If boycotting Israel: Ben & Jerry's should also cut ties with China - opinion

Ben & Jerry’s cares about ‘human rights’ only for progressives.

DEMONSTRATORS PROTEST against Ben and Jerry’s over its boycott of residents of Judea and Samaria, and against antisemitism, in New York City earlier this year. (photo credit: Luke Tress/Flash90)
DEMONSTRATORS PROTEST against Ben and Jerry’s over its boycott of residents of Judea and Samaria, and against antisemitism, in New York City earlier this year.
(photo credit: Luke Tress/Flash90)

In a recent shocking interview, Ben & Jerry’s founders were stunned when they were confronted with their own corporate hypocrisy. 

The interview focused on the company’s decision to stop sales in parts of Israel and when Axios reporter Alexi McCammond questioned them on why they were still selling in states that had laws that conflicted with their political views like Texas and Georgia, the two founders were speechless. 

Ben & Jerry’s response is deeply concerning. You see, the Ben & Jerry’s parent company Unilever houses its American headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, NJ, where I serve as mayor. This discrimination is happening in my own back yard and it is critical that local and state leaders call out this half-baked publicity stunt for what it is: blatant corporate hypocrisy. 

I was already disturbed when I saw the Ben & Jerry’s decision to boycott sales in parts of Israel, which is a free and democratic country. It seems the Axios reporter shared my confusion with their inconsistent business practices when she asked why boycott Israel while selling in Georgia where Ben & Jerry’s decried the state’s voting laws. 

It turns out, Unilever uses the same avoidance tactics as their subsidiary. I discovered this when I sent a letter asking why Unilever remained silent as their subsidiary ceased sales in Israel, while their company continues to sell in countries like China where the government commits egregious human rights violations against religious minorities. 

 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)

The answer I received from Unilever’s CEO Alan Jope stressed that “Unilever rejects completely and repudiates unequivocally any form of discrimination or intolerance,” but failed to address its involvement with these countries.

When will Unliver and Ben & Jerry’s denounce the Uyghur human rights crisis? When will they stop profiting off of Communist China’s policy of forcing millions into internment camps to endure harsh labor and torture, and committing genocide against men, women and children on account of their religious beliefs? 

Probably never because while Unilever can afford to virtue signal on Israel, they can’t afford to upset the Chinese Communist Party. One of Unilever’s main suppliers is the state-owned company COFCO Tunhe Sugar Co., which is not only the largest exporter of tomato paste in China, but has been accused of thriving off of forced labor.

This isn’t Unilever’s first time using unethical treatment of workers in its supply chain either. In 2016, the company was caught exposing its workers to mercury at a thermometer plant in India. It seems that Unilever only cares to “advocate for human rights” when American progressives are paying attention. 

Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s are happy to take discriminatory action against Israel because it’s politically convenient. In fact, it’s probably boosted their revenue from ideologically aligned consumers. 

Meanwhile, Israel is one of the most democratic and free countries in the world. It is a beacon of freedom in the Middle East, and one of America’s greatest allies. China pales in comparison to Israel in so many ways: respect of basic human rights, religious freedom, free speech, the list goes on and on. 

It is disgraceful that any company would refuse to sell products in Israel while continuing to sell in China. Unilever also has no problem selling its products in Russia, Venezuela, Syria and Iran, countries with long lists of human rights violations, and oppression of their citizens. 

Companies like Unilever and Ben and Jerry’s act the way they do because they think their “woke” actions will win the favor of consumers. However, for those of us who still believe human rights abuses are never justifiable, it’s time for us as the consumers to hold companies accountable for their actions and their silence. 

Englewood Cliffs may benefit from the jobs Unilever provides, but that doesn’t mean we as Americans shouldn’t call them out for their wrongs. The double standard for these companies is unacceptable, and it’s time that we call it out for what it is: hypocrisy. Our message to companies should be clear: if you want to wade into political discourse, be prepared to defend your dirty laundry that you don’t want the public to see.

We should be holding Unilever and other hypocritical companies accountable for their double standards, and push them to cut their ties with the Communist Chinese government and their egregious human rights violators. If companies want to discriminate against Israel while trying to cover up their profit from forced labor, it’s going to be a rocky road for them. 

The writer is mayor of Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. He is the son of immigrants, a venture capitalist, corporate attorney, husband and father.