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Unilever‘s chief executive on Thursday, July 22, said the company was “fully committed” to Israel, days after coming under Israeli pressure over a decision by its subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s to end ice cream sales in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The Ben & Jerry’s ice cream brand took its decision after pressure from pro-Palestinian groups over its business in Israel and Jewish settlements in the West Bank, handled through a licensee partner since 1987.
Most countries consider Israeli settlements on Palestinian land to be illegal. Israel disputes this.
“If there’s one message I want to underscore…it’s that Unilever remains fully committed to our business in Israel,” chief executive officer Alan Jope told investors during an earnings call.
He said the group had invested 1 billion shekels ($306 million) in Israel over the past decade and was invested in its startup culture and social programs.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned Unilever on Tuesday, July 20, about “severe consequences” from Ben & Jerry’s decision, calling it an anti-Israel step.
Ben & Jerry’s, which has built a reputation as a supporter of social justice causes, such as the Black Lives Matter movement and LGBTQ+ rights campaigns, was acquired by Unilever in 2000 in a deal allowing it to operate with more autonomy than other subsidiaries, which Jope said it exercised in this case.
“This was a decision taken by Ben & Jerry’s and its independent board…and we always recognize the importance of that agreement,” he said.
Jope declined to discuss the potential sales impact and played down the tension between the brands, saying “there was a very healthy dialogue between Ben & Jerry’s and the rest of Unilever.”
Jope also said the subsidiary’s efforts broadly fit Unilever’s “brands with purpose” agenda – which calls for valuing sustainability over just being profit driven.
“The majority of our brand purpose initiatives are very tightly linked to universal human truths and it’s the nature of what that brand (Ben & Jerry’s) does.” – Rappler.com
$1 = 3.2704 shekels