Ben & Jerry's is suing parent company Unilever to prevent the sale of its Israeli business to the local licensee named Avi Zinger, Reuters reported . The brand explained in the lawsuit that the sale announced on 29 June "threatened to undermine [the brand's] integrity", which Ben & Jerry's board preserved independence to protect when it was acquired by Unilever in 2000, Reuters added.
Unilever said last week that it has sold the Israeli business of Ben & Jerry's to Avi Zinger which is the owner American Quality Products, the current Israel-based licensee. The new arrangement means Ben & Jerry’s will be sold under its Hebrew and Arabic names throughout Israel and the West Bank under the full ownership of its current licensee.
Under the terms of Unilever’s acquisition agreement of Ben & Jerry’s in 2000, Ben & Jerry’s and its independent Board were granted rights to make decisions about its social mission, but Unilever reserved primary responsibility for financial and operational decisions and therefore has the right to enter this arrangement.
The new business arrangement follows a Unilever review of Ben & Jerry’s in Israel after the brand and its independent Board announced last year its decision to discontinue sales of its ice cream in the West Bank.
Unilever said it has used the opportunity of the past year to listen to perspectives on this complex and sensitive matter and believes this is the best outcome for Ben & Jerry’s in Israel. The review included extensive consultation over several months, including with the Israeli government.
"Unilever rejects completely and repudiates unequivocally any form of discrimination or intolerance. Antisemitism has no place in any society. We have never expressed any support for the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement and have no intention of changing that position," the company said previously.
In response then, Ben & Jerry's said it does not agree with Unilever's decision and the sale is "inconsistent with Ben & Jerry's values" for its ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
This issue arose last year when Ben & Jerry's announced that its ice cream will no longer be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The brand added that it will not renew its partnership with its licensee when it expires at the end of 2022. However, it intends to remain in Israel through a different arrangement, Ben & Jerry's said previously.
This prompted Unilever CEO Alan Jope to clarify during an investor conference call that the company remains fully committed to its business in Israel. He added that Unilever had invested approximately US$305 million of capital into Israel over the last decade and is extremely active within the start-up community and with social programmes in Israel.
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