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Ben & Jerry’s Founder: Unilever Violates Deal Over Israel Sale

The founders of the socially committed ice cream maker say Unilever breached a 2000 agreement by selling its business to a local licensee.

The founders of Ben & Jerry’s said on Sunday that the renowned ice cream maker’s parent company, Unilever, violated the merger of the two companies after selling its business in Israel to a local licensee, avoiding restrictions on sales of the socially conscious ice cream Company’s products in the occupied West Bank.

“This agreement gave Ben & Jerry’s independent board of directors authority over its social mission. Unilever usurped their authority and reversed the decision they had taken, and we cannot allow that to happen, we cannot stand by and do nothing,” Ben Cohen said in a television interview with US media outlet MSNBC.

Cohen’s business partner Jerry Greenfield said the agreement, signed in 2000, is legally binding and must be honored.

In contrast, Unilever has stated that it retains the right to make operational decisions for Ben & Jerry’s and that the sale cannot be reversed as it is irrevocably closed.

Ben & Jerry’s said earlier this month that it plans to amend its lawsuit against Unilever’s sale of its Israel business in federal court in New York. Unilever has until November 1st to respond.

In July 2021, the Burlington, Vermont, U.S.-based company announced it would end sales in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, calling it “inconsistent” with the progressive values ​​and social mission it continues to promote was right.

“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 – the fight for human rights and human dignity,” Greenfield said.

However, the move sparked a backlash against Unilever, including divestments of pension funds by the consumer goods company and allegations of anti-Semitism by some Jewish groups.

The episode highlighted the challenges faced by consumer brands that have supported progressive causes and have sought to take a stand on the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land as well, such as San Francisco-based Airbnb, which reversed its decision in 2019 to establish Israeli settlements in the occupied West delist banks deemed illegal under international law.

The international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement seeks to end international support for Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and advocates for freedom, justice and equality for the Palestinians and for Israel’s compliance with international law.

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