MOSCOW — French cosmetics company Yves Rocher has become the target of Russian political opposition’s rage. What started as a business dispute between the firm and its logistics company has morphed into a war of words on social networks here.
The situation dates back to Dec. 4, when Yves Rocher filed a complaint against the Glavnoye Podpisnoye Agentstvo logistics concern owned by opposition leader Aleksey Navalny and his brother Oleg Navalny regarding what it claims to be an unfair contract signed in August 2008. At the time, Oleg Navalny was working for the Russian Post, which is the national mail carrier. It is alleged that when an Yves Rocher representative approached him, Navalny directed the person to GPA and that the cosmetics maker then signed a contract with the logistics company at rates 60 percent higher than those charged by the Russian Post.
According to the official complaint filed with Russia’s Investigative Committee, which is disliked by Russia’s opposition, the contract “forced Yves Rocher Vostok to use services provided by [GPA] without the possibility of choosing competitors or negotiating the agreed upon prices.” It is claimed that “from August 2008 to November 2012, Yves Rocher Vostok could have incurred large damages.”
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Last Tuesday, liberal Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta posted scans of the complaint online, sparking outrage among the opposition to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. It also prompted a reaction from the opposition in defense of Aleksey Navalny, who has recently been the target of several fraud investigations by the Russian government, as well as severe criticism of Yves Rocher and a call to boycott its products.
Protesters took to Facebook, posting more than 1,000 negative comments on Yves Rocher Russia’s page. On Friday, there were almost 500 comments responding to the beauty company’s statement put up the prior day regarding the dispute, which said it could not comment on the issue and that it would only delete comments offensive to the honor of the company and its employees.
“After this question is resolved, we are sure that no one will have any doubts about our reputation,” it wrote.
Posts on Facebook range from the relatively benign, such as: “Thank you Yves Rocher for making my choice easier before March 8,” referring to International Women’s Day, a state holiday celebrated similarly to Valentine’s Day. More extreme comments included: “Your so-called natural gels couldn’t clean off the dirt you’ve heaped on yourselves.”
Not all members of the opposition are in agreement with an Yves Rocher boycott. In an online article for the liberal, state-owned radio station Ekho Moskvy, activist Valery Morozov wrote, “Normal and honest people, especially those who consider themselves part of the opposition to the corrupt regime of Putin, should stand against the boycott and support Yves Rocher.”
An Yves Rocher spokeswoman had no comment, while calls to Aleksey Navalny were not returned Friday.
Yves Rocher is not the first company to face political-powered boycotts in Russia. Procter and Gamble had its products boycotted by opponents of Putin, when he was prime minister, in March 2012 after the company ran advertisements during the political documentary “Anatomy of a Protest” on state-owned TV channel NTV.