Ben & Jerry’s Founders Claim Parent Company, Unilever, Blocked Their Social Mission

Ben & Jerry’s founders claim that their parent corporation, Unilever, violated their right to manage the ice cream company’s social mission. According to the New York Post, ice cream moguls Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield filed a lawsuit against Unilever when the corporation transferred the company’s Israeli branch to a local licensee despite the pair deciding not to sell its product in the West Bank.

The complaint was filed in July and asserted that the transaction broke the terms of the acquisition agreement Unilever signed in 2000 when the UK-based corporation bought the ice cream business for $326 million. In discussing the suit, Cohen stated, “Unilever has usurped their authority and reversed a decision that was made. And we can’t allow that to happen.” Greenfield explained, “In order for us to sell the company, it was essential that we have this unique agreement in place. The agreement lasts in perpetuity. And so it must be respected. [They are] essentially saying, ‘Well, the independent board does not matter.’”

The deal gave the Vermont ice cream company the right to keep an impartial board in charge of the business’s social responsibilities. Cohen, who is Jewish, replied to the criticism that the company’s decision to suspend sales in the West Bank was anti-Semitic, saying, “If I care about the people in Palestine just as much as I care about the people in Israel, is that anti-Semitic? There are mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers in Palestine that I care about. I care about their human rights.”

A New York federal judge dismissed Ben & Jerry’s preliminary injunction in August when the company attempted to prevent the Israeli sale in advance. The court now says the pair must submit an updated complaint by September 27.

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