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Ukraine Crisis: Retailers React With Direct Support, Charitable Efforts and Product Boycotts

Retailers across the globe are reacting to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in multiple ways: some are refusing to carry Russian products like certain vodka brands; others are donating to relief efforts; and those with close ties to either Russia or Ukraine are monitoring the situation. Additionally, reported claims that Italian fashion companies were seeking exemptions from Russian sanctions have been denied by officials, according to WWD.

Some liquor stores in both the U.S. and Canada have removed Russian alcohol from their shelves, according to The Hill. These changes have been on a retailer-by-retailer in the U.S., with certain independent stores choosing to pull products, but it’s a wider movement in Canada, where the government of Ontario is spearheading the removal.

“Ontario joins Canada’s allies in condemning the Russian government’s act of aggression against the Ukrainian people, and will direct the [Liquor Control Board of Ontario] to withdraw all products produced in Russia from store shelves,” said Peter Bethlenfalvy, Finance Minister of Ontario in a tweet.

Private organizations also are withdrawing products, which will impact availability for certain Canadian retailers. Distributor The Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation will no longer sell Russian Standard Vodka or Russian Standard Platinum Vodka.

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Targeting Help Directly to Ukrainians

Some U.S. retailers are aiming to help Ukraine monetarily, whether directly or through charitable organizations. Etsy is canceling the current balances owed by all sellers in Ukraine, including listing fees, transaction fees and advertising fees. The marketplace estimated that this amounts to a contribution of approximately $4 million directly to its Ukrainian community.

“We’ve long been committed to creating economic opportunities as well as offering assistance in times of distress or injustice,” said Josh Silverman, CEO of Etsy in a statement. “Our efforts to support Etsy sellers in Ukraine are a reflection of that commitment.”

Some retailers without an international presence are offering their support through other organizations. Southeastern Grocers Inc, the parent company of Fresco y Más, Harveys Supermarket and Winn-Dixie, is donating $250,000 to the International Committee of the Red Cross to support Ukraine and its citizens in partnership with the SEG Gives Foundation. The retailer also will donate 100% of proceeds from its private label Ukrainian vodka for the next 31 days.

“At Southeastern Grocers, we are guided by doing the right thing; we recognize the people of Ukraine need our help, and they need it now,” said Anthony Hucker, President and CEO of Southeastern Grocers in a statement. “That’s why we are immediately directing funds to the International Committee of the Red Cross to support the victims of the war in Ukraine. This decision is a natural extension of our belief that there is greater power in unity than there is in division; we believe that we are all stronger together.”

Companies with operations in either Ukraine or Russia have been monitoring the situation, mostly without taking direct action, according to Reuters. German grocery retailer Metro said that its responsibility as a company lies with its employees and customers in Ukraine and Russia. Ingka Group, which operates IKEA stores globally, noted that it will likely be impacted by sanctions but did not comment further.

Rakuten, which operates the Viber messaging app used by 97% of Ukrainian smartphone owners, committed to “maintaining connectivity for Viber users everywhere.” The company will “prioritize their safety” of workers at its office in the Ukrainian city of Odessa and contractors in Kiev, and noted that it will “accommodate their situations if they are prevented from working as usual.”

Wartime can breed misinformation, particularly when economic issues are entwined. This may be the case for the Italian fashion industry, which had just kicked off Milan Fashion Week when the invasion started. Reports that luxury fashion retailers were reportedly seeking exemption from Russian sanctions appeared, but these were deemed false by both government and industry officials.

“We represent all fashion brands and we have not done any kind of lobbying – the government will decide on the measures to take and we will abide by them and adapt to whatever restriction is decided upon,” said Carlo Capasa, President of Italian fashion industry association Camera della Moda in a statement seen by WWD. “At this moment, what is important is the life of people and peace. Actually, we hope that the message that fashion launches about peace, coexistence, inclusivity and social sustainability will make inroads.”

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