While major technology firms like Apple, Microsoft and Samsung and businesses including Visa, Paypal and Netflix have shuttered operations or cut ties with Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, other large Western companies are facing threats of boycotts unless they follow suit.
Several food and drink firms such as McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King, Starbucks, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have been criticised for staying largely silent about the war and are under increasing pressure from social media users and leading figures to pull their business from the country.
New York state’s pension fund – a shareholder in Coca-Cola and PepsiCo – has urged them and others to consider their operations there.
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The letters from New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli urged companies to review their businesses in Russia because they face “significant and growing legal, compliance, operational, human rights and personnel, and reputational risks”.
Pausing or ending operations in Russia “would address various investment risks associated with the Russian market and play an important role in condemning Russia’s role in fundamentally undermining the international order that is vital to a strong and healthy global economy,” the letter said.
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In the UK, Lord John Mann wrote on Twitter: “If Mcdonald’s and Starbucks continue to sell in Russia then an international boycott of their products should be instigated.”
Dragon’s Den investor Deborah Meaden also spoke out on social media against Coca-Cola, urging people to stop drinking it.
Can you stop drinking Coca Cola please. They are refusing to withdraw from Russia. Let’s show them some people power.
— Deborah Meaden 🇺🇦 (@DeborahMeaden) March 4, 2022
Many of the companies coming under fire have hundreds of locations in Russia.
Coca-Cola and PepsiCo operate large bottling plants in the country.
Russian state-owned news agency TASS reported last week that Coca-Cola “continues its operations in Russia”.
“All operational, production, and logistics facilities of Coca-Cola in Russia are working. We are fully responsible to partners, society, and thousands of our employees in Russia. Our top priority is the safety of our employees,” it quoted the company as saying.
Coca-Cola announced last week it would be donating €1m (£829,700) to support the Red Cross in Ukraine and a further €550,000 (£456,000) to support refugees in neighbouring countries.
In a statement on Thursday on its website, Coca-Cola said everyone at the firm has been following the news from Ukraine “with heavy hearts” and the company will “continue to monitor the situation closely”.
It continued: “Our focus is on our people and supporting humanitarian relief efforts in Ukraine and the region. Our actions are coordinated with our bottling partner, Coca-Cola HBC. Together, our priority is the safety and wellbeing of our employees and their families. We remain in constant contact and are doing everything we can to support them and our communities.”
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KFC in August 2021 hailed the opening of its 1,000th restaurant there, and as of 31 December last year, McDonald’s said it had 847 outlets in Russia of which it owned 84% – the rest are franchises, according to its website.
KFC and McDonald’s have temporarily closed their restaurants across Ukraine and are helping to feed soldiers and civilians on the ground, according to a report by The Kyiv Independent last week. McDonald’s is said to have donated food, water, vegetables and fruit to local authorities for distribution, while KFC reportedly opened its kitchens to prepare meals.
In a recent statement, Kevin Johnson, the president and chief executive officer of Starbucks, condemned “the unprovoked, unjust and horrific attacks on Ukraine by Russia”, adding its 130 stores which he said “are wholly owned and operated by a licensed partner” remain open in Russia.
“I want to express deep care for the livelihoods of our 2,000 green apron partners in Russia,” he said.
“In times like these, as a company and as partners, we strive to never be a bystander. Partners’ perspectives continue to help inform the actions we will take.”
He added: “We will donate any royalties we receive from our business operations in Russia to humanitarian relief efforts for Ukraine… The Starbucks Foundation has contributed $500,000 (£382,000) to World Central Kitchen and the Red Cross for humanitarian relief efforts for Ukraine.”
Burger King owner, American-Canadian Restaurant Brands International, which has around 550 locations in Russia, expressed concern about the impact of the war on its business in its recent annual report: “The conflict between Russia and Ukraine could adversely impact economic conditions and demand for dining out as well as result in heightened economic sanctions from the US, Canada and other countries in a manner that may adversely affect us and our franchisee’s restaurants located in Russia and Eastern Europe.”
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Several Ukrainian supermarket chains including Novus have announced they would be boycotting Coca-Cola products.
In a Facebook post, Novus said: “Our supermarket chain no longer cooperates with the Coca-Cola company, which continues to operate in the territory of the aggressor.”
In a statement on its website the Ukrainian Retailers Association also called on other groups to join the boycott.
“It is incomprehensible and surprising the position taken by some international companies, which, despite the sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union, decided to continue to operate their enterprises in the aggressor state,” said chairman Andriy Zhuk.
Sky News has contacted McDonald’s, KFC, PepsiCo and Burger King for comment.