the veracity of the letter to CNBC and declined to provide further comment.

The company's vast range of brands includes Ben & Jerry's, Dove, Knorr, Cif, Domestos, Magnum, Cornetto and Vaseline. It has around 3,000 employees in Russia, working across four manufacturing sites and one head office. Products it sells in Russia include personal care and hygiene items and ice cream.

It has faced criticism for its decision to continue to do business in Russia amid international sanctions and the withdrawal of many companies following the invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Ecclissato said in the letter that Unilever has faced three options for its Russia operations. One was closing all Russia operations, after which he said Unilever's business and brands in the country would be "appropriated — and then operated — by the Russian state." The second was selling the business, which he said would also likely benefit the state. The third, which Unilever has adopted, was continuing to run the business with constraints that have been in place since March.

"To be clear, none of these options are desirable. Nevertheless, we believe the third remains the best option, both to avoid the risk of our business ending up in the hands of the Russian state, either directly or indirectly, and to help protect our people. We will of course continue to keep this position under close review," he wrote.

Dove, a brand of Unilever, is seen on display in a store in New York, March 24, 2022.

Andrew Kelly | Reuters

Since the invasion, Unilever reports it has stopped all capital flows into and out of the country and halted imports and exports of its products, as well as stopping media and advertising spend.

Ecclissato said the company experienced a 15% decline in sales volumes in Russia last year, but turnover increased because of price rises and a stronger rouble. He said the company paid 3.8 billion roubles ($42.06 million) in taxes in 2022.

The letter is a response to a series of questions from the B4Ukraine Coalition, which urged Unilever to immediately cease all operations in Russia and exit the market. It asked for comment on whether the company had received requests for employees to be conscripted and how it would respond to these, among other questions.

Ecclissato said Unilever runs its Russia business "in alignment with our global principles including the safety and wellbeing of our employees." He did not respond to B4Ukraine's question of whether any employees had been conscripted or contacted about conscription.

A Unilever spokesperson told the BBC that any employee who was called up would not continue to be paid by the company.

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