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Unilever’s CEO said on Thursday that the global consumer goods giant remains fully committed to doing business in Israel, distancing itself from this week’s announcement by the company’s ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s to stop serving Israeli ice cream. settlements in the West Bank.
But CEO Alan Jope gave no indication that Unilever would force Ben & Jerry’s to reverse its controversial decision.
The Ben & Jerry’s announcement is one of the strongest rebukes from a well-known company against Israeli settlements, widely regarded as illegal by the international community. The Israeli government has condemned the decision, accusing the company of joining a global Palestinian-led boycott movement against Israel and urging 35 US states with anti-boycott laws to punish Unilever.
In a conference call with investors, Jope said Ben & Jerry’s, which has a long history of social activism, made the decision on its own.
He noted that under its purchase agreement with Ben & Jerry’s in 2000, the company retained broad independence over its social justice policy and that Unilever respected that arrangement.
It is clearly a complex and sensitive issue that evokes very strong feelings, he said. If there is one message I would like to underline in this call, it is that Unilever remains fully committed to our operations in Israel.
That includes a new razor factory worth 35 million euros ($41 million) and offices and facilities that employ some 2,000 people, he said.
He said it is not our intention to discuss such sensitive matters on a regular basis.
It’s been a problem for Ben & Jerry’s for a long time, he said. We were aware of this decision by the brand and its independent board of directors, but it is certainly not our intention that every quarter will have one as fiery as this one.
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