May 20, 2022

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Protesters vent their anger at a French company because of their stay in Russia

Protesters vent their anger at a French company because of their stay in Russia

WARSAW, Poland (AP) – A man in Russian military uniform stood at the entrance of a major home improvement store in the Polish capital, greeting shoppers and thanking them for financing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine..

His chest was decorated with medals, and Polish activist Arcadiusz Zczhurek was protesting against French retailer Leroy Merlin in Warsaw as shoppers flocked to buy plants and gardening equipment as spring arrived. Some shoppers turned around to go elsewhere. Others were indifferent or annoyed.

“Millions of Ukrainians have been forced to flee from bombs and shootings, (and) people are dying,” Ukrainian activist Natalia Panchenko said at last weekend’s rally. “But they continue to do business and see no problem with financing the war.”

This represents Poland’s latest protest against Leroy Merlin’s decision to continue to operate 112 stores in Russia, even as several other Western companies suspend operations. there. Leroy Merlin commented only by saying that she was not responsible for the war. It is among the foreign companies with a large footprint in Russia that have had to choose between taking the financial hit from leaving or facing reputational damage by staying.

It’s a sore choice for companies based in countries like France and Italy, who do extensive business in Russia and monitor future trade once the war is over. However, many companies with large stakes in Russia have pulled out and are taking hits to their bottom line.

McDonald’s closed 850 stores in Russia in March, but it still pays its 62,000 employees. The fast-food chain said it was losing $55 million a month in sales from Russia and expected to lose $100 million in inventory due to store closures. Shell Energy says it charges $3.9 billion To cover the cost of exiting investments in Russia, while rival BP said it was getting $25.5 billion in pre-tax fees to give up its stake in Russian energy producer Rosneft.

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Other companies are still partially operating in Russia. PepsiCo, Nestle and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson are still providing essentials like medicine and baby formula while halting non-essential sales. Italian tire maker Pirelli and Danish brewer Carlsberg They say they are working enough to support their Russian workers.

Leroy Merlin, which has stores similar to Home Depot, is among the foreign companies with the highest revenue in Russia. She says she has helped Ukrainian refugees, including her own workers. Parent company Adeo Group in Paris did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Such French companies with large operations in Russia are distinguished Written by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as an aid to the Russian war effort. In a speech to the French parliament in March, he mentioned carmaker Renault and Leroy Merlin and two other retailers affiliated with the Adeo group: supermarket chain Auchan and sporting goods chain Decathlon.

Soon, Renault and Decathlon said they would suspend Russian operations, but Leroy Merlin and Auchan stayed behind.

To many in Ukraine, where Leroy Merlin closed its six stores amid the bombings, this sounds like betrayal. In Poland, which borders Ukraine and has taken in more refugees than any other country, many people are highly critical of the French company.

Poland is a member of NATO, but there are still fears that it could also become the target of the Kremlin’s renewed colonial ambitions, especially if Russia claims victory in Ukraine.

Dominic Josorowski, the largest organizer of the Polish Leroy Merlin boycott movement, believes that withholding business from a company that is a major taxpayer in Russia is one of the few tangible things that ordinary people can do to influence the outcome of the war.

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“If we, as Western countries, support the survival of companies in Russia, we pay Putin to invade us eventually,” he said. “I refuse to believe that my people, the Polish people, could not make such a small gesture of solidarity during the genocide as choosing another store a few kilometers away.”

During last weekend’s sit-in, activists carried a poster of a container next to Leroy Merlin’s green logo, calling it a “corpse chest” with the message “Leroy Kremlin supports Russian invasion.”

It was designed by artist Bartłomiej Kiełbowicz, who also created fake labels that people would stick on shelves inside Leroy Merlin stores, including a broom and sink to “take away guilt”. There is another way for hammers – “to kill”.

Andrzej Kubisiak, deputy director of the Polish Economic Institute, said it was too early to know the full impact of the protests, but the street traffic control app showed less traffic in Leroy Merlin, Auchan and Decathlon stores. The Polish Bank’s analysis of card payments also shows a decrease in purchases.

But Kubisiak said the historic boycott movements are losing steam over time, and he predicts that movement will too, because the Poles, facing inflation over 12%, will drive consumer prices. Before everything. All three French retailers are known for their competitive prices.

Polish shoppers’ reactions to the protests were mixed.

Wiesław Bobowik, a 64-year-old teacher, said he found the boycott ridiculous and had not been persuaded to shop elsewhere.

“I will hurt the French, and they are our friends,” he said, carrying potted plants and large bags of soil in the trunk of his car. “Why would I do that?”

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Activists are also encouraging people not to shop in Auchan. But Gąsiorowski said the movement is mostly focused on Leroy Merlin because it was the foreign company with the second highest revenue in Russia in 2020, after cigarette maker Philip Morris International, which suspended its investments. Auchan was number 6.

But he maintains that the movement is greater than that of Leroy Merlin.

“Every other company looks at them as an example,” he said. “If they succeed while cooperating with Putin, then all the major players will return to Russia.”

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Colin Barry in Milan, Anne de Inocenzio in New York, DeAnn Durbin in Detroit, and Kelvin Chan in London contributed to this report.