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July 23, 2021 2:57 pm

NY State Comptroller Warns Unilever That Pension Fund Investments at Risk Over Ben & Jerry’s West Bank Boycott

avatar by Algemeiner Staff

A woman stands behind a machine that is part of a toothpaste manufacturing line at the Unilever factory in Lagos, Nigeria January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

The New York state comptroller’s office has warned Unilever that Ben & Jerry’s’ West Bank sales boycott could threaten state pension fund investments in the UK-based multinational, according to a letter seen by The Algemeiner.

The letter — sent Friday to Unilever CEO Alan Jope, by the office’s executive director of corporate governance — said that State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is “troubled and concerned” over reports that Ben & Jerry’s, a subsidiary of Unilever, is involved in “BDS activities,” referring to efforts to boycott Israel.

New York’s Common Retirement Fund is the third-largest public pension fund in the US, serving over a million members, retirees, and beneficiaries. The letter warned Unilever that the state office views BDS activity as a “potential threat to Israel, its economy, and, as a result, the Fund’s relevant investments,” and noted that companies boycotting Israel are exposed to legal, reputational and financial risks.

“If the company fails to respond or fails to demonstrate that it has not engaged in BDS activities, the Fund’s investment in Unilever will be subject to a detailed review and staff recommendation, which may include investment restrictions,” it said.

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On Monday, Unilever subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s announced it 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.”

Friday’s letter came as officials in several US states have sought to pressure both Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever, whose US operations are based in New Jersey, to reverse the decision.

Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis on Thursday asked the state’s Board of Administration to add the companies to a list of companies engaged in Israel boycotts.

“It has come to my attention that Ben and Jerry’s has announced plans to remove its products and prohibit the sale of its ice cream in Judea and Samaria,” DeSantis wrote.

“Should the State Board of Administration affirmatively place Unilever and its corporate entities on the Scrutinized Companies List and these companies do not cease the boycott of Israel as required by Florida Law, the Board must refrain from acquiring any and all Unilever assets consistent with the law.”

35 US states have laws opposing the BDS movement, and Israeli officials have pledged to call on officials in relevant jurisdictions to pressure Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s over the boycott.

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