Unilever Not Woke Enough for Ben And Jerry
Forty-four years ago, a couple of Vermont characters (aren’t they all?) started an ice cream company. They named it after themselves – Ben and Jerry’s. They added a distinctive ingredient to all their flavors – radical politics. Theirs would be ice cream with a message.
The trendy liberal class started purchasing the message – with the ice cream as a come-along. Ben and Jerry became personalities on the left-wing media circuit – promoting their left-wing philosophy as much as the ice cream.
It was a brilliant idea. If they had entered the highly competitive ice cream market on their product alone, it is likely the company would no longer exist. It is by far not the highest quality or best tasting ice cream on the shelves. Even my kids did not like it – and they were not influenced by the “message.” It may also be the reason it does not get a lot of shelf space in the supermarkets – if you can find it at all. (They may have found the right palate when they started making Ben and Jerry’s for dogs.)
In 2000, Ben and Jerry sold their business to the consumer product giant Unilever for $326 million, joining several other ice cream companies in the Unilever stable – most notably Breyer’s.
There was a unique provision to the deal, however. Unilever would have to continue Ben and Jerry’s left-wing political proselytizing. In an effort to guarantee the promotion of left-wing politics and policies, the agreement included a special Ben and Jerry’s board of advisors who would implement the political philosophy of the founders.
The deal was consummated with smiles and handshakes all around. Ben and Jerry went home richer than ever – and with their future mission secured.
Weeelll … things have not gone well. In fact, Ben and Jerry are suing Unilever for violation of the social mission provision of the contract.
The issue that led to legal action was Unilever’s licensing an operation to sell the brand in the disputed West Bank. Although Ben and Jerry are both Jews, they are among those who are highly critical of Israeli policies. I am not sure, but I doubt neither of them have ever chaired the Israel Bonds Drive in their community.
Ben and Jerry claim that Unilever has clearly violated the contract. As in all cases, there are two sides to the issue. Unilever claims that the social mission portion of the contract does not involve basic business decisions – such as licensing others to sell the brand anywhere on earth. It certainly is not specifically prohibited.
My guess is that Ben and Jerry will lose their suit – or maybe surrender their social mission for another bunch of cash. In the meantime, I will join the millions of Americans who do not like Ben and Jerry politics … or their ice cream.
So, there ‘tis.
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