In Focus

Big brand boycotts in Russia: who is in and who is out?

Hundreds of Western companies have pulled out of Russia, but some remain

Which brands have withdrawn from Russia?

The Yale School of Management is keeping a list of major Western companies that suspend or sell their operations in Russia, updated on a daily basis, said Gregory Schmidt in The New York Times. It’s certainly hard to keep up. 

As of today more than 300 companies have withdrawn from Russia, according to Yale. When its list was first published on 2 March only a few dozen companies had announced their departure. However, in the eight days since, there’s been a “mass corporate exodus”. 

Credit card titans (American Express, Mastercard and Visa) have all signed up, as have Boeing, Ford and Volvo and a roster of entertainment companies including Netflix. Big Tech and Big Oil are mostly on board, as are the French luxury giants LVMH and Hermès. The Big Four bean-counters (PwC, KPMG, EY and Deloitte) are also pulling out – a process made easier because “these groups are structured as partnerships of local firms, so the businesses in Russia can continue to operate”, Schmidt said. 

The big hold-outs were food and drink giants, said Julia Kollewe in The Guardian. McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Yum! Brands (which owns KFC and Pizza Hut) were initially loath to disrupt very complicated business and franchise arrangements, however all had caved in by midweek. 

Many major Western brands “bowed to public pressure” to withdraw from Russia, Kollewe added. Kentucky-based Yum! Brands followed suit and said it was “suspending 70 KFC company-owned restaurants in Russia and finalising an agreement to suspend all 50 Pizza Hut outlets in partnership with its master franchisee”.

McDonald’s led a “fresh exodus” of the West’s biggest consumer brands from Russia, the Financial Times said. Starbucks and Unilever were also among those “halting or cutting operations” in response to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Other brands joining the boycott include British babywear chain Mothercare, Universal Music Group, Heineken, Levi’s, Burberry and Ikea.

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a Yale School of Management professor, said the consumer goods companies “were very late to the party but they did move”. Companies joining the “business blockade” were pulling out or pulling back because “they realised that they were going to be on the wrong side of history”. 

Which brands are still trading in Russia? 

As of yesterday, several big multinationals continued to buck the trend, The Economist said. Abandoning Russia is “easier for some firms than others”. 

Japanese fashion group Uniqlo is among the firms that have “so far indicated plans to stay put despite threats of consumer boycotts”, the i news site reported. And a string of hotel groups including Hilton and Marriott have “also chosen not to completely extricate themselves from Russia”. 

Tadashi Yanai, the founder and president of Uniqlo’s owner Fast Retailing, defended the decision to keep operating because “clothing is a necessity of life” and the people of Russia “have the same right to live as we do”.

Burger King has 800 franchise locations in Russia and it “would not be straightforward to cut ties completely because of legal arrangements”, i news said. Parent company Restaurant Brands International is planning to redirect profits from branches toward humanitarian efforts supporting Ukrainian refugees. “BK Russia is a standalone business owned and operated by our franchisees in the country,” it said. “We have long-standing legal agreements that are not easily changeable.”

The new chief executive of French food group Danone has argued that the company had “a responsibility to the people we feed”, The Times reported. Antoine de Saint-Affrique said the maker of Activia yoghurts and Evian mineral water would not be committing new investment in Russia, but confirmed it would continue to sell dairy and baby food in the country.

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