The co-founders of Ben & Jerry’s have accused its parent company, Unilever, of infringing on the ice cream company’s rights to control its social mission.
The accusation by ice cream tycoons Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield comes amid a lawsuit against Unilever filed by Ben & Jerry’s after Unilever sold the Israeli branch of the popular ice cream maker to a local licensee in June when the company decided not to sell its frozen treats in the West Bank.
“Unilever has usurped their authority and reversed a decision that was made. And we can’t allow that to happen,” Cohen told MSNBC on Sunday, his first comment about the issue since the lawsuit was filed.
Cohen founded the ice cream company with Greenfield in Vermont in 1978 with a mission to “advance human rights and dignity” and has said that selling the ice cream in the West Bank is “inconsistent with our values.” The two are no longer on the board of Ben & Jerry’s.
The Ben & Jerry’s lawsuit, filed in July, alleges that the sale violated the terms of Unilever’s takeover agreement from 2000, when the UK-based consumer goods giant bought the ice cream company for $326 million.
The agreement entitled the Vermont ice cream company to maintain an independent board that manages the company’s social responsibility.
“In order for us to sell the company, it was essential that we have this unique agreement in
place,” Greenfield told MSNBC. “The agreement lasts in perpetuity. And so it must be
respected. [They are] essentially saying, ‘Well, the independent board does not matter.’”
Responding to comments that the company’s intention to halt sales in the West Bank is anti-Semitic, Cohen, who said he is Jewish, responded: “If I care about the people in Palestine just as much as I care about the people in Israel, is that anti-Semitic? There are mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers in Palestine that I care about. I care about their human rights.”
Ben & Jerry’s attempted to block the Israeli sale before it happened, but a New York federal judge threw out the company’s preliminary injunction in August. Now the court says it must file an amended complaint by Sept. 27.
Unilever did not respond to a request for comment.