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September 19, 2022 1:39 pm

Ben & Jerry’s Co-Founders Claim Unilever Violated Acquisition Agreement With Sale to Local Licensee in Israel

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

A Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream delivery truck is seen at their factory in Be’er Tuvia, Israel July 20, 2021. Photo: Reuters/Ronen Zvulun

The co-founders of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream said on Sunday that its parent company Unilever has broken their merger agreement by selling the ice cream maker’s business in Israel to a local licensee permitted to sell its products in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem.

The Vermont-based ice cream company was founded in 1978 by Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, and sold to Unilever in 2000. The co-founders said the British conglomerate had violated a clause in the acquisition agreement that gives the ice cream company independent authority over its social mission.

“Unilever signed a legally binding agreement at the acquisition of the company and that agreement gave authority over the social mission to the independent board of Ben & Jerry’s,” Cohen claimed on MSNBC’s “The Mehdi Hasan Show.” He added that “Unilever has usurped their authority and reversed a decision that was made and we can’t allow that to happen, we can’t sit idly by, because that is essentially saying, ‘well, the independent board doesn’t matter.'”

Greenfield asserted that without the clause regarding the independent board in the acquisition agreement, “the sale [to Unilver] would have never occurred.” He told Hasan the agreement is still legally binding and needs to be upheld. “It’s about the governance, it’s about the independent board having the authority to do what it is granted to do in the acquisition agreement,” he explained.

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Meanwhile, Unilever has said it retains the right to make operational decisions for Ben & Jerry’s, including its sale in June to a local licensee in Israel, Avi Zinger, who is the owner of American Quality Products Ltd (AQP).

Ben & Jerry’s announced in July 2021 that it would stop selling its ice cream in areas it deemed “Occupied Palestinian Territory” because it was “inconsistent” with its company values and social mission. The company filed a lawsuit against Unilever in July, attempting to block the latter company’s sale to AQP, which would allow Ben & Jerry’s products to be sold or distributed in Israeli territories. In August, Ben & Jerry’s lost a request for a preliminary injunction. The ice cream company said it plans to amend its lawsuit against Unilever.

When asked on Sunday by Hasan about being accused of antisemitism following Ben & Jerry’s announcement in July 2021, Cohen replied, “If I care about the people in Palestine just as much as I care about the people in Israel, is that antisemitic? There are mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers in Palestine that I care about. I care about their human rights.”

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