Consumers have hit out at French beauty giant Yves Rocher for its part in the jailing of Russian activist Alexei Navalny, a fierce rival and critic of Vladimir Putin, who was sentenced to three years’ jail time for violating parole from a 2014 sentence for embezzlement.
The luxury cosmetics firm was at the heart of the case in 2014, which found Navalny guilty of defrauding the Russian subsidiary of Yves Rocher, a ruling later declared by the European Court of Human Rights as “arbitrary”.
Navalny, as the leading opposition figure to Putin’s regime, who accused the Kremlin of building a secret US$1bn coastal palace, funded by a bribes-for-access scheme, said the case against him was politically motivated.
In August last year, the Russian politician was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent, but returned to Russia last month after receiving treatment in Germany and was immediately arrested.
Since his sentence was read out earlier this week, Yves Rocher has received a flurry of abuse on social media, with some consumers calling for a boycott.
One Twitter user described the firm as “unethical”, while another said that Yves Rocher was “complicit” in Navalny’s imprisonment.
#YvesRocher boycott this unethical company as complicit in crimes against democracy in Russia. Shame on it— and (@theyanis) February 3, 2021
To English-speaking friends: #YvesRocher played a substantial role in charges against Navalny currying favor with Russian gov. The ERCH later ruled them to be fabricated. Now they are avoiding responsibility saying that they are "apolitical". Please boycott them and RT.— Fyodor Kondrashov (@fkondras) February 2, 2021
In a response from Yves Rocher, the French skin care group declared “its total commitment to a respect for individual freedoms”, including those against Navalny, but said it would not “remain silent in the face of unjustified public questionsing”.
Yves Rocher clarified that in 2012 Yves Rocher Vostok, the company's east European subsidiary, was summoned by local Russian authorities for questioning on an investigation into a company belonging to the Navalny brothers, Alexei and Oleg.
“Yves Rocher Vostok’s management had to answer the investigators’ questions and during these interrogations they discovered several important and corroborating clues which made it likely that a fraud had been committed against him [Navalny].”
The statement explained that Yves Rocher Vostok never filed a complaint against the Navalny brothers or made a legal claim.
“We would like to remind you that Groupe Rocher is apolitical,” the firm added.
“To that extent, we do not wish to be used for political purposes or to take part in the current political debate in Russia.”
Since Navalny’s detention, thousands of unauthorised protests have taken place across the country, demanding his release.
“This is the antithesis of our values and our mission,” Yves Rocher continued.
“In addition to working for the common good, our primary objective is, and will remain, the wellbeing of our customers while ensuring the safety of our employees and the preservation of Groupe Rocher’s private interests.”