Consumer goods firm Unilever has established it will comply with legislation that could see its workers in Russia

July 25, 2023: Consumer goods firm Unilever has established it will comply with legislation that could see its workers in Russia recruited into the war in Ukraine.

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

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. Its effects in Russia include personal care, hygiene items, and ice cream.

It has faced criticism for its decision to continue to do business in Russia amid international boycotts 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 completing all Russia operations, after which he told Unilever’s business and brands in the country would be “appropriated by the Russian state.” The second was selling the company, which he stated would also likely benefit the state. The third, which Unilever has adopted, has continued running the business with constraints since March.

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

Since the invasion, Unilever says it has stopped all capital flows into and out of the country, halted imports and exports of its products, and controlled media and advertising spending.

Ecclissato said the company experienced a 15% decline in sales volumes in Russia the previous year, but turnover increased because of price rises and a stronger ruble. He said the company disbursed taxes of 3.8 billion rubles in 2022.

The letter is a response to a series of questions from the B4Ukraine Coalition, which urged Unilever to cease all operations in Russia and exit the market immediately.

Ecclissato said that Unilever runs its Russia relations “in alignment with our global principles, including the safety and wellbeing of our employees.” He did not respond to B4Ukraine’s question about whether any employees had been recruited or reached about conscription.

A Unilever spokesperson said that any worker called up would not continue to be paid by the company.

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Consumer goods firm Unilever has established it will comply with legislation that could see its workers in Russia