McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and other major western food and drink companies are under mounting pressure to pull out of Russia after its invasion of Ukraine, amid calls for consumer boycotts of the brands.
The companies have been criticised for their failure to speak out about the invasion, and for continuing to operate in Russia, while a host of other firms such as Netflix, Levi’s, Burberry and Ikea have halted business in the country.
#BoycottMcDonalds and #BoycottCocaCola have been trending on Twitter since the weekend. Other western food and drink chains including Starbucks, KFC and Burger King are also still operating in Russia.
The American actor and film-maker Sean Penn urged Americans on Twitter to boycott Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and McDonald’s until the companies suspend their operations in Russia. Core Response, the nonprofit group he founded in 2010 in response to the Haiti earthquake, is on the ground in Poland helping Ukrainian refugees.
In the UK, the Dragons’ Den investor Deborah Meaden has also urged consumers to boycott the fizzy drinks giant Coca-Cola.
Nicholas Christakis, a professor of social and natural science at Yale, has similarly condemned Coca-Cola and McDonald’s.
According to its website, McDonald’s had 847 outlets in Russia at the end of last year, the vast majority of which are operated directly by the company, as well as 108 restaurants in Ukraine. Starbuck’s, KFC and Pizza Hut are mostly run by franchisees in Russia.
Yum! Brands, the owner of KFC and Pizza Hut, said nearly all of its 1,000 KFC restaurants and 50 Pizza Hut outlets in Russia were operated by independent owners under licence or franchise agreements. The company has suspended all investment and restaurant development in Russia, and will redirect all profits from operations in Russia to humanitarian efforts.
One of Coca-Cola’s bottling companies, Coca-Cola HBC, announced last week it had paused production at its factory in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and evacuated employees.
McDonald’s and Pepsi, which have had a presence in Russia for decades, have also come under pressure from the boss of New York state’s pension fund.
Thomas DiNapoli, the comptroller of the New York state common retirement fund, wrote to both companies to urge them to review their businesses in Russia because they faced “significant and growing legal, compliance, operational, human rights and personnel, and reputational risks”, Reuters reported.
Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, also called out the two multinationals, when he told CNN two days ago that “all western companies must withdraw from Russia” on humanitarian grounds. “We were upset to hear companies like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s remain in Russia and continue providing their products.”
However, Kathleen Brooks, director at Minerva Analysis, said McDonald’s and Coca-Cola were “very complicated businesses”, which did not make it easy to quit Russia. She told the BBC’s Today programme that Coca-Cola had an “incredibly complicated structure” with bottling plants in Russia.
“I don’t think it’s as simple as saying can you just pull out of Russia,” she said. “These are complicated businesses and there’s a lot to consider, but right now the reputation risk could really hit their share prices so they may have no choice going forward.”
Meanwhile, Swedish flatpack furniture giant Ikea temporarily closed all stores and factories across Russia last week, affecting 15,000 workers, while Germany’s Volkswagen stopped production of vehicles there, and Diageo, which makes Smirnoff vodka and Guinness, said it had paused exports to Russia and Ukraine.
McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have been contacted by the Guardian for comment.