Two pro-Israel advocacy groups have sent a letter to Ben & Jerry’s parent company Unilever that contends it has an obligation to overturn the ice cream maker’s decision to boycott Israel.
After Ben & Jerry’s announced in July that it would cease selling its products in Judea and Samaria, stating it was “it is inconsistent with our values,” Unilever released a statement on July 27 saying: “As part of the acquisition agreement, we have always recognized the right of the brand and its independent board to take decisions about its social mission.”
However, in an October 15 email letter addressed to Unilever CEO Alan Jope and the Unilever Board of Directors, StandWithUs and the Israeli-American Coalition for Action wrote that “Ben & Jerry’s decision is, in practice, a decision to boycott the entire State of Israel, as companies are not legally permitted to sell to some Israelis while boycotting others” and that they were “disappointed by the disingenuous attempts by Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s to claim otherwise.”
“We are even more disappointed by Unilever’s attempt to feign powerlessness over this boycott decision,” the letter said. “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 letter asserted that the terms of the relationship between Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever give the parent company the power to “make financial and operations decisions for Ben & Jerry’s” while Ben & Jerry’s board “can make social decisions only insofar as they are commercially reasonable.”
The letter continued: “Unilever would never have agreed to buy Ben & Jerry’s if the board could make any commercially unreasonable decision it wished under the guise of its social mission. However, neither Unilever nor Ben and Jerry’s has explained how it is commercially reasonable to effectively boycott Israel – because it is not. Boycotting an entire country is, in fact, commercially unreasonable, especially when it triggers counter-boycotts by states and consumer groups and divestment of state pension funds.”
Noting that the merger agreement stated that Ben & Jerry’s “shall use commercially reasonable efforts to obtain (at [Ben and Jerry's] expense) for [Unilever] the right to conduct all facets of the business in Israel,” the letter argued that “this language directly conflicts with effectively boycotting Israel.”
“Ben and Jerry’s must explain – to you and to the investing public – how its social mission requires such a boycott when it signed a contract showing that doing business in Israel was consistent with its social mission. Clearly, it is Ben and Jerry’s that is in breach, and it is within Unilever’s rights to reverse the board. If it fails to do so, Unilever itself – not only Ben & Jerry’s – will be effectively choosing to participate in this boycott,” the letter said.