McDonald’s finally bows to pressure and shuts all 850 stores in Russia over ‘unspeakable suffering’ in Ukraine

Hashtag #BoycottMcDonalds was trending over the weekend as the company refused to take a stand against Russia

Rachel Sharp
Tuesday 08 March 2022 19:00
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McDonald's has finally bowed to pressure and announced that it will shutter all 850 stores in Russia in response to President Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine.

CEO Chris Kempczinski sent an email to all its employees and franchisees on Tuesday announcing that it will temporarily close all restaurants and pause all operations in Russia, citing the “unspeakable suffering to innocent people” in Ukraine.

All its 62,000 employees in Russia will still be paid and the fast food giant’s charity arm - the Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) - will continue to operate in the country.

“The conflict in Ukraine and the humanitarian crisis in Europe has caused unspeakable suffering to innocent people,” Mr Kempczinski said.

“As a System, we join the world in condemning aggression and violence and praying for peace.”

McDonald’s had been coming under increasing pressure over the last week as at least 250 major corporations pulled out of Russia while the fast food giant stayed put.

The hashtag #BoycottMcDonalds was trending on Twitter over the weekend as social media users called on consumers to shun its food so long as it continued to do business with Russia.

New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli sent a letter to several major companies including McDonald’s on Friday warning that they face “significant and growing legal, compliance, operational, human rights and personnel, and reputational risks” by remaining in Russia.

Yale University professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, who has been compiling a list of major companies who continue to operate in Russia, said that McDonald’s refusal to cease operations in Russia was especially “bewildering to all its peers” because it controls more than 85 per cent of restaurants in Russia - as opposed to them being franchises.

According to the company’s website, McDonald’s has around 850 restaurants in Russia, which altogether account for around 9 per cent of its global revenues.

In the memo, obtained by The Independent, Mr Kempczinski sought to explain the reason for its delay in taking a stand against the Kremlin.

He said that the the situation was “extraordinarily challenging for a global brand like ours” and there were “many considerations” - including that the company believes “communities are made better” by their fast food restaurants.

“In recent days, I have spoken with and heard from many in our System about our operations in Russia,” he said.

“The situation is extraordinarily challenging for a global brand like ours, and there are many considerations.”

He added: “For 66 years, we have operated with the belief that communities are made better when there’s a McDonald’s nearby.”

Mr Kempczinski said that McDonald’s employs 62,000 people in Russia, works with hundreds of local suppliers and partners and serves millions of customers a day but “our values mean we cannot ignore the needless human suffering unfolding in Ukraine”.

The CEO said that McDonald’s has provided “immediate financial support to our team in Ukraine”, including continuing to pay their full salaries, donating $5million to its employee assistance programme and supporting Red Cross relief efforts.

“Our number one priority from the start of this crisis has been – and will remain – our people,” he said.

“The RMHC Poland Care Mobile is at the Polish-Ukrainian border to provide medical care and humanitarian aid for families and children, and another Care Mobile is on the way from RMHC Latvia.

“Additionally, RMHC Ukraine is deploying medical supplies and providing humanitarian aid throughout the country, and its programs are being repurposed for use by hospital personnel.”

The company will “continue to assess the situation and determine if any additional measures are required”, he said, adding that it is not possible to predict when restaurants are likely to reopen in Russia.

Along with McDonald’s, several other major global corporations including PepsiCo and Coca-Cola have come under increasing pressure in the last few days as they have stayed silent around Mr Putin’s attack and refused to cut ties with Russia.

#BoycottCocaCola and #BoycottPepsi have also been circulating online and three Ukrainian supermarkets announced they were pulling all Coca-Cola products from their shelves.

While these companies have failed to take action, dozens of major brands have taken a stand.

Tech giants Apple and Netflix ceased all services, luxury brands Prada and Chanel shuttered stores, oil giant Shell said it would stop buying Russian oil and gas and shuttered gas stations, and online platforms Google and Microsoft limited access to Russia’s state-run propaganda.

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