Despite a month’s worth of pressure, French sportswear retailer Decathlon only just halted operations in Russia this week, citing challenging supply conditions due to international sanctions over the war in Ukraine. The company, which is the largest sporting goods retailer in the world, is owned by the billionaire French retail moguls, the Mulliez family, and their Association Familiale Mulliez. This decision affects Decathlon’s sixty physical stores and an online shop in Russia, which generate only 2 percent of the company’s total revenue, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The Mulliez family also operates Auchan, a company of big-box supermarket and department store hybrids, and Leroy Merlin, a home improvement and gardening chain, which have both been heavily criticized for doubling down on continuing business in Russia in spite of being called out by name in Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s March 23 address to the French Parliament. “Everyone should remember that values are more important than profits, humans are more important than profits,” he said through a translator in a plea to French companies to leave the Russian marketplace. “We need more than just oxygen, we need to act together, we need to put pressure on Russia together to force them to seek peace.”
Ukrainian officials called for a boycott of Mulliez-owned businesses
Decathlon has faced calls for boycott on social media as well as a reportedly brief distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS) against their website perpetrated by the proclaimed “hacktivist” collective, Anonymous. Anonymous, the decentralized movement known for targeting governments and organizations in the name of social or political causes, has resurfaced to take aim at the Russian leadership and any perceived sympathizers. The cyber group has also claimed successful hacks against Russia’s Central Bank and the Russian state television broadcaster. But it wasn’t until the day after Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, criticized Auchan and tagged Decathlon in a tweet Monday insisting on a boycott that the sporting goods company took action. “Apparently, job losses in Russia are more important than the loss of life in Ukraine,” Kuleba said. It is unclear whether his words had any effect on the company’s decision.
Europe’s Rush to buy Survival Gear
The moral importance of Decathlon remaining shutdown in Russia becomes clearer as the company is seeing a rise in sales elsewhere due to an unintended consequence of the war. In Europe, Reuters reports that Europeans are stocking up on survival gear as the conflict spreads unease and uncertainty.
Consumers are also stocking up on items to donate to refugees. Decathlon noted a jump in demand for sleeping bags and other camping products as Germany now has about 300,000 Ukrainian refugees registered, according to Deutsche Welle.
A statement published on Decathlon’s website said it has a solidarity unit setup in Poland that helps distribute their donation of equipment and products worth 2.6 million euros with the help of local non-governmental organizations. The statement also notes a 1 million euro fund set up by the company to support the affected populations, some of which may be their own 125 Ukrainian employees from their three stores in Kyiv and one in Odessa whom the company has committed to support.