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Only 18 Swiss companies have completely exited Russia, says Yale professor

Protesters in Bern holding signs asking Novartis and Roche to stop doing business in Russia
Despite calls from protesters like the ones above, pictured in Bern in April 2022, pharma giants Roche and Novartis continue to sell their products in Russia, albeit in a limited manner. © Keystone / Peter Klaunzer

Firms like the industrial corporation ABB, cement manufacturer Holcim and oil trader Vitol are among the few Swiss businesses that have cut ties with Russia since its invasion of Ukraine began nearly a year ago, a list held by Yale University professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld reveals.

Sonnenfeld began compiling the list just days after the war began. It now includes more than 1,300 companies and organisations around the world, including 53 Swiss entities, broken down into five categories, the SonntagsZeitungreportsExternal link. In addition to ABB, Holcim and Vitol, some of the other Swiss firms that had plans to completely stop doing business with Russia or leave the country include chocolate manufacturer Lindt & Sprüngli, and sanitary parts manufacturer Geberit.

Full withdrawals from a country take time, however. ABB told SWI swissinfo.ch last month that it was still “working on completing the exit […] in compliance with all applicable laws and sanctions.”

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At the other end of the spectrum are four Swiss companies that have not changed their strategy and continue doing business as usual in Russia: the chemicals corporation Ems-Chemie, machinery manufacturer Liebherr, wood processor Swiss Krono and consumer goods trader Zepter.

“I don’t want to leave the plants to the Russian state,” EMS-Chemie head Magdalena Martullo-Blocher is quoted as saying. The company has kept its two factories open in Russia despite criticism and having to reduce staff numbers because “business has collapsed”.

One difficulty that companies face, according to the SonntagsZeitung, is a law that stipulates companies can only sell their Russian subsidiaries at a minimum of 50% below market value. Some foreign firms have been banned from selling their subsidiaries altogether.

Suspending operations and downsizing

Many Swiss companies have taken a nuanced approach to the Russian market. Fourteen have suspended operations in Russia but are keeping options open for an eventual return. Among them are watch manufacturers Swatch Group, Richemont and Rolex, commodities trader Glencore, and Zurich-based FIFA, world football’s governing body.

Nine other entities remain open in Russia with significantly downsized operations. They include banks UBS, Credit Suisse and Julius Bär, the logistics giant Kühne + Nagel, and the building materials manufacturer Sika.

The situation is difficult for the banks, the SonntagsZeitung notes, in part because the Russian state has intervened: a court, for example, has barred Credit Suisse from selling its two Russian subsidiaries.

A fifth category of companies that have either halted new investments or limited their sales but otherwise continue to do business in Russia include eight from Switzerland: among them are pharma giants Roche and Novartis (the sale of medicine is exempt from economic sanctions for humanitarian reasons), food producer Nestlé, and chocolate manufacturer Barry Callebaut. Nestlé, the paper points out, continues to sell a large part of its expansive product range in the country.

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