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The Pissed Consumer’s guide to companies departing Russia

More than 1,400 multinational corporations are still paying taxes to Russia. The solution: Boycott Russia.
auchan business boycott
Auchan is one of the many companies still doing business in Russia. Credit: Depositphotos
The Pissed Consumer’s guide to companies departing Russia

Eighteen months since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine thousands of Ukrainian lives have been lost. Injured and killed civilians total more than 26,000 injured or killed.

And still, international companies continue to do business in Russia. They must be held accountable. They are enabling barbarism through commercial activities that help support and sustain this war.

With more than 40 of my employees directly impacted by Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, I have witnessed some of the immense upheaval to all walks of life caused by this senseless war of aggression. While the initial response from most multinational corporations was appropriate and swift, suspending Russian operations in solidarity with Ukraine’s struggle, at present 1,412 well-known brands have avoided fully withdrawing and instead maintained questionable ties to the Russian economy.

Defiance that is self-defeating

More than one thousand global firms rightly halted all business dealings with Russia, recognizing their ethical duty to cut ties in a unified effort to isolate the warring country economically as well as politically. Yet, 1403 companies still draw revenue from the Russian market, and household names like Procter & Gamble, Mondelez, and Unilever have clung on and stubbornly refused to withdraw from the country, despite this act of refusal sending a message that their balance sheets seemingly matter more than upholding basic humanitarian principles.

This failure to provide clear justifications for contradicting their supposed commitment to principles of responsible corporate governance should and does raise serious concerns among investors and consumers. It raises particular concerns regarding employee welfare and financial complicity in violence against civilians.

We give, they take: Tax support and sanctions contradicted by corporation’s activity in Russia

Remaining entangled in Russia’s economy means directly sustaining the war machine through ongoing payment of corporation tax and generating commercial activity on Russian soil. These contributions are in direct contradiction with taxpayer support for the defense of Ukraine, negating crucial military, medical, and humanitarian aid from Western allies.

It remains deeply troubling how brands can ignore such an obvious contradiction with global efforts to shield victims of aggression. As long as certain Western enterprises stubbornly refuse a clean break with Russia, and as missiles continue to bombard the cities and towns of Ukraine, they will face the unique shame of knowing they helped buy the bullets and bombs that are taking so many lives.

Why take the gamble when the odds on the future are so poor?

In the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse in the early 1990s, a seismic shift in international commerce occurred. Western corporations, long isolated from this vast and untapped business opportunity, frantically scrambled to establish a presence in the newly opened market. The race was on for market share, a corporate “gold rush,” you might say, as industries from technology to retail vied to capture the potentially lucrative Russian market. Now, despite multilateral international sanctions being pressed against Russia, many of these firms refuse to budge.

One possible rationale for this refusal is the notion of the first-mover advantage. Companies that established themselves early on in post-Soviet Russia have had ample time to cultivate customer loyalty and establish robust distribution networks. The costs associated with exiting the market, both in terms of financial setbacks and losing a customer base, may trump any other considerations.

An alternative motive, and perhaps the more strategic and therefore likely one, is the observation that, as other corporations withdraw from Russia, they leave behind an opening in the market. For the companies opting to stay, this presents an opportunity to strengthen their own position and capture a larger share of the Russian market. Essentially, the business landscape continues to expand exclusively for them, even amid a multitude of sanctions.

Shaming businesses in Russia

Companies need to be wary. Their actions don’t go unnoticed. Consumers worldwide are making their voices heard, with 79.7% of Americans stating they would not purchase from Russia-linked companies.

Many public projects are working hard to convince brands to make the right choice and educate consumers on how they can help by using their consumer power against companies that stay in Russia.

Ukrainian Mykhailo Mozhaiskyi, for instance, has developed an iOS and Android app that allows users to identify and boycott products with ties to the Russian economy. And grassroots boycott campaigns like those led by leave-russia.org, Email Contact Ukraine and PissedConsumer.com “shame” businesses in Russia, prompting those lingering brands to reconsider their Russia stance.

Ukrainian app shows which companies still operate in Russia by scanning barcode

Among these brands is Procter & Gamble, whose own mission statement implies a strong commitment to corporate ethics and environmental, social, and governance standards. That mission states, in part, “…as a company we’re committed to be a force for good and force for growth in everything we do”. Procter & Gamble must recognize how empty these commitments appear to be in the light of their continued activity in Russia.

This contradiction is clear to many users of PissedConsumer.com, who take the opportunity to directly email Procter & Gamble, inquiring about their intent to stay in the Russian market and their justifications for it. According to our stats, one in 20 have used???? the site-provided company contact form to share their concerns directly and send their inquiries to Procter & Gamble.

At PissedConsumer, we give both sides the opportunity to make themselves heard. We aim to promote transparent dialogue between consumers and companies on the Russia issue, and “shame” those who continue to do business in the country and refuse to engage on the matter.

The purpose of this action is not simply to trash a company’s reputation, mindless as that would be. It is to keep the topic at the top of the awareness of those who are responsible for the company’s future performance. As consumer opinion hardens against appeasing Putin, businesses jeopardize not only their present but also their future by ignoring such strong public sentiment.

We actively reach out to multinationals for statements on their Russia position and educate consumers about the consequences of continuing to buy from companies that operate in Russia, so they can make informed consumer choices. This process is simplified for our users on every individual company profile page, where they can see the brand’s current “Russia Status.”

What you can do

  • Contact the customer service departments of brands still in Russia. It’s your right as a consumer to know a company’s position on the matter. Don’t be complicit through silence.
  • Use up-to-date resources such as PissedConsumer.com, Leave Russia, and the Yale list to check brands’ current status in Russia before giving them your business.
  • Use this information to vote with your wallet. Only buy from brands that have broken off all economic activity in or with Russia when the option is available. Boycotts do work.
  • Spread awareness on social media and online review platforms. Educate the unaware and keep the topic alive.

Actions not words

The clock is ticking on hedging, half-measures, and inaction, furthering the suffering of so many. As the stakes of the Russia-Ukraine war get higher and higher, the window of opportunity for businesses to take a principled stand will get smaller and more costly. For example, an estimated figure puts the cost in 2022 for foreign investors in Russia at $240 billion. There can be no middle ground on the issue of fundamental human empathy. The time to act is now. Putting profit over principles will prove to be a poor decision that will hang over the heads of those who do so for decades to come.

Michael Podolsky is the CEO and co-founder of PissedConsumer.com, a consumer advocacy website and review platform. Having extensive experience in customer service, Michael advocates for consumers’ right to free speech and stands for the First Amendment.

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