Has Ben & Jerry’s gone too far with its stand on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
Ben & Jerry’s set off a global firestorm after the Unilever-owned brand announced last week that it would no longer do business in occupied Palestinian territory.
“We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” the company wrote. “We also hear and recognize the concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners.”
The ice cream brand, known for its progressive politics and founded by two Jewish Americans, plans to cancel its license with its Israeli distributor when it expires in 2022.
The Israeli government accused Ben & Jerry’s of joining a Palestinian-led boycott campaign against Israel and urged 35 U.S. states to punish Unilever under anti-boycott laws. Unilever risks losing investments from pension funds and contracts with public institutions. The strong reaction was prompted over concerns other companies could follow Ben & Jerry’s lead.
Several grocery stores that are Jewish-owned or in predominantly Jewish neighborhoods in the U.S. and Australia have begun pulling the ice cream brand from their shelves.
Unilever CEO Alan Jope said on a quarterly analyst call last Thursday that Ben & Jerry’s made the decision on its own. As part of the purchase agreement in 2000, Ben & Jerry’s maintained broad independence over its social justice policies.
“Obviously it’s a complex and sensitive matter that elicits very strong feelings,” Mr. Jope said. “If there is one message I want to underscore in this call, it’s that Unilever remains fully committed to our business in Israel.”
Israel captured and has controlled the disputed territory since the 1967 Mideast war. In recent years, opposition to the occupation has increased.
In the findings of the 2020 Porter Novelli Executive Purpose Study, 73 percent of 150 business executives surveyed believe companies have more responsibility than ever before to address social justice issues. The top barriers to taking stands on social justice issues included stakeholders all wanting different things, cited by 43 percent; lack of internal alignment/action on issues, 28 percent; and fear of retaliation from different stakeholder groups, 27 percent.
- Ben & Jerry’s Will End Sales of Our Ice Cream in the Occupied Palestinian Territory – Ben & Jerry’s
- Unilever PLC (UL) Q2 2021 Earnings Call Transcript – The Motley Fool
- Israeli leaders are asking states to sanction Ben & Jerry’s after Palestinian boycott – USA Today
- Ben & Jerry’s Decision to Stop Sales in West Bank Puts Unilever in Tough Spot – The Wall Street Journal
- Florida and Texas Threaten Sanctions Against Ben & Jerry’s Over Israel Boycott – Newsweek
- Israel vows to ‘act aggressively’ against Ben & Jerry’s – The Associated Press
- Texas and Florida get involved in Israel’s fight with Ben & Jerry’s over West Bank boycott – CNBC
- 73 Percent of Business Executives Agree Companies Have More Responsibility Than Ever Before to Take Stands on Social Justice Issues, According to Research by Porter Novelli – Porter Novelli/PRNewswire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Did Ben & Jerry’s make the right move? What lessons does the uproar over Ben & Jerry’s announcement offer around companies taking stands on social issues?