Unilever criticized over £750m Russia sales bonanza: Marmite and Cornetto accused of making ‘blood money’ by refusing to move out of the country
The British company behind Marmite and Cornetto was last night accused of making ‘blood money’ after three-quarters of a billion pounds were sold in Russia.
Unilever, whose brands also include Dove soap and Hellmans mayonnaise, has sparked outrage by refusing to exit the country in the wake of Ukraine’s invasion.
In bumper results yesterday, the firm reported sales of £750 million in Russia for 2022 and profits of £147 million.
‘Blood money’: in a bumper set of results yesterday, Unilever, driven by boss Alan Jopp (pictured), reported sales of £750m in Russia and profits of £147m for 2022
Campaigners said the amount Unilever was making from Russia ‘exceeded our worst fears’ and branded the sale ‘blood money’.
This is a huge embarrassment for a firm known for trying to burnish its ‘whimsical’ reputation.
US anti-corruption campaigner Bill Brower said: ‘Unilever management have blood on their hands after profiting from the Russian economy. History will judge this decision very badly.
Unilever, whose list of household staples also includes Domestos bleach, and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream defended their positions.
Chief executive Alan Jopp argued that leaving Russia was ‘not straightforward’ and that it was not trying to protect business interests by staying.
The 60-year-old, who is due to step down in July, said that leaving Unilever would leave the running of Unilever in the hands of Vladimir Putin and its assets and brands would be “appropriated by the Russian state”.
He also said that it would be ‘not right’ to lay off 3,500 employees, adding the company was supporting efforts to ‘maximise’ the people suffering in Ukraine, such as through donations to UNICEF.
However, it will ‘continue to review and disclose the financial impacts from the conflict’.
But the Moral Rating Agency, a lobby group that monitors Western firms operating in Russia, called on Unilever to ‘speak ethically and stand up for democracy and decency’.
After estimating last week that Unilever made £556 million in sales in Russia last year, the agency’s founder Mark Dixon said: ‘Unilever’s blood money exceeds our worst fears. They are roasting Russia and making fun of all civilized people.
‘Unilever should stop hiding behind its balance sheet and face the reality that selling ice cream can pay for Putin’s bullets.’
Labor MP Chris Bryant said: ‘I cannot believe the excuses. It seems as if either they have completely lost their sense of common decency, or they are happy to be a participant in Russia’s war.’
In March, Unilever pledged to create an economic cordon across the country, suspending all imports and exports of its products into and out of Russia.
It promised to sell only locally manufactured ‘essential food and hygiene products’ in Russia. Since then, it turned out that it still sells Magnums and Cornettos in Russia.
Asked about Ukraine, Jopp said: ‘Of course, we strongly condemn the war in Ukraine as a cruel, senseless, unnecessary act by the Russian state.’
And more price hikes yet to come
Unilever, which makes Magnum ice cream, raised prices by an average of 11.3% last year
Unilever has warned that the price hike is not over yet, even if it exceeds £1 billion per week.
An FTSE 100 company increased prices by an average of 11.3 per cent last year. A 400g jar of Hellmann’s mayonnaise has risen by 42 per cent and a six-pack of Dove soap by 21 per cent to £3.50.
The hike helped Unilever rake in £53.2bn in 2022 – up 14.5 per cent on a year earlier – as profit jumped 25 per cent to £7.3bn. The owners warned that there would be worse to come.
‘We may have passed peak inflation, but we are not yet at peak prices,’ said chief executive Alan Jopp. Finance chief Graeme Pitkeithley insisted overall increases this year would be at a ‘lower rate’ than in 2022.
Jopp denied ‘profiteering’ by using the inflationary crisis as a cover to drive up prices.
He added: ‘Most retailers want to provide the best possible price.’
While prices rose 11.3 percent, sales volume fell 2.1 percent. In the fourth quarter, prices increased by 13.3 percent while volumes declined by 3.6 percent.
Unilever said it was optimistic that sales volumes would recover as inflation eased. Jopp said the company only passed 75 percent of the cost inflation on to customers.
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