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Nestlé, one of the world’s largest food companies, said it was further restricting its operations in Russia. The company announced the move on Wednesday, days after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy publicly criticized it for continuing to do business there.
The Swiss conglomerate said its business in Russia would focus solely on providing essential foods – such as infant food and hospital nutrition – rather than making a profit.
“Going forward, we are suspending renowned Nestlé brands such as KitKat and Nesquik, among others,” he said. “We have already halted non-essential imports and exports to and from Russia, halted all advertising and suspended all capital investment in the country. Of course, we fully respect all international sanctions against Russia.”
Nestlé added that it does not expect to be profitable in Russia, but will donate any profits it makes to aid organizations.
It has come under mounting criticism in recent days for staying in Russia, even as many international companies and global brands have suspended operations in the country and, in some cases, its ally Belarus.
Last week Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal tweeted that he had spoken to the CEO of Nestlé about the consequences of staying in the Russian market, but which he did not seem to understand.
“To pay taxes to the budget of a terrorist country is to kill helpless children and mothers,” he wrote. “I hope Nestlé changes its mind soon.”
Talk to @Nestle CEO Mr. Mark Schneider talks about the side effects of staying in the Russian market. Unfortunately, he shows no understanding. To pay taxes to the budget of a terrorist country is to kill helpless children and mothers. I hope Nestlé changes its mind soon.
— Denys Shmyhal (@Denys_Shmyhal) March 17, 2022
Zelenskyy doubled down on his criticism of Nestlé in a speech that was broadcast to the Swiss people on Saturday, as reported by CBS News and others.
“‘Good food good life.’ This is the slogan of Nestlé. Your company that refuses to leave Russia,” he said. “Even now – when there are threats from Russia against other European countries. Not only against us. When there is even nuclear blackmail from Russia.”
The company was quick to defend itself, with a Nestlé spokesperson telling CNN that it had “significantly reduced” its activities in Russia, including stopping all imports and exports except for products. essentials, such as baby food. It no longer invests or advertises its products there and makes no profit from its remaining businesses, the spokesperson added.
“The fact that we, like other food companies, are providing people with important food does not mean that we are just carrying on as before,” Nestlé said. “We are still one of the few active food companies in Ukraine and sometimes even manage to distribute food in Kharkiv”, in reference to Ukraine’s second city, which has been particularly affected by Russian bombardments in recent days.
Nestlé has around 5,800 employees in Ukraine and around 7,000 in Russia.
On Wednesday, the company said it had already provided hundreds of tons of food and “significant” financial assistance to the Ukrainian people and refugees in neighboring countries, efforts it said will continue.
A page on Nestlé’s website details what it is doing to help Ukraine. These actions include partnering with the local Red Cross and area food banks to distribute essential food, drink and pet food to refugees leaving the country, and providing emergency food for young children. according to World Health Organization guidelines.
This story originally appeared in the morning edition live blog.