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Hundreds of thousands of people have left Russia since the Kremlin began ramping up the mobilisation of citizens to the Ukraine frontlines last year

Unilever has said it would comply with a new Russian conscription law that gives the Kremlin the power to send its employees to Ukraine.

The Dove and Cornetto maker has been under fire since the start of the war for refusing to pull out of Russia, where it employs about 3,000 people across four manufacturing sites and a head office.

It has now told campaign group B4Ukraine in a letter that, despite having global policies that cover the wellbeing and safety of staff, it would have to comply with the Kremlin’s conscription law if any of its workers were called up.

The consumer goods giant said it was “aware of the law requiring any company operating in Russia to permit the conscription of employees should they be called”.

“We always comply with all the laws of the countries we operate in,” wrote chief business operations and supply chain officer Reginaldo Ecclissato in a letter to anti-war campaigners, first made public by the BBC.

A spokesperson for the British company did not disclose whether any employees had been conscripted, but said those who were called up to join the frontlines of the Ukraine conflict would not continue to be paid by Unilever.

The company, which also sells Marmite and Magnum ice cream, has received intense backlash in recent months for continuing to operate in Russia, where it also sells essential hygiene and food goods like soap and baby formula.

Read more: Unilever’s new CEO faces renewed calls to exit Russia

However, it has maintained that exiting the country was “not straightforward”, and that it had not yet found a way to sell its business in a way that “avoids the Russian state potentially gaining further benefit, and which safeguards our people”.

It feared abandoning its operations will lead to its assets being “appropriated and then operated” by the state, it said.

This has recently happened to other western businesses, including Carlsberg and Danone, whose assets were seized by Moscow last week as per new rules introduced earlier this year allowing the state to appropriate the operations of companies from “unfriendly” countries.

Ecclissato wrote in the letter to campaigners that closing down its ice cream business in Russia could result in severe penalties from the Kremlin.

“The Russian government has made it clear that the employees of companies in Russia which abandon or run down their business could face criminal prosecution. The closure of our ice cream business could be considered such a breach.”

Read more: Will Unilever finally take a stand on the Ukraine war?

Unilever said none of its options were “desirable” and that the best way forward was to continue running the business with “strict constraints” in place.

It also confirmed it paid 3.8bn roubles (£33m) in tax to the Russian state in 2022, roughly the same as the year before.

The company reiterated it “absolutely condemns the war in Ukraine as a brutal, senseless act by the Russian state and we continue to join the international community in calling for stability and peace in the region”.