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July 22, 2021 2:28 pm

Unilever Chief Expresses ‘Full Commitment’ to Israel as States, Supermarkets Consider Action Over Ben & Jerry’s West Bank Boycott

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

Tubs of ice-cream are seen as a laborer works at Ben & Jerry’s factory in Be’er Tuvia, Israel July 20, 2021. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

The CEO of Unilever reiterated that the consumer goods giant remains “fully committed” to doing business in Israel following Ben & Jerry’s West Bank boycott, as US states and supermarket chains continued on Thursday to weigh actions to blacklist the brand.

The comments come three days after Ben & Jerry’s, which is owned by Unilever, announced that the ice-cream maker would not renew its license agreement with its current Israeli partner, saying that it was “inconsistent” with its values to sell products in “the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

“This was a decision that was taken by Ben & Jerry’s and its independent board in line with an acquisition agreement that we signed 20 years ago, we have always recognized the importance of that agreement,” Unilever chief Alan Jope said during an earnings conference with investors. “Obviously, it’s a complex and sensitive matter that elicits very strong feelings. If there’s one message I want to underscore … it is that Unilever remains fully committed to our business in Israel.”

Jope said that Unilever has invested 1 billion shekels in Israel over the past 10 years and employs 2,000 workers in the country. The multinational corporation operates four factories in Israel, including a recent 35-million-euro investment into a new razor factory for Dollar Shave Club.

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“We are very active on the startup community and social programs in Israel” Jope added. “I can assure you it is not our intent to regularly visit matters of this level of sensitivity, it’s been a long-standing issue for Ben & Jerry’s. We were aware of this decision by the brand and its independent board, but certainly not our intention that every quarter we will have one quite as fiery as this one.”

Since the decision, a number of US supermarket chains have threatened to reduce their Ben & Jerry’s purchases or stop carrying the brand altogether. Texas State Comptroller Glenn Hegar began a process to investigate whether Ben & Jerry’s or Unilever could be added to a list of companies with which the state is prohibited to doing business, due to state legislation aimed at countering the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Israeli officials have said they would ask more than 30 US states to pursue application of their own anti-BDS laws against the ice-cream maker, including some that restrict state pension funds from investing in companies that boycott Israel.

Hegar today ordered his office to determine whether “any specific action has been taken by Ben & Jerry’s or Unilever that would trigger a listing under Chapter 808 of the Texas Government Code.”

The Texas Government Code 808 defines “boycott Israel” as “refusing to deal with, terminating business activities with, or otherwise taking any action that is intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on or limit commercial relations specifically with Israel or with a person or entity doing business in Israel or an Israeli-controlled territory.”

“Texans have made it very clear that they stand with Israel and its people. We oppose actions that could undermine Israel’s economy and its people,” Hegar stated. “I would also note that Texans have better options for a sweet treat this summer. Blue Bell was founded in Brenham, Texas, and, for my money, tastes much better than the stuck-up stuff made by a foreign-owned company started in Vermont.”

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