Nestlé CEO accused of aiding the killing of ‘defenseless children and mothers’ by refusing to stop doing business in Russia

March 18, 2022, 2:49 PM UTC

Nestlé could be facing a consumer boycott after the government in Kyiv claimed Europe’s most valuable company was complicit in the death of innocent civilians in Ukraine.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal reached out directly to chief executive Mark Schneider to convince him to pull out of a market that accounts for just 2% of the Swiss food group’s global revenue, only to admit failure.

“Unfortunately he shows no understanding,” the head of government wrote in a post that received over 50,000 likes.

“Paying taxes to the budget of a terrorist country means killing defenseless children and mothers.” 

In response, social media quickly began circulating charts detailing which exact brands belong to Nestlé in order to inform consumers what products to avoid during their next trip to the grocery store.

A spokesperson for Nestlé declined to comment on Shmyhal’s remarks, citing conversations with government authorities, while laying out the measures the company has taken thus far to limit its business dealings in Russia

With the war entering its 23rd day, pressure is rising for the international community to take more robust action as whole cities like Kharkiv and Mariupol are leveled by artillery bombardment and 3 million refugees flee the fighting.

Even though the European Union is currently drafting up its fifth package of sanctions, Western corporations are continuing to be singled out for acting in bad faith.

Mykhailo Fedorov, a deputy to Shmyhal who secured Elon Musk’s help to maintain internet service, argued Germany’s SAPmurders Ukrainian children” by continuing to license out its business software to state-controlled Gazprom and Sberbank.

Early on British energy group BP decided to divest its stake in Russian petroleum giant Rosneft, whose exports directly finance Putin’s military operations. Yet the moral imperative of exiting Russia becomes increasingly gray the closer a company comes to providing basic needs to the population at large.

It highlights the precarious situation faced by Nestlé and other consumer branded goods companies like Coca-Cola that sell staples, soft drinks, or even nutrition for pets. 

While Unilever said on March 8 it would continue to supply “everyday essential food and hygiene products made in Russia” to the population, it suspended all imports into and exports out of the country and pledged not to invest or advertise in the country. 

“Nor will we profit from our presence in Russia,” its CEO, Alan Jope, said in a statement.

Shmyhal’s harshly worded accusation leveled at Nestlé was followed hours later by his cabinet colleague from the foreign office, who also singled out the Swiss group for particular shame.

“By refusing to stop business activities in Russia, Nestlé allows Russia’s war of aggression in Europe to continue,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote in another widely shared post, warning the company of “enormous” long-term reputational damage.

Nestlé is no stranger to controversy, or to boycotts.

Perhaps the most famous call to ditch its products came from 1977 until 1984 after it tried to persuade mothers in emerging countries to switch from nursing to baby formula that often was mixed with polluted water.

Hedge fund manager and Russia expert Bill Browder blasted Nestlé’s decision to turn down Shmyhal’s personal entreaty: “What more needs to be said?” 

At the end of the day, however, cold hard business calculations typically win out.

When asked why one major European industrial group decided to continue to operate in Russia while its competitors were either pulling out or mothballing operations, a company source told Fortune privately, “They don’t control 30% of the market like we do.”

Never miss a story: Follow your favorite topics and authors to get a personalized email with the journalism that matters most to you.