Consumer rights

Israeli PM warns Unilever boss against boycott of Ben & Jerry

JERUSALEM, July 20 (Reuters) – Israel on Tuesday warned consumer goods giant Unilever Plc (ULVR.L) of the “serious consequences” of a decision by subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s to stop selling ice cream in territories occupied by Israel, and urged US states to invoke anti-boycott laws.

Monday’s announcement follows pro-Palestinian pressure on the Vermont-based company over its operations in Israel and the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, managed since 1987 through a licensed partner, Ben & Jerry’s Israel .

Most countries consider Israeli settlements on Palestinian land to be illegal. Israel disputes this.

The country’s Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, in a phone call with Unilever CEO Alan Jope called the move a “blatant anti-Israel step” and said the government would act “aggressively against any boycott measure targeting civilians, “according to the prime minister’s office. .

The Ben & Jerry’s move also met a swift response from some small grocery chains operating in the New York metro area, which has a large population of Jewish residents, saying they would cut back or remove Ben & Jerry’s products from the stores. shelves.

Ben & Jerry’s, based in South Burlington, Vermont, is known for its commitment to social justice which has recently included strong support for the Black Lives Matter movement, LGBTQ + rights and campaign finance reform.

It was acquired by Unilever in 2000 as part of an agreement that allows it to operate with more autonomy than other subsidiaries, in particular by giving legal powers to an independent board of directors to make decisions on its mission. social, brand integrity and policies.

On Monday, glacier Chunky Monkey released a statement saying the brand will not renew its licensing agreement with its Israeli partner when it expires at the end of 2022.

Ben & Jerry’s said selling its products in the Occupied Palestinian Territories was “inconsistent with its values.”

However, the episode sparked a clash between Ben & Jerry’s independent board and Unilever.

Jars of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, a brand of Unilever, are seen in their store in London, Britain October 5, 2020. REUTERS / Hannah McKay / File Photo

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Ben & Jerry’s announcement on Monday went on to say that the company would remain in Israel under a different arrangement, with no sales to the West Bank, among areas where Palestinians seek to become a state. read more This position was reiterated in a separate statement issued by Unilever itself the same day.

In an interview with NBC, Anuradha Mittal, chairman of the independent board of directors of Ben & Jerry’s, said that the board was not invited to vote on a proposal to continue sales in Israel, and therefore the announcement of this decision violated the 2000 acquisition agreement.

Ben & Jerry’s board is expected to vote to approve any different arrangement, which it had not yet done, Mittal said.

“I am saddened by the deception,” Mittal told NBC.

“This is not about Israel. This is about the breach of the acquisition agreement that kept the soul of the company alive. I can’t help but think that is it. that happens when you have a board with all the women and people of color who have been pushing to do the right thing. “

Asked about Mittal’s comments, Unilever said, “As you saw in our statement, Unilever has always recognized the right of the brand and its independent board of directors to make decisions regarding its social mission.

In New York City, the Morton Williams supermarket chain, which operates 15 stores in New York City and one in New Jersey, said it was drastically reducing Ben & Jerry’s products in its stores, with co-owner Avi Kaner adding that it was contacting other retailers and distributors. in the hope that they follow suit.

Other supermarkets, including New Jersey-based Gourmet Glatt and Cedar Market, have posted statements on Instagram saying they will no longer carry the brand, effective now. Florida-based Grove Kosher Market said none of its stores carry the brand and will not in the future either.

Unilever shares closed about one percent lower on Tuesday. The company released its first half results on Thursday.

Reporting by Siddharth Cavale and Praveen Paramasivam; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller, Raissa Kasolowsky and Edmund Blair, William Maclean

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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