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During a trip to Vermont seven years ago, I visited the Ben & Jerry factory, as you would if you weren’t skiing and you were bored of leaves, and I was happy to see Jerry Greenfield who was also among the ice machines.
The co-founder’s presence added to the illusion that it was an independent business, even though it had been sold to Unilever in 2000.
This illusion was carefully cultivated at the time of the recovery and has generally served the ice maker and his parent company well for two decades – until now.
This week Ben & Jerry’s announced that the sale of ice in the occupied Palestinian territories was “inconsistent with our values” and that it would stop, an apparent protest against Israeli settlements.
The brand has a long history of bold political positions but has never encountered such a fierce response. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has warned Unilever of “serious consequences” including legal action. But it has been the reaction outside of Israel – Americans have poured ice buckets and posted pictures on social media – that poses the biggest threat.
If that wasn’t enough, Unilever also got a reaction from Ben & Jerry’s independent advice, which chair complained that the press release had been watered down by the parent group, who “sought to destroy the soul of the company.”
During the acquisition, buyers often issue vague insurance only to discard them later. For example, Kraft’s commitment to keep a Cadbury factory open during its 2010 purchase offer for chocolate was abandoned immediately after the deal closed.
But Unilever’s insurances were different. For founders who want to preserve the spirit of their company even after selling it to a multinational, the merger agreement between Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s is still seen as a gold standard.
He assured that Ben & Jerry will continue to have an independent council tasked with “preserving and valuing the objectives of the company’s historic social mission”.
The complaint from council chair, Anuradha Mittal, to NBC News this week was that, although the return policy belonged to Ben & Jerry’s, the statement was written by Unilever and included a commitment to stay in Israel, which did not. he had not been blessed by the board of the ice company.
It’s an addictive disorder. Unable to offer a coherent response, Unilever seems to be praying that the reaction will not become a wider boycott of its products.
On previous occasions, Ben & Jerry’s more advanced approach has produced mutual benefits. The ice maker supported Black Lives Matter and joined the boycott of Facebook advertisers where Unilever acted later or not. The semi-autonomous Ben-Jerryys could take the risk and the reward; Unilever could avoid direct liability, but enjoy the boost of marketing.
Alan Jope, chief executive of Unilever, said Thursday that the withdrawal was a decision “by Ben & Jerry’s and its independent board” that was “in line with the acquisition agreement we signed 20 years ago”.
This act of distance is profoundly disappointing. Ben & Jerry’s independence is carefully limited in the merger agreement. Former Unilever chief executive Richard Goldstein has given up the game Social ice, a history of society in Vermont.
“I had a feeling for what we gave him [Ben Cohen], in the end, it didn’t matter much to Unilever, ”Goldstein is quoted as saying.“ We had the brand. We had the business. They had their own board of directors, but we controlled what I considered to be the key factor for success or failure, which is the selection of the chief executive ”.
Unilever took advantage immediately after the deal closed when Ben & Jerry’s proposed a CEO list and the parent company ignored it, forcing its own CEO. Over the years, Unilever-appointed CEOs have hailed the social activism proposed by Ben & Jerry’s staff including the Iraq war and same-sex partnerships.
Ben & Jerry’s current CEO Matthew McCarthy seems more gung-ho than his predecessors. “One of the questions that comes to me most often is, aren’t you afraid to alienate consumers from the stands you take to Ben & Jerry’s? It’s exactly the opposite,” McCarthy said. In the Wall Street Journal of May.
You may have miscalculated. Regardless, Unilever holds this latter policy and should defend or change it.