Unilever, the multinational consumer goods company known for its popular brands such as Vaseline, Dove soaps, and Rexona deodorant, has reported a rough fourth quarter due to boycotts against the company over the war in the Middle East. Sales in Indonesia, where Unilever has a significant presence, declined by 15% in the last three months of 2019. The decline was attributed to consumers avoiding the brands of multinational companies in response to the geopolitical situation in the Middle East.
The company’s CEO, Hein Schumacher, acknowledged this during a call on Thursday when he said that Unilever saw double-digit sales decline in the fourth quarter due to geopolitically focused consumer-facing campaigns. This was not an isolated incident as other companies have also made similar statements about boycotts affecting their businesses overseas. McDonald’s recently stated that it is experiencing “meaningful business impact” in the Middle East due to the war. Yum! Brands, which owns KFC and Pizza Hut, said that its chains’ sales were impacted by varying degrees of impact from the conflict in the Middle East region. Starbucks also reported lower earnings due to similar reasons.
Unilever is just one of several companies facing boycotts over their perceived support or ties to Israel’s war in Gaza. Consumers in predominantly Islamic countries like Indonesia are particularly vocal about these issues and have been known to boycott Western companies for what they perceive as supporting or having ties to Israel’s actions. As such, companies operating in these markets must be mindful of how their actions and policies may impact their bottom line and brand reputation.