Unilever CEO Alan Jope has proclaimed that the multinational company remains “fully committed” to maintaining its business dealings in Israel, regardless of the decision made by its subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s to halt sales within "occupied Palestinian territory."
Jope acknowledged the ongoing public feud between Ben & Jerry’s and Israel during a Thursday conference call with investors, recalling that when Unilever acquired the ice creamery in 2000, it did so knowing that the company would create an independent board to manage its social mission.
“Obviously it’s a complex and sensitive matter that elicits very strong feelings,” Jope told investors. “If there is one message I want to underscore in this call, it’s that Unilever remains fully committed to our business in Israel.”
Said business dealings include a $41 million razor factory, as well as corporate offices and facilities that employ hundreds of individuals.
“It’s been a longstanding issue for Ben & Jerry’s,” the CEO continued, touching on the company's controversial Monday announcement to halt sales in areas considered to be under Israeli occupation. “We were aware of this decision by the brand and its independent board, but it’s certainly not our intention that every quarter will have one quite as fiery as this one.”
Ben & Jerry’s announced it would be taking steps to end sales in areas it considers contested in the region, as it conflicted with the company’s “values.” The Vermont-based company has been operating across Israel since the late 1980s; however, it recently came under heavy criticism after it remained silent amid the heavy exchanges of fire between Israeli and Palestinian forces in May.
Incidentally, while Jope placed some distance between Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s announcement, reports indicated on Monday that it was in fact Unilever that made the executive decision to push out the statement.
At the time, the independent board that oversees the company’s social mission and Anuradha Mittal, who chairs the board, relayed to the public that the statement was not at all approved by the independent board. “[Unilever] are trying to destroy the soul of the company,” Mittal told NBC News in a statement.
US States Weigh Divesting From Ben & Jerry’s
Amid the overwhelming desire to punish Ben & Jerry’s over the sales halt, multiple Israeli officials have voiced their discontent over the matter and called on American officials to act out against the company.
With tensions high, even Gilead Erdan, who serves as the permanent Israeli ambassador to the UN, took things up a notch and sent out multiple letters to US governors to urge them to tap their state’s legislation against the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement to strike back at Ben & Jerry’s.
Among those states are Florida and Texas, where state officials have either begun talks on how to pull away from Ben & Jerry’s or launch full-out investigations into the sales decision.
Texas State Comptroller Glenn Hegar, who controls billions in assets for the Lone Star State’s public pension funds, announced on Thursday that he ordered a review to determine whether the sales halt violated the state’s anti-BDS law, which passed in 2017. If found guilty, the Lone Star State would be required to implement sanctions against the creamery giant.
Meanwhile in Florida, state CFO Jimmy Patronis, who also oversees the Sunshine State’s public pension funds, told CNBC that his office is in the midst of weighing its options. In fact, officials have already informed Ben & Jerry’s that the company would be barred from renewing or starting any new contracts in the state if it’s determined that it violated anti-BDS legislation.
Sidestepping a direct remark on the Ben & Jerry’s drama, the US State Department spokesperson Ned Price reiterated to reporters on Tuesday that the Land of the Free “firmly” opposes the BDS movement as it “unfairly singles out Israel.”