Questioned by Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Nestlé defends its activity in Russia

Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, is facing growing public pressure to end all business activities in Russia following the country’s attack on Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday accused the Swiss company of staying in Russia in a speech broadcast to thousands of protesters in the Swiss capital Bern, according to media including Bloomberg News and CNN.

“‘Good food good life.’ This is the slogan of Nestlé. Your company that refuses to leave Russia. Even now — when there are threats from Russia to other European countries. Not only to us. When there is even nuclear blackmail from from Russia,” he said.

Zelenskyy’s remarks echoed comments last week by Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, who in a tweet blasted Nestle CEO Mark Schneider over his company’s stance on doing business in Russia. Earlier this month, the Swiss company halted shipments of non-essential items to Russia, but continues to sell products such as baby food, cereal and pet food in the country.

“Unfortunately, he shows no understanding,” Shmyhal said of the Nestlé chief executive. “To pay taxes to the budget of a terrorist country is to kill helpless children and mothers. I hope Nestlé changes its mind soon.”

Nestlé defends itself

Nestlé said it was not profiting from its remaining business in Russia. “The fact that we, like other food companies, are providing people with important foods doesn’t mean we’re just continuing as before,” a company spokesperson said in an email to CBS MoneyWatch.

“We are doing everything we can in Ukraine and neighboring countries to help alleviate this humanitarian disaster,” the spokesperson added. “We are still one of the few active food companies in Ukraine and sometimes even manage to distribute food in Kharkiv.”

Nestlé is one of number of companies who have suspended new investment and advertising in Russia but continue to sell products there, according to a list compiled by Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, professor of management at Yale University. About three dozen companies are resisting demands to exit or scale back their operations in Russia, Sonnenfeld said.


MoneyWatch: Global Economy Feels Impact of Western Sanctions on Russia

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Hundreds of major American and Western companies withdrew from Russia since the country attacked Ukraine on February 24. US companies to exit include Apple, Boeing, Caterpillar, Coca-Cola, Disney, Exxon, Ford, JPMorgan, MasterCard, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Nike, Visa and many more.

“There’s no middle ground here,” Sonnenfeld told CBS News earlier this month. Government sanctions “rarely succeed completely on their own – they need fairly universal support from the business community to truly cripple an economy as intended.”

Congress turns up the heat

Asked about food companies such as Cargill and ADM that still operate in Russia, the White House said it had not asked any specific company to pull out of the country.

“We applauded those who made this decision, and they are going to have to make decisions that affect them,” press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters during a press briefing on Monday.

The companies could come under pressure from Congress to leave Russia. Representative Carolyn B. Maloney on Monday introduced a bill that would ban the United States from buying products and services from companies operating in Russia.

“For four weeks, the world watched in horror as Russian forces launched barbaric attacks against Ukraine, a peaceful and independent country,” the New York Democrat said in a statement.

“With the devastating images of thousands of innocent civilians killed and injured in Ukraine – including American journalists – it is essential that the United States increase pressure to weaken Russia’s ability to finance this unprovoked war,” said Maloney. “While many companies made the right decision to end or significantly reduce their operations in Russia, others did not.”

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