Amid Ben & Jerry's Settlement Row, Unilever Chief Says Company 'Fully Committed' to Israel

CEO distances the conglomerate from the watershed decision, but does not indicate that Ben & Jerry's, which is owned by Unilever but maintains independence on social justice policy, would be forced to reverse course

Unilever headquarters in Rotterdam, Netherlands August 21, 2018
Unilever headquarters in Rotterdam, NetherlandsCredit: Piroschka Van De Wouw/ REUTERS

The chief executive of Unilever on Thursday said the global consumer goods giant remains “fully committed” to doing business in Israel, distancing himself from this week's announcement by the company's Ben & Jerry's ice cream brand to stop serving Israel's West Bank settlements.

But CEO Alan Jope gave no indication that Unilever would force Ben & Jerry's to roll back its controversial decision.

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The Ben & Jerry's announcement is one of the strongest rebukes by a well-known company against Israel's settlements, which are widely seen by the international community as illegal. The Israeli government has condemned the decision, accusing the company of joining a global Palestinian-led boycott movement against Israel and urging 35 American states with anti-boycott laws to punish Unilever.

In a conference call with investors, Jope said that Ben & Jerry's, which has a long history of social activism, had made the decision on its own.

He noted that under its purchase agreement with Ben & Jerry's in 2000, the company maintained broad independence over its social justice policies and that Unilever respected that arrangement.

“Obviously it’s a complex and sensitive matter that elicits very strong feelings,” he said. “If there is one message I want to underscore in this call, it's that Unilever remains fully committed to our business in Israel.”

That includes a new 35 million euro ($41 million) razor factory and corporate offices and facilities that employ some 2,000 people, he said.

He said “it is not our intent” to regularly delve into such sensitive matters.

“It’s been a longstanding issue for Ben & Jerry’s,” he said. “We were aware of this decision by the brand and its independent board, but it’s certainly not our intention that every quarter will have one quite as fiery as this one.”

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