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Investors don’t care that we trade in Russia, says Cadbury owner

cadbury chocolate
cadbury chocolate

The boss of Mondelez, the owner of Cadbury, has claimed that investors do not “morally care” about it continuing to do business in Russia.

Dirk Van de Put, chief executive of Mondelez, which has owned Cadbury since 2010, defended its decision to keep doing business in Russia despite criticism from campaigners.

Mondelez is one of the world’s largest food and drink companies, with global sales of $36bn (£28bn) in 2023. It also owns Toblerone, Maynards Bassetts and the Philadelphia cream cheese brand.

Russia accounted for 2.8pc of Mondelez’s global sales last year, falling from 4pc in 2022. It employs almost 3,000 people in the country across three manufacturing plants, and has begun operating its Russian business as a separate, standalone entity.

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Mr Van de Put said in an interview with the Financial Times that there had been “no shareholder pressure whatsoever” to quit doing business in Russia. He added that he had faced some questions from a handful of European funds but there had been “no request to leave Russia from any of our investors”.

“I don’t think [investors] morally care,” he said.

However, he added: “If you have an important Russian business, the hit on the company would be huge, and that becomes a different discussion.”

He defended his stance on the basis that the assets of Western companies exiting Russia could end up in the hands of people and entities close to Vladimir Putin’s regime.

Mr Van de Put added: “I wonder what happened with the companies that were sold, who got them and what are they doing with the cash that those companies generate? They all went to friends of Putin.”

Mondelez chief executive Dirk Van de Put
Mondelez chief Dirk Van de Put says there has been ‘no shareholder pressure’ to quit doing business in Russia - Andrew Fox

Western companies that have continued to trade in Russia have faced mounting anger from campaigners, who have accused them of indirectly contributing to the Kremlin’s war effort by paying taxes in the country.

A spokesman for B4Ukraine, a group of more than 80 nonprofits who are urging multinationals to leave Russia, said: “The comments of the CEO of the Cadbury maker Mondelez highlight complete moral bankruptcy of the American snacking giant. We are not surprised as our numerous attempts to engage with the company have fallen on deaf ears.

“Such comments ignore over 125,000 war crimes committed by Russia in this illegal invasion and the responsibility of business to protect human rights under the UN Guiding Principles.

“There is no mention of the appeal from over 1,200 of Mondelez’s global staff to exit Russia and the extensive boycott of its products across Scandinavia.”

Mondelez has been called an “international sponsor of war” by Ukraine’s National Agency on Corruption Prevention. It has also faced boycotts from companies in Scandinavia, which stopped selling its products over its stance on Russia.

Christopher Ford, secretary of the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign, said: “Any company that operates in Russia should have UK contracts rescinded and put on notice of public boycott and disinvestment. The lives of Ukrainians have greater value than the immoral profiteering of such investors.”

Mondelez’s three biggest shareholders, the investment firms Vanguard, Blackrock and The Capital Group, all declined to comment. However, Vanguard has previously said that it donates to organisations providing supplies and resources to Ukrainian children and families, and that it “moved swiftly” to carry out sanctions levied against Russian entities.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, the Conservative MP who has called for seized Russian assets to be used to rebuild Ukraine, said: “Just as we don’t want companies trading with North Korea, we don’t particularly want companies trading with Russia, either.

“You’ve got to make it clear to the Russian government and Russian people that what they’re doing in Ukraine is completely unacceptable.”

Unilever chief Hein Schumacher
Unilever chief Hein Schumacher says remaining in Russia is the ‘least bad option’ for the company - UNILEVER/FRIESLANDCAMPINA

Other consumer giants such as Unilever and Bacardi have been criticised on similar grounds, while some Western companies that have tried to sell their Russian businesses have had them confiscated by the state.

Carlsberg and Danone’s Russian subsidiaries were both commandeered by Russian authorities last year after Mr Putin signed a decree giving Russia fresh powers to take control of Western assets.

Hein Schumacher, the chief executive of Unilever, said in July that continuing to do business in Russia was the “least bad option” for the company.

He said at the time: “The first option is to abandon our business. We feel that, in effect, that could result in it being nationalised, given all of the developments that have recently taken place.

“The second option is to sell the business, but the reality is, we have not found a viable solution that meets our stated objectives. None of the options are actually good, but the final option of operating our business in a constrained manner is the least bad and that is where we are.”

A Mondelez spokesman said: “In terms of our operations in Russia, there is no simple solution. If stopping our operations in Russia would stop the war, we would do it immediately. Unfortunately, it is not that straightforward.

“Like most other global food and beverage companies, we are continuing to provide food during these challenging times in accordance with applicable sanctions.

“Suspending our operations would mean cutting off part of the food supply for many families who have no say in the war. It would also create great uncertainty for our ~3,000 colleagues and more than 10,000 farmers who depend on us.”