Judge rules against Ben & Jerry’s in Israel sales fight

By WILSON RING, Associated Press

A federal judge on Monday rejected a request by Ben & Jerry’s to block a plan by its parent company to allow the sale of its products in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank against the wishes of the cream maker’s independent board of directors ice cream from Vermont.

US District Court Judge Andrew Carter said Ben & Jerry’s failed to show that the decision by London-based consumer goods conglomerate Unilever would harm Ben & Jerry’s social mission or confuse its customers.

In her three-page ruling, Carter said the damage claimed by Ben & Jerry’s was “too speculative.”

“Products sold in Israel and the West Bank will not use any English marks, but will instead display Ben & Jerry’s new Hebrew and Arabic marks,” the ruling reads. “Thus, products sold in Israel and the West Bank will be different from other Ben & Jerry’s products, mitigating, if not eliminating, the possibility of reputational damage.”

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Ben & Jerry’s spokesman Sean Greenwood said Monday the company has “no new positions to share at this time.”

Ben & Jerry’s complaint in the case filed last month outlined the company’s tradition of social activism over its 44-year history, including opposition to US spending on nuclear weapons in the years 1980s and into the 1990s, supporting LGBTQ+ rights and farmers.

This activism continued after its takeover by Unilever in 2000 with a focus on, among other things, migrant justice and climate change. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in 2020, Ben & Jerry’s became an advocate for Black Lives Matter.

Ben & Jerry’s independent board last year said it would stop selling its ice cream in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and challenged East Jerusalem, saying sales in Palestinian-wanted territory were “incompatible with our values”.

Earlier this year, Unilever announced it was selling its business stake in Ben & Jerry’s in Israel to its Israeli licensee, which would market the products with Hebrew and Arabic labels.

In its lawsuit, Ben & Jerry’s argued that Unilever’s decision “poses a risk” to the integrity of its brand. Ben & Jerry’s also claimed the deal violated the 2000 acquisition agreement that allowed Ben & Jerry’s to pursue its progressive social mission independent of business decisions made by Unilever.

An email sent to Unilever was not immediately returned on Monday, but the company has said in the past that it has the right to sell and that “the deal is already done”.

While the 2000 acquisition agreement allowed Ben & Jerry’s board of directors to make decisions about the company’s social mission, it stipulated that Unilever would have the final say on financial and operational decisions.

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