Ben & Jerry's sundae in a factory in Israel
RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS
It was a PR campaign with maximum bang effect: on Monday, the US ice cream brand Ben & Jerry's announced that it would stop selling its products in the West Bank and East Jerusalem from the end of 2022. Reason: The settlement policy there is
with the corporate
. Around 600,000 Jewish settlers now live in the areas occupied by Israel. The United Nations has long been criticizing settlement policy.
Israel's reaction was surprisingly harsh.
The leadership team - from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Finance Minister Avigdor Liebermann to opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu - criticized Ben & Jerry's actions heavily.
with all his might
against the boycott.
The Israeli embassy in Berlin called the action a
poor & wrong decision
The company, which has been an icon of social entrepreneurship for decades, has once again made waves with a guerrilla campaign.
PR-technically at least.
Because the campaign, like many other campaigns before, benefits the company's image rather than society.
The dazzling company with the colorful biscuit ice cream was founded in 1978 by the two self-proclaimed hippies Jerry Greenfield and Ben Cohen (by the way, Jews themselves) in Burlington, Vermont, not far from the border with Canada - and since then has made a name for itself with clever political marketing talk. Sometimes it was drummed for LGBT rights, sometimes for the Black Lives Matter movement, sometimes against climate change. In Australia it advertised
the preservation of the Great Barrier Reef
with the slogan
Spoon on ice, not the reef
. In the USA it distributed ice cream to the demonstrators of the
Occupy Wall Street
movement. Once police officers arrested Cohen and Greenfield at a demonstration in front of the Washington Capitol.
Through many such symbolic actions, often orchestrated by the company's own activism manager, and some tangible social commitment, for example through the support of the homeless and refugees, Ben & Jerry's presents itself to this day as an ethical, sustainable company. For many years, the company itself has been repeatedly criticized, among other things for human rights violations and the exploitation of workers.
The takeover by the British-Dutch group Unilever is still considered a turning point in the company's history. He bought Ben & Jerry's in 2000 for around $ 326 million. Greenfield once said that the deal was a hostile takeover. Critics doubt that. They tend to speak of an offer at the right time for a company with management problems that was in trouble at the time. In any case, Greenfield and Cohen have since given up management.
After the takeover, there were initial concerns that the company might lose its ethical and sustainable focus. Unilever pledged to pay at least $ 1.1 million each year to the Ben & Jerry's Foundation, which spends 7.5 percent of the company's pre-tax profits annually on charity. But Ben & Jerry's demand that all ingredients be transparently labeled on every type of ice cream went too far for the Unilever managers - probably for good reason: the US consumer protection organization CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest) had in almost all of them Varieties of artificial additives found. The
company had to discard
All natural Ben & Jerry's
in September 2010.
In 2017, experts found traces of the weed agent glyphosate in ice cream samples from Germany and three other European countries. Unilever replied that the detected traces of glyphosate were well below all limit values applicable in the USA and Europe. But experts countered that the limit values were set much too high anyway. The products could still cause serious liver and kidney diseases if consumed regularly, it said.
Then activists from Migrant Justice also criticized the working conditions at Ben & Jerry's. They accused the ice cream maker of violating the human rights of farm workers in its supply chain. Some of the dairy farms that supplied the company are said to have employed illegal Mexican migrants. The workers had to work up to fourteen hours a day, seven days a week. They slept on straw partly camps in unheated barns or trailers, some reported in 2018 to the
. Ben & Jerry's had to apologize publicly, admit moral failure and promise better working conditions.
Now, three years later, with its action against Israel's settlement policy, the company itself is again playing the moral apostle - and making some very questionable friends. Because the planned boycott is apparently also related to an alliance called
Vermonters for Justice in Palestine
. This had asked Ben & Jerry's in June to end
complicity with the Israeli occupation and violations of Palestinian human rights
On its website, the initiative openly sympathizes with the pro-Palestinian movement BDS (
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions
), which the Bundestag passed a resolution in 2019 as
largely clearly anti-Semitic
. BDS has meanwhile praised Ben & Jerry's as a
leading socially responsible international company
. In the meantime, BDS is demanding that the company
distance itself completely from Israel
Critics are now complaining that Ben & Jerry's let radical groups pull themselves in front of the cart.
It is also questionable why Ben & Jerry's wants to stop sales in the occupied territories now of all times and not in other human rights questionable states. When asked by SPIEGEL, Ben & Jerry's initially did not comment on this in more detail. Unilever said in a separate statement that it had always recognized the right of Ben & Jerry's, autonomous
to make decisions about its social mission