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Ben & Jerry parent company to take big hit over boycott as New Jersey readies to shed $182m in assets

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The fallout continues for Unilever, parent company of Ben & Jerry’s, with the announcement of New Jersey’s divestment in Unilever Plc (ULVR.L) stock and bonds held by its pension funds after the ice cream magnate’s July decision to stop selling their products in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

New Jersey is set to divest $182 million in Unilever assets over the controversy.

“No pension fund assets may be invested in the company, and DOI shall take appropriate action to sell or divest any existing pension fund investments,” the director of the New Jersey Division of Investment, Shoaib Khan told the New Jersey Globe.

The Division of Investment reviewed Ben & Jerry’s actions with help from ISS, an independent consultant, and found that the ice cream company’s decision constituted a boycott of Israel.

“Following this review, the division reached a preliminary determination that Unilever’s actions did in fact constitute such a boycott and sent a letter to Unilever notifying the company of its provisional determination,” Khan said.

Unilever has 90 days to appeal and request a modification of the order.

The decision is one Unilever is becoming familiar with as more states move to challenge the company following Ben & Jerry’s move to end sales in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories because, according to the ice cream company, selling its products there is “inconsistent with its values.”

While a representative for the parent company had no comment on New Jersey’s decision, they did cite an August letter from Unilever CEO Alan Jope stating that the company has “a strong and longlasting commitment to our business in Israel,” where it employs nearly 2,000 people according to Fox Business.

Despite being acquired by Unilever in 2000, the ice cream company’s deal with their parent company allows them more autonomy over their social mission, brand integrity and policies.

In the letter, Jope pointed to Ben & Jerry’s independent board as responsible for the decision, noting that Unilever does not support the “Boycott Divestment Sanctions” movement that punishes Israel for its conflict with Palestine.

A Ben & Jerry’s spokesman did not respond to messages, according to Fox Business.

“Our anti-BDS law was one of the first in the nation to use the power of state investment decisions to remove support for businesses that boycott Israel. News that NJ investment will be prohibited in the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s shows the law works,” New Jersey Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr., who sponsored the anti-boycott law, tweeted.

“Our law sends the clear message that New Jersey will not tolerate anti-Semitism and we won’t financially support businesses that target Israel. There are plenty of businesses that don’t engage in BDS activities where New Jersey’s $90 billion pension fund can be invested to the benefit of our public workers,” Kean said in a statement.

The law was first used successfully in 2019 when Airbnb refused listings in Israeli settlements, only to change its policy after New Jersey threatened to pull its investments, according to Kean.

“Earlier this evening, the New Jersey Department of Treasury announced that the Division of Investment has reached a preliminary determination that Unilever’s actions via Ben and Jerry’s constitute a boycott of Israel and violates New Jersey law. We commend the State of New Jersey for their decision, delivering a rebuke to those who would discriminate against the State of Israel – an ally of the United States and a vibrant economic partner of the State,” the Jewish Federations of New Jersey said in a statement praising the decision.

Arizona state Treasurer Kimberly Yee announced earlier this month that the state would divest $143 million in Unilever holdings for similar reasons.

Texas and Florida officials have also come out against the Ben & Jerry’s decision and have threatened to invoke laws similar to that of New Jersey to divest in the company.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog accused Ben & Jerry’s of committing “economic terrorism” in July in response to the ban.

Kay Apfel

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