The immense fallout surrounding Ben & Jerry’s decision to remove themselves from occupied territories in Israel continues to hit at warp speed.
Unilever, the company that has owned Ben & Jerry’s since 2000, has been notified by New Jersey’s state treasury department that it will be divesting $182 million in Unilever which includes stocks, bonds, and other securities based on the 2016 law which prevents New Jersey from investing its pension funds in companies or businesses that engage in boycotts of Israel.
“Following this review, the division reached a preliminary determination that Unilever’s actions did in fact constitute such a boycott,” Shoaib Khan, director of investment, said in a statement via NorthJersey.com. “Upon final determination, no pension fund assets may be invested in the company and DOI shall take appropriate action to sell or divest any pension fund investments.”
Unilever, a British conglomerate, is a multinational consumer goods company whose Englewood Cliffs U.S. headquarters employs roughly 1,600 people, will have 90 days to appeal the state’s decision.
Although Unilever owns Ben & Jerry’s, per the 2000 purchase, the negotiated contract grants Ben & Jerry’s board total independence to make decisions on their social mission. Unilever has never tried to step in since they acquired the famous ice cream makers, and it doesn’t look like they plan to now.
“We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” the company said in a July statement. “We also hear and recognize the concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners.”
Alan Jope, Unilever’s Chief Executive Officer, recently responded to a letter sent by Khan explaining via the New York Post, “This is a complex matter because since we acquired Ben & Jerry’s in 2000, as part of the acquisition agreement, we have always recognized the right of the brand and its independent Board to take decisions in accordance with its social mission. On this decision, it was no different.”
“We have never expressed any support for the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement and have no intention of changing that position,” Jope added.
As for Ben & Jerry’s themselves, a Vermont company founded by two Jewish Americans, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, they said back in July that they would continue to operate in Israel but they would stop their sales in the controversial Palestinian territory settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem. They reiterated at the time; this it was not a boycott of Israel.
Ben & Jerry’s made their position well-known on their website with the July 19, 2021, statement:
We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). We also hear and recognize the concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners.
We have a longstanding partnership with our licensee, who manufactures Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Israel and distributes it in the region. We have been working to change this, and so we have informed our licensee that we will not renew the license agreement when it expires at the end of next year.
Although Ben & Jerry’s will no longer be sold in the OPT, we will stay in Israel through a different arrangement. We will share an update on this as soon as we’re ready.
Included in their statement were answers to a few FAQs. One touched on how they define their “values” stating, “We’re a values-led company with a long history of advocating for human rights, and economic and social justice. We believe it is inconsistent with our values for our product to be present within an internationally recognized illegal occupation.”
Along with New Jersey, there are 29 more states with laws that forbid investment in companies that take part in boycotts that target Israel or Israeli-controlled territories. Arizona is following New Jersey’s lead.
Kimberly Yee, Arizona’s Treasurer, announced last week that they too were pulling Unilever bonds to the tune of $143 million from its funds. US Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) called upon the Department of Commerce to launch an investigation saying that Ben & Jerry’s action may violate the Export Administration Act. New York and Illinois are among other states who have recently warned Unilever that they are considering divesting their pension funds as well.
Original founders Cohen and Greenfield did speak out to the New York Times amongst all this negativity saying that their company’s actions are “not as anti-Israel, but as part of a long history of being pro-peace.”