Ben & Jerry's: The Millstone Around Unilever's Neck

Ben & Jerry's is circling the drain due to its decision to join the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. VINnews reports that Ben & Jerry's parent Unilever has lost $26 billion in value (down more than 20%, it seems to have recovered a bit since then) and has laid off 1500 workers partly due to backlash, including invocation of state anti-boycott laws, against Ben & Jerry's. BDS supporters believe prices must be paid by everybody but themselves, for the Cause. They will fight to the last Unilever stockholder, the last Unilever employee, the last Ben & Jerry's franchisee, the last tax-exempt professional organization such as the American Studies Association, and the last tax-exempt union to harm Israel and therefore, by necessity, advance the cause of Hamas.

Form 13909 complaints have been filed with the IRS against some of the 501(c) organizations in question with reasons such as ultra vires (outside the organization's charter and mission as reported to the IRS on Form 990) and involvement in political campaigns when material was found on organizations' web sites that advocated the defeat of Donald Trump and others. This material would have probably gone unnoticed had the organizations not drawn the wrong kind of attention to themselves. The IRS understands that very few people or organizations get reported by people who like them; it's usually the disgruntled ex-spouse, disgruntled ex-employee or, in this case, those of us who view BDS as support for anti-Semitism and terrorism, who turn them in.

It also came out that Ben & Jerry's "social responsibility" selling point is little more than an empty slogan due to the presence of sugar as a major ingredient in Doggie Desserts. Doggie Desserts are priced much higher per ounce than ordinary peanut butter, contain water as a major ingredient, and contain sugar as a major ingredient. Even in the absence of the sugar-related health issues, literally watering down one's product so the customer receives less value per ounce is not socially responsible. (Water may admittedly be a necessary ingredient of a frozen treat but I doubt any dog will turn down frozen peanuts-only peanut butter.) The inclusion of an ingredient that is harmful to dogs is even worse. Consumers should be educated to buy peanuts-only peanut butter instead; make sure it does not include, however, xylitol which is very dangerous to dogs. High salt content also should be avoided. If in doubt, ask your veterinarian.

This issue would have probably gone overlooked for quite some time had Ben & Jerry's not drawn the attention of the pro-Israel movement and, more generally, pro-freedom movement that includes support for all the world's free nations including Taiwan against terrorists such as Hamas and dictatorships like Communist China. People don't normally go to websites to investigate the ingredients of products they don't buy, but involvement in BDS draws the wrong kind of attention. Now the Ben & Jerry's Foundation and Anuradha Mittal's Oakland Foundation find themselves under scrutiny for exactly that reason.

The New York Post reports that the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) filed a complaint with the IRS that contends, "It is our contention that this a possible violation of self-dealing as [Anuradha] Mittal is considered a disqualified person under IRS rules." Regardless of the propriety of Ben & Jerry's Foundation's grants to the Oakland Institute, however, the decision by Anuradha Mittal and other Ben & Jerry's Board members (as Mittal could not have acted alone) to involve the company in BDS has brought nothing good to the business interests of Unilever and its shareholders, the jobs of Unilever employees, Ben & Jerry's franchisees, and the reputation of Ben & Jerry's.

There is meanwhile speculation that Unilever might want to sell off Ben & Jerry's as part of its new ice cream division, although I cannot see why they would want to part with Breyers or Klondike. Anybody who is thinking of buying Ben & Jerry's for goodwill, which includes reputation and customer relationships, or opening a Ben & Jerry's franchise, needs to realize that Ben & Jerry's is now damaged goods due to its involvement in BDS. Alan Dershowitz has meanwhile raised the possibility of "a stockholder derivative suit against Unilever" and mentioned the issue of fiduciary duties. Pursuit of controversial political agendas not related to the business does not appear to be consistent, from where I sit, with a fiduciary duty to investors, employees, and other stakeholders. 

Michael Ashner of Winthrop Capital Partners, which owns a stake in Unilever, has also taken exception to Ben & Jerry's actions. I would meanwhile encourage mutual funds and pension funds to consider divestment from Unilever not over the BDS issue -- if Unilever is a good investment then the fund managers have a fiduciary duty to stick with it regardless of what they, I, or others think of BDS -- but rather because BDS has made Ben & Jerry's into damaged goods and is dragging the rest of Unilever down with it.

This is what happens when an organization tolerates governing members who bring personal political agendas under the organization's roof. What is happening to Unilever should be an object lesson to every other organization that has involved itself in BDS and, for that matter, other political controversies.

Civis Americanus is the pen name of a contributor who remembers the lessons of history, and wants to ensure that our country never needs to learn those lessons again the hard way. He or she is remaining anonymous due to the likely prospect of being subjected to "cancel culture" for exposing the Big Lie behind Black Lives Matter.

Image: Ben & Jerry's

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