ZURICH, Switzerland - The head of Swiss food giant Nestle defended his company's continued presence in Russia, saying that access to food, in particular for babies, is a fundamental right even in a time of war.
Last month the company was called out by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who addressed a demonstration in Bern via video link, and calls for Nestle to boycott Russia have since multiplied.
Nestle halted its investments in Russia following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine on February 24 as well as exports of products Nespresso coffee capsules and San Pellegrino sparkling water.
But it initially continued to ship basic food items as well as pet food, which following activist pressure it reduced to just essentials like baby food and nutritional products.
"Our priority is ... to ensure the supply of basic food and nutritional products, wherever they are needed," chief executive Mark Schneider said in a taped address to a virtual meeting of Nestle shareholders.
He acknowledged the criticism of the company's continued presence in Russia.
"But even in times of war, we are convinced that values and universal principles should continue to apply," said Schneider.
"As a food company, the fundamental right to access to nourriture is essential to us," he added.
Schneider said the company was not seeking profit in Russia, where it employs 7,000 people, adding that any profit earned there would be donated to humanitarian aid groups.
He said the security of its staff in Ukraine, where it has three factories, is also a top priority for Nestle.
"We are with the Ukrainian people, with our 5,800 collaborators in the country and with the international community in the call to peace," said Schneider.