Ben & Jerry's founders: Unilever violating merger deal over Israel sale

Unilever, in contrast to statements by Cohen and Greenfield, has said it retained the right to make operational decisions for Ben & Jerry's.

 Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, who founded Ben & Jerry's in 1978, spoke about the company's decision to stop selling ice cream in the West Bank in an interview with Axios released Sunday.  (photo credit: SCREENSHOT VIA JTA)
Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, who founded Ben & Jerry's in 1978, spoke about the company's decision to stop selling ice cream in the West Bank in an interview with Axios released Sunday.
(photo credit: SCREENSHOT VIA JTA)

The founders of Ben & Jerry's ice cream company said that parent company Unilever is in violation of their 2000 merger deal, over its sale of their business in Israel to a local licensee who could sell their products in the West Bank.

“That agreement gave authority over the social mission to the independent board of Ben & Jerry’s,” co-founder Ben Cohen said in a televised interview on Sunday on MSNBC. “Unilever has usurped their authority and reversed the decision that was made, and we can’t allow that to happen. We can’t sit idly by.”

“Unilever has usurped their authority and reversed the decision that was made, and we can’t allow that to happen. We can’t sit idly by.”

Ben Cohen
 Unilever headquarters in Rotterdam, Netherlands August 21, 2018.  (credit: REUTERS/PIROSCHKA VAN DE WOUW) Unilever headquarters in Rotterdam, Netherlands August 21, 2018. (credit: REUTERS/PIROSCHKA VAN DE WOUW)

Partner Jerry Greenfield said the agreement is legally binding and needs to be adhered to.

Unilever has said it retained the right to make operational decisions for Ben & Jerry’s, and that the sale could not be undone because it has irrevocably closed.

Ben & Jerry’s said earlier this month that it plans to amend its lawsuit in Manhattan Federal court challenging Unilever’s sale of the Israeli business. Unilever must respond by November 1.

Ben and Jerry's halts sales in West Bank

In July 2021, Ben & Jerry’s announced plans to boycott West Bank settlements and Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem by refusing to allow its products to be sold there.

“We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT),” the company stated in a notice it posted on its website.

That decision sparked a backlash against Unilever, including divestments by pension funds from the consumer goods company and accusations of antisemitism by some Jewish groups.

Arizona divested $143 million from the ice cream maker last September over its Israel boycott, with Illinois, New Jersey and others following suit.