After he announced Unilever’s earnings for 2021 on Thursday, CEO Alan Jope (pictured above) backed anti-Semitic subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s as a “great brand” that is succeeding in sales growth despite its political activism.
The progressive CEO, who believes all his brands should have a socially minded “purpose” or they’re not worth keeping, said in a conference call with reporters that he believes in the ice cream maker’s mission. He suggested, however, that its board improve on which causes it chooses to promote.
Most controversial has been Ben and Jerry’s boycott of what it terms “occupied Palestinian territories” in Israel.
Ben & Jerry’s often speaks up on political and social questions. For example, on Feb. 3 the brand said on Twitter the decision of U.S. President Joe Biden to send troops to Europe “in response to Russia’s threats against Ukraine only fans the flame of war.”
Jope did not directly criticize Ben & Jerry’s activism. But he said: “On subjects where Unilever brands don’t have the expertise or credibility, we think it’s best that they stay out of the debate.”
“Ben & Jerry’s is a great brand – most of the time they get it right – they have a great track record of campaigning on important issues that are relevant to their consumers,” Jope added.
Investors are watching the ice cream controversy as a test of Jope’s ability to balance his emphasis on marketing tied to social issues with financial results.
Ben & Jerry’s independent board, which makes decisions about its social activism outside of Unilever’s control (allegedly), announced last summer it would end its agreement with its current licensee in Israel so it could find one willing to cooperate in its policy of discrimination.
“Our absolute focus right now is to figure out what the new arrangement will be for Ben & Jerry’s,” Jope said on the conference call.
Unfortunately for Jope, Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s, the Jewish nation has a law against companies that discriminate based on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Last weekend Israeli officials announced they intend to enforce that law, so whatever “new arrangement” is chosen by Ben & Jerry’s, it will either be illegal or the board will be forced to eat its words.