US companies leave Russia in droves amid Ukraine conflict

Hundreds of large U.S. companies have suspended their operations in Russia, including iconic American brands such as McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Disney, amid a corporate exodus from the country.

Corporate America has joined much of the international community in condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin’s violent invasion of Ukraine, while pledging to aid the humanitarian effort. 

Those moves put pressure on the small number of American companies that haven’t yet distanced themselves from Russia to follow in the footsteps of leading U.S. brands. 

“Right now there’s a huge cost to doing any business with Russia,” said Jim Angel, a professor at the Georgetown McDonough School of Business. “There are political costs, social costs and economic costs.” 

Companies are weighing the reputational risk of continuing to do business with Moscow, while also considering the challenge of safely transporting goods through the region and the financial complications stemming from strict sanctions and export controls imposed on Russia by the U.S. and its allies. 

“It’s extraordinarily hard to do business in rubles if you’re an American company, given the various sanctions involved,” Angel said. “You may not be able to get funding to your Russian operations or to take profits out. Being able to transfer money becomes so problematic that many businesses are saying, ‘We can’t do business this way. We’ll shut down.’” 

Papa John’s, which was one of the few remaining holdouts, suspended its corporate operations in Russia on Wednesday. Papa John’s has 186 franchised stores in Russia, making up 8 percent of its restaurants globally. The pizza chain committed to donating food and making financial donations to help Ukrainian refugees. 

As of Wednesday, more than 300 companies have partially or fully withdrawn from Russia amid the invasion, according to a list compiled by Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean at the Yale School of Management. 

Of the U.S. firms halting their operations, McDonald’s has one of the largest footprints. The fast- food giant employs 62,000 Russian workers at around 850 stores and gets 9 percent of its revenue from its locations in Russia and Ukraine, according to recent guidance.  

McDonald’s on Tuesday said it would continue to pay its employees their full salaries while its stores are closed.  

"The conflict in Ukraine and the humanitarian crisis in Europe has caused unspeakable suffering to innocent people,” CEO Chris Kempczinski wrote in a letter to employees. “As a system, we join the world in condemning aggression and violence and praying for peace." 

The Coca-Cola Co. on Tuesday announced that it would halt all of its business operations in Russia. Shortly afterward, PepsiCo Inc. said that it would suspend its soft drink sales and capital investments in Russia. Coca-Cola brings in 1 to 2 percent of its net operating revenue from Ukraine and Russia, while PepsiCo gets around 4 percent of its revenue from Russia.  

PepsiCo added that it would support its 20,000 Russian workers and continue to sell products such as milk and baby food, mirroring a move made by other consumer staple companies. 

“The calculus on continuing to operate is different if you make essentials, so that’s why you see companies that are suspending production on some items but in some cases they are maintaining critical products like baby formula, dairy or toilet paper,” said Katie Denis, vice president of communications at the Consumer Brands Association, which represents Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and other U.S. brands. 

“You don’t want to penalize children or people who have no say in what’s happening by taking away things they depend on,” she added.  

The Yale list names a few dozen corporations that have not yet suspended their Russian operations. Those companies, which include manufacturing giants such as the 3M Co. and Caterpillar Inc., drew criticism from Twitter users this week for staying put in Russia. 

One of the largest brands on the list is Mars Inc., the company behind M&Ms, Snickers and Skittles, which has around $2 billion invested in Russia. The company is donating $2 million toward humanitarian efforts and suspending advertising and new investment in Russia and Belarus, but is not shutting down its existing Russian factories. 

“We join the world in supporting the innocent victims of this war and calling for a peaceful resolution immediately,” Mars CEO Grant Reid said in a statement earlier this month.  

Chemical company Dow Inc., another company on the Yale list, said that it is stopping all investments in Russia and is only supplying essential goods, such as food packaging, hygiene and cleaning products. It’s also providing assistance to its employees in the region and donating $275,000 in humanitarian aid for Ukrainian refugees. 

“Dow stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and denounces Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” Dow spokesperson Kyle Bandlow said in a statement.  

The National Association of Manufacturers, which represents Boeing Co., ExxonMobil and other companies that had to cut ties with Russian suppliers, this week voiced support for sanctions imposed against Russia and called on the nation to be removed from the World Trade Organization.  

“The free world must come together to denounce the unprovoked Russian aggression, save lives and end the humanitarian crisis unfolding before our eyes,” Jay Timmons, the group’s president, said in a statement. “Ending the conflict is also critical to protecting livelihoods in America and around the world. Manufacturers are already feeling the serious economic disruption, which jeopardizes the jobs of America’s manufacturing workers.” 

Most firms in the technology sector, including Microsoft, Google, Netflix, Nvidia, Oracle, VMWare and SAP, among others, have also suspended all or most of their operations in Russia.  

American companies have highlighted their efforts to crack down on Russian propaganda and provide financial support to Ukrainian refugees. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest corporate lobbying group, said Wednesday that businesses have so far donated $127 million toward humanitarian efforts. 

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