By VANESSA GERA, Associated Press
WARSAW, Poland (AP) – A man in Russian military uniform stands at the entrance of a large home improvement store in the Polish capital, saluting shoppers and thanking them for funding President Vladimir’s war Putin in Russia in Ukraine.
His chest adorned with medals, Polish activist Arkadiusz Szczurek protested the owner of French retailer Leroy Merlin in Warsaw as shoppers flocked to buy plants and gardening equipment on arrival in the spring. Some shoppers turned around to go somewhere else. Some are indifferent or angry.
“Millions of Ukrainians have been forced to flee by bombs and shootings, (and) people have died,” Ukrainian activist Natalia Panchenko said at a small rally over the weekend. “But they went on in business and saw no problem with funding the war.”
It marks Poland’s latest protest over Leroy Merlin’s decision to continue operating 112 stores in Russia, even as several other Western companies have suspended operations there. Leroy Merlin would not comment other than to say that it was not responsible for the war. It is one of those foreign companies with many footprints in Russia that has to choose between taking the financial hit of leaving or dealing with damage to their reputation by staying.
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It’s a painful choice for companies based in countries like France and Italy, which do a lot of business in Russia and continue their visions of future trade once the war is over. However, many corporations with large stakes in Russia have pulled over and are suffering from hitting their lines.
McDonald’s closed 850 of its stores in Russia in March, but still pays its 62,000 employees. The fast-food chain says it will lose $ 55 million a month in sales from Russia and is expected to lose $ 100 million worth of inventory due to store closures. Energy company Shell says it took a $ 3.9 billion fee to cover the cost of exiting Russian investments, while rival BP says it took $ 25.5 billion in fees before the tax to release its assets to Russian energy producer Rosneft.
Other companies are still partially operating in Russia. PepsiCo, Nestle, drugmaker Johnson & Johnson are still supplying necessities like medications and infant formula while stopping unnecessary sales. Italian tiremaker Pirelli and Danish brewer Carlsberg say they are working hard enough to support their Russian workers.
Leroy Merlin, which has stores similar to Home Depot, is one of the foreign companies with the highest revenue in Russia. It says it has helped Ukrainian refugees, including its workers. Parent company Adeo Group in Paris did not respond to numerous requests for comment.
Such French companies with significant operations in Russia were selected by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy who assisted in the Russian war effort. In a speech in the French parliament in March, he mentioned car maker Renault, Leroy Merlin and two other vendors belonging to the Adeo Group: supermarket chain Auchan and sporting goods chain Decathlon.
Later, Renault and Decathlon said they would suspend operations in Russia, but Leroy Merlin and Auchan remained.
For much of Ukraine, where Leroy Merlin closed six of its stores amid the bombings, it seemed like a betrayal. In Poland, which borders Ukraine and accepts more refugees than any other country, many people are very critical of the French company.
Poland is a member of NATO, but there are fears that it could also be a target of the Kremlin’s resurgent colonial ambitions, especially if Russia claims victory over Ukraine.
Dominik Gąsiorowski, top organizer of the Polish Leroy Merlin Boycott movement, believes that restricting the business of a company that is a major taxpayer in Russia is one of the few concrete things that regular people can do to be influenced the outcome of the war.
“If we, as Western countries, support businesses that remain in Russia, we are paying Putin to attack us in the end,” he said. “I refuse to believe that my people, the Poles, cannot make such a small act of unity during a genocide as choose another store a few kilometers away.”
During last week’s picket, activists held up a poster in a container next to Leroy Merlin’s green logo, calling it a “bin for a corpse” with the message “Leroy Kremlin supports the invasion of Russia. “
It was designed by artist Bartłomiej Kiełbowicz, who also made fake labels that people put on shelves inside Leroy Merlin stores, including one for the broom and dustpan “for the removal of guilt. ” There is another for hammers – “for murder.”
Andrzej Kubisiak, deputy director of the Polish Economic Institute, said it was easy to know the full impact of the protests but a move to monitor the app on the streets showed that little traffic was going to the streets. stores at Leroy Merlin, Auchan and Decathlon. A Polish bank analysis of card payments also showed a fall in purchases.
But Kubisiak said boycott activities in history will lose steam over time, and he expects it too, as the Polos, which face inflation of more than 12%, will be swayed by the consumer prices above all. All three French retailers are known for their competitive prices.
The reaction of Polish buyers to the protests was mixed.
Wiesław Bobowik, a 64-year-old teacher, said he found the boycott ridiculous and was not attracted to shopping elsewhere.
“I will hurt the French, and they are our friends,” he said, loading potted plants and large sacks of soil in the trunk of his car. “Why would I do that?”
Activists also urged people not to shop at Auchan. Gąsiorowski said the move focused mostly 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 investments. Auchan is No. 6.
But the movement, he stressed, is bigger than Leroy Merlin.
“Every other company looks at them as an example,” he said. “If they succeed while working with Putin, all the big players will return to Russia.”
Colleen Barry of Milan, Anne D’Innocenzio of New York, Dee-Ann Durbin of Detroit, and Kelvin Chan of London, contributed to this report.
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