French supermarket group Auchan has defended its choice to continue operating stores in Russia, despite calls to close by the Ukrainian president and condemnation from the public in France.
Auchan will so far stay open in Russia as a “human” decision, the CEO of Auchan Retail International, Yves Claude, has said.
He told Le Journal du Dimanche: “It is easy to criticise us, but we are here, we are standing up and working for the civilian population.”
Auchan has been operating in Russia for two decades and employs 30,000 people there, of which 40% are shareholders in the company. It makes 10% of its global sales in the country.
Mr Claude said that he does not wish to deprive his employees of income.
This is despite Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky making an address via live video to the French parliament, in which he accused French companies still operating in Russia of “sponsoring the Russian war machine”.
Mr Zelensky said: “French companies must pull out of the Russian market,” he told French MPs and senators in a live video call today (March 23).
“They must stop financing the deaths of children and women. Everyone must remember that principles are worth more than [financial] benefits.”
But Mr Claude said that Auchan is expecting to make a loss in Russia for 2022, but is staying open regardless.
He said: “We are a discount store and we think that, in a period of high inflation, we are in a position to help protect the purchasing power of inhabitants.”
The CEO added that Auchan has nonetheless suspended its investments in Russia, and that its 232 subsidiary shops operate independently.
Auchan also has 43 stores and 6,000 employees in Ukraine, where conditions are now “extreme”, Mr Claude said. He added that fresh products are now in particularly short supply as 90% of them usually come from within the country itself.
Agreements with bordering countries have been put in place this week, Mr Claude said. He added that Auchan employees from Ukraine who have left the country have been welcomed by their colleagues in other nations, and will be offered roles within the group in their new location.
Shareholders are also set to give part of their dividends to help Ukrainian refugees, he said.
It comes as Leroy Merlin, the French DIY store owned by the same family association as Auchan – the Association Familale Mulliez – has also been accused of “profiting from the Ukraine war” due to its decision to remain operational and expand in Russia.
Connexion readers have also come out in condemnation of Leroy Merlin, Auchan, and other stores still operating in Russia.
One reader simply said: “I would never shop at a company that continued trading with Russia”, while another wrote: “I will certainly not be buying from Leroy Merlin or Auchan after this news. Pity about the former as we are about to start a renovation programme, and would undoubtedly have used them in other circumstances.”
Another said: “I think all members of the Mulliez family who own a number of organisations operating in Russia should hang their heads in shame.”
Pressure mounts on French brands to close stores in Russia
Ukraine war: How French companies with Russian links may be affected
French brand Leroy Merlin accused of profiting from Ukraine war
Yachts, ski chalets, villas: France freezes €850m in Russian assets