Ben & Jerry’s alleges Unilever ‘usurped’ company board in Israel dispute

Ben & Jerry’s co-founders have accused parent Unilever of usurping its independent board of directors as the ice cream brand battles a US lawsuit over sales in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Speaking publicly for the first time about the lawsuit, Ben & Jerry’s founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield said the British consumer goods giant broke a vesting clause that gives the cream company frozen independent control of its social mission.

“Unilever usurped their authority and reversed a decision that had been made. And we can’t allow that to happen,” Cohen said in an interview with MSNBC on Sunday. “It’s basically saying, ‘well, independent advice doesn’t matter.'”

The comments escalated a brawl between Ben & Jerry’s of Vermont and Unilever that is unfolding in US district court. In June, Unilever sold the Israeli ice cream maker business to a local licensee.

The sale was designed to quell a controversy that engulfed the company when Ben & Jerry’s said last year it would halt ice cream sales in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in apparent protest against the Israeli occupation. .

Last July, Ben & Jerry’s filed a lawsuit alleging the license sale breached the terms of Unilever’s 2000 takeover, which allowed the ice cream maker to retain an independent board in under a unique arrangement that gave it the autonomy to focus on social issues.

“The independent board of directors has authority over the company’s social mission,” Greenfield said on MSNBC. “For us to be able to sell the business, it was essential that we had this unique agreement in place. . . The agreement lasts in perpetuity. And so we have to respect it. »

Neither Cohen nor Greenfield serve on Ben & Jerry’s board of directors. In August, Ben & Jerry’s lost a preliminary injunction to block the sale of Unilever to allow its products to be sold or distributed in the West Bank. Ben & Jerry’s must file an amended lawsuit by September 27, the court heard.

Asked about allegations of anti-Semitism following Ben & Jerry’s announcement last year, Cohen, who identified as Jewish, replied: “If I care about the Palestinian people as much as the Israeli people, is is Semitic?”

“There are mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers in Palestine that I care about,” he said. “I care about their human rights.”

Unilever did not immediately respond to a request for comment outside of normal business hours.

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