The maker of Ben & Jerry’s is under pressure to leave Russia. Why are companies refusing to go?

Key Points
  • Unilever is under pressure to cease operations in Russia.
  • Many companies abandoned Russian markets after the country invaded Ukraine.
  • But some have stayed and say cutting ties is complicated.
The parent company of Ben & Jerry’s and Cornetto ice cream brands, Unilever, has continued to resist pressure to shut down its business in Russia,
Anti-war activist organisation the Moral Rating Agency has been campaigning for Western companies to end all business with Russia, in order to force more economic pressure on the country, hoping it impacts war efforts.
“Unilever must stop hiding behind its balance sheet and excuses to face the reality that selling an ice cream can allow [Vladimir] Putin to pay for a bullet,” said founder Mark Dixon.

The agency estimates Unilever is contributing over $1 billion to the Russian economy annually.

Unilever, which owns the Dove, Lynx, OMO and Ben & Jerry’s brands among others, told the BBC this week that exiting was “not straightforward”.
“We understand why there are calls for Unilever to leave Russia,” the company said, reiterating a statement from February.
“We also want to be clear that we are not trying to protect or manage our business in Russia. However, for companies like Unilever, which have a significant physical presence in the country, exiting is not straightforward.”

The company said if it abandoned Russia its companies there “would be appropriated – and then operated – by the Russian state”.

Unilever said it had been unable to find a way to sell the business that “avoids the Russian state potentially gaining further benefit, and which safeguards our people”.
Many other large companies, including Starbucks and McDonald’s, shut up shop in Russia at the start of Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, in protest and to cut all financial ties with the country’s war effort.

However, some have stayed and potentially profited as the brutal war continues – here’s a look at why.


Oil and gas giant Shell has been criticised for continuing to operate in the Russian gas market. Source: AAP

Oleg Ustenko, an economic adviser to the Ukrainian president, accused British oil giant Shell this week of accepting ‘blood money’ for trading Russian gas long after it had agreed to withdraw from the market.

“It is quite simple: by continuing to trade in Russian gas Shell is putting money into Putin’s pockets and helping to fund Russia’s brutal aggression against the people of Ukraine,” he said.

“The vast sums that Shell and the whole oil industry have made in Russia should be used to help fund the reconstruction of Ukraine, rather than lining the pockets of their shareholders.”

But Shell responded, saying the trades do not violate laws or sanctions and are the result of “long-term contractual commitments.”
A spokesperson for Shell said, “There is a dilemma between putting pressure on the Russian government over its atrocities in Ukraine and ensuring stable, secure energy supplies. It is for governments to decide on the incredibly difficult trade-offs that must be made.”

Environmental campaigner Global Witness estimates that between March and December 2022 Shell was critical to the trade of Russian gas, buying and selling 12 per cent of all exports.

Tigers Realm Coal

Australian miner Tigers Realm Coal, which has been operating in Russia for more than a decade, was warned in April by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that it could be in breach of Australian sanctions against Russia.

But calls are growing for the Australian government to review the activities of the publicly listed coal miner still operating in Russia,.
Representatives of Tigers Realm did not respond to SBS Russian, but in April denied the company was operating in breach of Australian sanctions.
Tigers Realm continued its mining operations after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and reported an increase in its annual sales revenue from $104 million in 2021 to $186 million in 2022, reflected in its annual report.

However, it also noted much of its activity was conducted in China.

Procter & Gamble

In February, the Ukrainian government named US-based household goods producer Procter & Gamble (P&G) as an ‘international sponsor of war’ over its continued operations in Russia.
In March 2022, P&G, whose products include Tide detergent pods and Gillette razors, announced it was reducing its product share in the country and said it would be only focusing on health and hygiene products there.

Activist project Leave Russia, which is led by researchers at the KSE Institute, an analytical centre in Kyiv, Ukraine, says P&G is one of the largest foreign investors in the Russian economy and has operated in the country since 1991.

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