Unilever-owned ice cream business Ben & Jerry’s has announced it is to end sales of its products in what it calls Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).
The US-based business will no longer distribute its products in land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem claimed by Palestine but which has been occupied by Israel since 1967.
In a statement, Ben & Jerry’s, acquired by Unilever in 2000, said: “We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). We also hear and recognise the concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners.
“We have a long-standing partnership with our licensee, who manufactures Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Israel and distributes it in the region. We have been working to change this, and so we have informed our licensee that we will not renew the license agreement when it expires at the end of next year.
“Although Ben & Jerry’s will no longer be sold in the OPT, we will stay in Israel through a different arrangement. We will share an update on this as soon as we’re ready.”
In its statement, Unilever stressed this was a decision taken independently by Ben & Jerry’s.
It said: “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a very complex and sensitive situation.”
It added: “We remain fully committed to our presence in Israel, where we have invested in our people, brands and business for several decades.
“Ben & Jerry’s was acquired by Unilever in 2000. As part of the acquisition agreement, we have always recognised the right of the brand and its independent board to take decisions about its social mission. We also welcome the fact that Ben & Jerry’s will stay in Israel.”
However, Ben & Jerry’s independent board said it is not happy with the statements.
In an interview with a US broadcaster NBC News, the ice cream company’s chairperson Anuradha Mittal said the line about it staying in Israel wasn’t agreed on and Unilever had no authority to make such a promise.
Mittal told NBC: “This is not about Israel; it is about the violation of the acquisition agreement that maintained the soul of the company.”
The board said in a separate statement: “The statement released by Ben & Jerry’s regarding its operation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (the OPT) does not reflect the position of the independent board, nor was it approved by the independent board.
“By taking a position and publishing a statement without the approval of the independent board on an issue directly related to Ben & Jerry’s social mission and brand integrity, Unilever and its CEO at Ben & Jerry’s are in violation of the spirit and the letter of the acquisition agreement.”
Just Food has asked Unilever for a response to these comments.
Meanwhile, UK broadcaster the BBC quoted Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett as saying Ben & Jerry’s decision is “morally wrong” in taking the action it has.
Ben & Jerry’s – founded in 1978 in Vermont by friends Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield – has a track record of campaigning on social issues.