Unilever, one of the world’s largest consumer goods conglomerates, acquired Ben & Jerry’s in 2000 in a unique merger deal that gave the ice cream maker’s board the power to protect the company’s “social mission”, which he considers key to its financial success.
Using that authority, Ben & Jerry’s board announced a boycott of West Bank settlements last year, without coordinating with Unilever. The boycott triggered a massive financial setback for Unilever, and Ben & Jerry’s Israel sued the UK-based international over the move.
The two parties reached an agreement earlier this year that gave Ben & Jerry’s Israel the independence to continue sales in Israel and the West Bank under a Hebrew and Arabic brand. Ben & Jerry’s is now suing Unilever over the decision to split its Israeli subsidiary.
“The independent board of directors has authority over the social mission of the company and the essential integrity of the brand,” said Jerry Greenfield. “The company uses its power to solve social and environmental problems around the world and this social mission is integral to the company’s success.”
“Unilever usurped their authority and reversed the decision that was made and we cannot allow that to happen,” Ben Cohen told MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan, a harsh critic of Israel. “We can’t sit idly by while this is happening because it basically means that the independent board doesn’t matter and wants when it comes to the social mission, but Unilever is going all out. just undo it.”
Cohen and Greenfield, both Jews, no longer run the company and rarely speak publicly about its operation.
Critics of the settlement boycott claimed it was anti-Semitic because the company had never attempted to boycott any other region of the world.
“If I care about the people of Palestine as much as I care about the people of Israel, is that anti-Semitic? says Cohen.
“The company’s decision not to sell ice cream in the occupied Palestinian territories is consistent with the values the company has had throughout its history of fighting for human rights and dignity,” said said Greenfield.
“If I care about the Palestinian people like I do in Israel, is that anti-Semitic? They are people. I care about their human rights. @YoBenCohen joined @DonaldTrump to respond to critics claiming that the halt in ice cream sales in the West Bank is “anti-Jewish”. pic.twitter.com/kL2yuFSiHM
– The Mehdi Hasan Show (@MehdiHasanShow) September 19, 2022
The boycott attempt has been a thorn in Unilever’s side for more than a year.
In July 2021, after Israel’s war against terrorists in Gaza and an intense social media campaign against the company, Ben & Jerry’s announced a boycott of the “Occupied Palestinian Territory”. The decision caused deep repercussions for Unilever, as US states enacted anti-BDS divestment laws, pulling hundreds of millions of dollars in investments from the conglomerate.
Israeli franchise owner Avi Zinger and his company refused to comply with the settlement boycott, arguing that it was illegal under Israeli and US law. Their license to sell the ice cream was only due to expire at the end of 2022, meaning the boycott never went into effect.
Ben & Jerry’s Israel sued Unilever over the U.S. dispute in March, claiming Unilever unlawfully terminated its business contract.
In June, Unilever settled with Ben & Jerry’s Israel, granting the Israeli branch the independence to sell its products indefinitely in Israel and the West Bank, using the Hebrew and Arabic branding. Under the agreement, Ben & Jerry’s has no authority over the Israeli franchise.
Shortly after the deal was announced, Ben & Jerry’s sought to block the deal by suing Conopco, Unilever’s main US subsidiary, in US federal court, arguing that Unilever had breached its acquisition agreement. with Ben & Jerry’s, which gave the ice cream maker’s board some independence.
The lawsuit against Conopco and Unilever focuses on the autonomy of Ben & Jerry’s board of directors and its commitment to its “core values” and social mission, which the company says are integral to its identity and its commercial success. Ben & Jerry’s claims its owners violated its board agreements and social commitments by transferring the brand to the Israeli subsidiary.
When Unilever acquired Ben & Jerry’s in 2000, it granted the board autonomy “to safeguard the integrity of essential elements of the Ben & Jerry’s brand,” the lawsuit says.
The decision to boycott the settlements sparked an outcry in Israel and among some American Jewish groups. Critics of the West Bank boycott attempt note that Ben & Jerry’s allows its products to be sold in states with abysmal human rights records, including Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Israel, and Russia. Iran and China. The company has taken no action on other disputed territories, including Tibet, Crimea, Western Sahara and Kashmir.
Supporters of the Boycott Israel movement say that by urging businesses, artists and universities to sever ties with Israel, they are using nonviolent means to oppose unjust policies toward Palestinians. Israel says the movement masks its motives for delegitimizing and destroying the Jewish state.
The case also illustrated the pitfalls of progressive corporate activism, the risks for companies trying to boycott Israel, and the growing role of corporate investment in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the United States.