Unilever’s new chief executive has pledged to look at its decision to continue operating in Russia “with a fresh pair of eyes” as the company is under fire for continuing to sell products in Russia.
According to multiple media outlets, Hein Schumacher pledged to reassess the food giant’s position on Russia in his new position as chief executive, after receiving a personal plea from a Ukrainian soldier.
He said he was “only a few weeks into this role” and was looking at everything anew.
Schumacher was responding to demands from Ukrainian veteran Oleh Symoroz for Unilever to “end its ongoing complicity” in the war in Ukraine.
While other companies including Coca-Cola and McDonald’s have quit the region following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Unilever continues to sell what it deems is “everyday essential food” in the country, including ice cream.
The company has argued that none of the options are desirable for its Russian business and that there is a risk that by selling the business, the Kremlin could potentially “gain further benefit”.
Unilever has promised to keep its operations under “close review”, but has so far maintained that carrying on selling in Russia is “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”, The Telegraph reported.
Symoroz had both legs amputated following an explosion on a Russian anti-tank mine while fighting in eastern Ukraine, and has featured in a billboard campaign outside Unilever’s London headquarters which has criticised the company for not exiting Russia.
He wrote to Schumacher earlier this month, calling for the chief to “use [his] new position to create meaningful change for Ukraine”.
Simoroz argued the decision facing the company was, indeed, straightforward. “It is not enough to simply say that the situation is ‘complicated’,” he wrote. “The choice is rather simple — to choose good over evil, to choose humanity itself.” The veteran requested a meeting with the chief executive. Schumacher did not directly address this request in his response.
Last month, Unilever was named as a sponsor of war by the Ukrainian government, after continuing to pay taxes in Russia, totalling £33m last year.
It will also allow its thousands of Russian workers to be conscripted into the Ukraine war, saying last month that it “always complies with all the laws of the countries we operate in”.
The company historically has touted its “social purpose” credentials, with its Ben & Jerry’s brand in particular known for taking firm stances on social issues and geopolitics. Last year, the ice cream brand criticised Joe Biden for “fanning the flames of war” in Ukraine by sending troops into the country.