Unilever has said it will let Russian employees be conscripted to be sent to Ukraine if they are called up.
The consumer goods giant, which has about 3,000 employees in Russia, has policies that cover the well-being and safety of its workers.
However, in a letter to campaign group B4Ukraine, it said it would comply with Russian conscription law.
Unilever has been under pressure to pull out of Russia, but says the situation is “not straightforward”.
In a letter to B4Ukraine, which campaigns for companies to cease operating in Russia to hurt its economy, Unilever said it “absolutely condemns the war in Ukraine as a brutal, senseless act by the Russian state”.
It also said it had responsibility for its 3,000 workers, adding that it had “global principles including the safety and well-being of our employees”.
Nevertheless, the British firm, which makes products including Marmite and Cornetto ice creams, said it was “aware of the law requiring any company operating in Russia to permit the conscription of employees should they be called”.
“We always comply with all the laws of the countries we operate in,” wrote Reginaldo Ecclissato, Unilever’s chief business operations and supply chain officer.
A spokesperson for the firm declined to say whether any Russian employees had been called up.
Any who are will not continue to be paid by the firm, the spokesperson added.
In its letter, it said it had paid 3.8bn roubles (£33m; $36m) in tax to the Russian state in 2022, which was a similar amount to the previous year.
The majority of its business in Russia is personal care and hygiene products, but it continues to supply ice cream.
At least 25,000 Russians have been killed in the war, according to research by the BBC’s Russian service and Russian website Mediazona, but other sources put the figure much higher.
In February, UK intelligence services estimated that between 40,000 and 60,000 Russian troops had died.
Russian soldiers have also been accused by the UN of war crimes, including rapes, “widespread” torture and killings.
Unilever and other Western firms have been under pressure to pull out of Russia since its invasion of Ukraine.
However, Unilever has said this is “not straightforward”. If it abandoned operations, they would be “appropriated and then operated” by the Russian state.
It has not managed to find a way to sell the business that “avoids the Russian state potentially gaining further benefit, and which safeguards our people”.
It said there were no “desirable” ways forward, but continuing to run the business with “strict constraints” was the best option at present.
However, the Ukraine Solidarity Project, which is part of B4Ukraine, said Unilever’s response was “jaw-dropping”.
“One day you’re manufacturing ice cream, the next you’re gearing up for the front line. You can’t say Unilever isn’t offering its employees varied work experience,” said campaigner Valeriia Voshchevska.
“If this is protecting your workers, I’d hate to see what putting them in harm’s way looks like.”
Source : BBC