Ben & Jerry’s sues Unilever for blocking sale of Israeli business

The Vermont-based ice cream maker filed a lawsuit Tuesday in the U.S. District Court in New York, seeking an injunction against Unilever (UL) “to protect the brand and the social integrity Ben & Jerry’s has spent decades building.”

Ben & Jerry’s has been doing business in Israel since 1987, but in recent years it has come under pressure to sell in settlements in the West Bank, considered illegal under international law. In July 2021, it announced that they would stop selling completely in the West Bank.

It sparked a dispute with its longtime distributor in Israel, American Quality Products (AQP), which sued Ben & Jerry̵[ads1]7;s and Unilever in March, claiming that they “illegally terminated its 34-year business relationship to boycott Israel.”

Unilever, one of the world’s top sellers of consumer goods including Dove soap and Magnum ice cream, tried to draw a line during the controversy with its announcement last week that they had sold Ben & Jerry’s Israeli business for an undisclosed amount to AQP.

The retail giant said that Ben & Jerry’s will in future be sold under its Hebrew and Arabic names throughout Israel and the West Bank.

But the decision to sell to AQP surprised the board of Ben & Jerry’s, according to the court document, which said that the chairman of the board had been “amazed” to hear the news.

Since 2021, Ben & Jerry’s has been strongly opposed to the sale of its products in the West Bank, saying it would be “inconsistent with” the brand.

In its complaint on Tuesday, it noted that brand values ​​are legally monitored by an independent board under a 2000 agreement with Unilever.

The board decided to pursue legal action last week at a meeting in which five board members voted to approve lawsuits, and two Unilever nominees were dissenting, Ben & Jerry’s said.

Ben & Jerry's stops making ice cream in Israel.  The Israeli producer is suing
In a statement last week, Unilever acknowledged that “Ben & Jerry’s and its independent board were given the right to make decisions about their social mission.”

However, it maintained that the parent company “reserved the main responsibility for financial and operational decisions, and therefore has the right to enter into this scheme.”

In a new statement on Wednesday, a spokesman for Unilever reiterated that they “had the right to enter into this scheme”.

“The agreement has already been terminated,” the representative said, adding that it would not comment on ongoing lawsuits.

In its statement last week, Unilever said it had conducted a review of its operations there “over several months, including with the Israeli government.”

“Unilever has used the opportunity over the past year to listen to perspectives on this complex and sensitive issue and believes this is the best outcome for Ben & Jerry’s in Israel,” it added.

– Jordan Valinsky contributed to this report.

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