After a backlash when the ice cream company announced it would discontinue sales in Jewish West Bank settlements, Unilever Plc sold its Ben & Jerry’s business in Israel.
The Anglo-Dutch consumer giant said that Avi Zinger, the proprietor of American Quality Products Ltd. and its current local licensee partner, will now have the authority to sell Ben & Jerry’s throughout Israel and the West Bank using its Hebrew and Arabic names. According to the business, this will “ensure the ice cream stays available to all consumers.”
After Ben & Jerry’s, a company known for publicly supporting socially progressive causes like same-sex marriage and the Black Lives Matter movement, announced that it would stop selling ice cream in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, Unilever found itself at the center of a political controversy.
At the time, Unilever was informed by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett that the “blatantly anti-Israel” choice would have “serious repercussions, legal and otherwise.” Additionally, as a result of Ben & Jerry’s attitude, U.S. funds, such as those run by the states of New York, Illinois, New Jersey, Florida, and Texas, sold their shares in Unilever.
Terry Smith, the creator of Fundsmith and a significant investor in Unilever, expressed displeasure with the Ben & Jerry’s Israel crisis and criticized the consumer behemoth for its excessive attention to matters unrelated to the sale of food, which is its primary business.
Zinger sued Unilever in March, claiming that the choice was illegal under both Israeli and U.S. law.
Even though Ben & Jerry’s has been under Unilever’s ownership for more than 20 years, the ice cream maker has its own board and upholds independence with regard to its social goal and brand integrity.
According to the terms of their acquisition agreement from 2000, Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s independent board have equal authority to decide on the social mission of the company, but Unilever “reserved primary responsibility for financial and operation decisions and therefore has the right to enter this arrangement,” the company said on Wednesday.
Unilever claimed to have conducted a thorough study of “this complex and sensitive matter” over the course of several months, including discussions with the Israeli government.
We have never expressed any support for the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement and have no intention of changing that position, Unilever said.
In addition to Ben & Jerry’s, Unilever offers a variety of household goods in Israel and employs roughly 2,000 employees across four production facilities.
Israel hailed the decision as a “important moral victory against the discrimination and antisemitism that lies at the heart of the BDS campaign” and expressed its appreciation for it.
Ben & Jerry’s expressed its disagreement with Unilever’s choice via Twitter.
We continue to believe it is inconsistent with Ben & Jerry’s values for our ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the company said.