- By Lora Jones
- Business correspondent, BBC News
Beauty giant Avon has been criticized for maintaining ties with Russia despite the ongoing war in Ukraine.
The BBC found that the company is still recruiting new domestic sales agents and continuing production at a large factory in the Moscow region.
Avon, headquartered in the UK, started doing business in Russia 30 years ago.
The company said it provides “vital support” to women whose livelihoods depend on their businesses.
The 137-year-old company is famous for its door-to-door sales representatives who demonstrate first-hand the applications of cosmetics, perfumes and creams.
However, the company has transformed in recent years with a renewed focus on brick-and-mortar stores and social selling.
“We believe that restricting access to their products will have a major impact on women and children there,” the organization said.
However, the BBC found it was still possible to sign up as a new sales agent for the company in Russia, with new recruits being offered prizes, bonuses and even days off if they hit their targets.
This website offers Russian citizens over 18 years old access to “iconic, high-quality products” and describes the additional income they can earn, creating a “private life” of them as a beauty expert.
After registering online, BBC received a welcome email with the opportunity to start the “Easy Start” sales program and contact information for the local coordinator.
In a YouTube video posted on Avon Russia’s 30th anniversary account, senior managers describe award ceremonies, training on social media management and how to improve sales, along with trips abroad considered a reward for top sellers in their “Star Club”.
An Avon spokesperson said: “Avon Russia supports women in Russia through locally sponsored activities to support their social selling business.
“We see this as vital support for women whose livelihoods depend on their Avon businesses.”
Russia is described as a key market for the beauty giant.
Steven Tian, a research team member at Yale University who tracks what companies have done in response to the Ukraine war, said the company should be “ashamed” for continuing to do business in Russia.
“There is no reason to continue funding Putin’s war machine… [there] Enough time has passed to allow companies to withdraw in an orderly manner,” he said.
Mark Dixon, founder of the Ethical Ratings Agency, which campaigns against companies doing business in Russia, accused Avon of “ethical washing” for continuing some operations in the country while the company parent Natura & Co expressed concern about “all those affected by this”. unacceptable aggression” in Ukraine on its website.
Mr Dixon called on Ukraine to ban Avon from operating in the country and called on “Avon’s army of representatives” and consumers to “take a stand”.
“How could it be? [Avon] willing to sell products to women and children from a company that supported the economy behind Putin’s invasion of Ukraine?” he asked.
The company began operating in Russia in the early 1990s and has since achieved enormous success there.
According to Avon’s Russian website, it is the number one perfume brand in the country.
It opened the Naro-Fominsk plant in the Moscow region in 2004, which produces more than 220 types of cosmetics and perfumes. More than 2.5 billion pieces have been produced there since its opening.
Avon told the BBC that the factory in Naro-Fominsk currently only serves the Russian market.
Around the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the company told Interfax news agency they were considering moving production for Eastern European markets from Naro-Fominsk to Poland and it appears they have delivered on this commitment.
When a contact placed an order with Avon in Russia at the end of October last year, three of the four products they received were made at the Naro-Fominsk factory, of which one was made in Poland.
A contact also placed an order with local Avon Ukraine to verify whether exports from Russia were indeed suspended. Five items, previously known to be produced at the Naro-Fominsk plant near Moscow, were ordered and all of them were marked as made in Poland.
Natura & Co previously said there was “no financial advantage” for the company in Russia.
In the latest update for investors, Natura & Co said that in the three months to the end of November, Avon International’s sales fell 11.8% to 1.73 billion Brazilian reais (276 million pounds) compared with the same period a year earlier.
The company was founded in the US in 1886 by David McConnell, who mixed the scent himself in a small office in New York.
Natura & Co’s acquisition of Avon in 2020 is considered a landmark deal, creating the world’s fourth largest cosmetics group.
However, more recently, the Brazilian company said it would sell beauty brand The Body Shop for £207 million “to simplify and refocus operations”.
Owned by Natura & Co, the retailer redesigned its stores and introduced a refill service, but failed to turn its finances around.