Fears are growing for staff at French DIY store Leroy Merlin as the brand continues to refuse to stop trading in Russia and condemnation grows, including from Connexion readers.
Company bosses have admitted that they fear their workers could face confrontation from shoppers angry at the management’s stance and has been advising staff on what to do if they encounter aggressive or confrontational customers.
It comes as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for French companies that are still operating in Russia to “stop supporting the [Russia] war machine”.
On March 23, Mr Zelensky told the French parliament via video call that French brands, also including Renault and Auchan, “must pull out of the Russian market”, and “stop financing the deaths of children and women. Everyone must remember that principles are worth more than [financial] benefits”.
Amid growing speculation and public disconsent, Renault announced on Wednesday (March 23) that they were immediately suspending all activities in their Russian factory. President Macron applauded the decision and said “Renault made the right decision and I respect it”.
‘We cannot leave employees in poverty’
But in a statement, the Leroy Merlin group said: “This would constitute a premeditated bankruptcy, paving the way for collapse, which would strengthen Russia's financial position.”
Jean-Marc Cicuto, from the CFTC union, which represents the brand’s workers, said: “We cannot leave the company's 45,000 employees in Russia in poverty. That's 100,000 people, if we include the employees' families.
“I do not blame Zelensky but honestly, we are financing nothing at all in Russia. The annual business of Leroy Merlin is €4.5billion, which is two days’ worth of fuel. And we are currently even losing money in Russia, that’s for sure.”
Growing public condemnation
However, Mr Cicuto does fear that staff could bear the brunt of public feeling about the issue.
He said: “Two days ago, a customer who saw my Leroy Merlin badge told me in front of the shop that we were killers. In Poland, on the Ukrainian border, our colleagues are saying that they are already receiving a lot of insults.”
Similarly, Philippe Zimmermann, head of Leroy Merlin parent brand Adeo, told La Voix du Nord newspaper that “although I understand the position of the Ukrainian president…[I am] offended to be considered as a sponsor of the war”.
He said: “This could put our employees in danger. In Poland, we have already seen aggressive reactions against our staff.”
In anticipation of problems, the management has now been advising staff on what to do if they encounter aggressive or confrontational customers.
It comes as a letter reported in the UK media, including The Telegraph, that Leroy-Merlin claimed sales for the company have “significantly increased” in Russia since President Vladimir Putin’s government began its invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
It also claimed that the group is looking to expand in Russia to replace its other brands that have closed.
The issue has sparked considerable condemnation from Connexion readers.
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 have in the past purchased paints at Leroy Merlin, but no more! We will not enter those stores.”
Some readers mentioned that they would aim to boycott all of the brands under the Mulliez umbrella. The Mulliez family, or the Association Familiale Mulliez, runs a host of popular French brands including Auchan, Flunch, Adeo, Leroy Merlin, Bricoman, Decathlon, Kiabi, and Pimkie.
One reader said: “I think all members of the Mulliez family who own a number of organisations operating in Russia should hang their heads in shame.
“Not just for continuing their operations there but gleefully announcing plans to expand operations due to the vacuum caused in the market by the departure of other more honourable companies.
“Profit before humanity. I for one will not shop again at Leroy Merlin, Auchan etc unless there is a very rapid policy U-turn.”
Another said: “Yesterday we had planned to visit Leroy Merlin and Auchan. On hearing that both companies are still operating in Russia, and in the case of the Leroy Merlin/Decathlon group looking to expand there taking advantage of the situation, we decided that neither of these companies will benefit from our custom in the future.
“It might prove to be a little inconvenient, but this is nothing compared to the suffering of the Ukrainian people. These companies should hang their heads in shame.”
Another reader said they were planning to boycott a wider range of companies, including Leroy Merlin, which are still operating in Russia.
They said: “I am withholding my custom from Renault, Nestle, Auchan, Leroy Merlin, Decathlon, and Danone at the moment and there are several more that haven't appeared in the press that need boycotting.
“Macron allowing the firms to continue is disgusting and constitutes appeasement [as seen before] World War Two.”