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December 10, 2021 11:56 am
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Seven US State Treasurers Urge Unilever to Reverse Ben & Jerry’s West Bank Boycott

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Tubs of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, a Unilever brand, are seen at their shop in London. Photo: Reuters/Hannah McKay

A group of seven state treasurers urged Unilever in a Thursday letter to override Ben and Jerry’s boycott of Israeli territories, pressing the conglomerate to explain why it has not yet acted on its subsidiary’s decision.

In their letter to Unilever CEO Alan Jope and the company’s board of directors, the treasurers from Arizona, Idaho, Oklahoma, Nebraska, West Virginia, Louisiana and Mississippi pointed to recent legal analysis arguing that the company, as Ben & Jerry’s parent, has the ability to override its subsidiary on the issue.

The ice cream maker announced in July that it would no longer sell its products in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem — areas that the company called “Occupied Palestinian Territory” — because it was “inconsistent with our values.” Unilever has in the past suggested it has no authority over the boycott decision, and Jope previously said, “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.”

The treasurers attached to their letter a copy of an email sent to Jope in October by the pro-Israel advocacy groups StandWithUs and the Israeli-American Coalition for Action. “A review by legal experts of the acquisition agreement indicates that the Ben and Jerry’s Board has exceeded its contractual powers and that Unilever thus has the right to reverse the Board’s decision,” the groups argued at the time.

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Spearheaded by Arizona Treasurer Kimberly Yee, the treasurers referenced that argument on Thursday, writing, “Your company has sought to deflect responsibility for Ben & Jerry’s boycott by suggesting that you have no authority over your subsidiary’s decision in this case. Key legal experts have recently attested to Unilever’s authority and discretion after reviewing the Ben & Jerry’s acquisition agreement.”

In September, Arizona became the first state to divest its funds from Unilever — a total of $143 million — in response to Ben & Jerry’s boycott of Israeli territories. More than 30 states have laws that prohibits state pension or annuity funds from investing in companies that engage in a boycott of Israeli goods, products or businesses.

“We, the undersigned, respectfully request a response that provides full clarification and transparency regarding Unilever’s ability to override the discriminatory boycott of Israel initiated by Ben & Jerry’s in light of the aforementioned letter and an explanation of why Unilever has yet to do so,” the group of state officials added.

In a Thursday statement, Yee commented, “This is an example of how radical, woke politics can lead companies down the slippery slope of antisemitic, discriminatory efforts against Israel. Divesting Arizona public funds from Unilever holds these companies accountable for their actions. Arizona won’t do business with companies that exhibit discriminatory behavior, especially when it is an attack on America’s longtime ally and friend Israel. It is time for Unilever to divest itself from Ben & Jerry’s.”

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