Past letters to the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) show that Unilever, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s, defended its decision to do business in countries like Cuba, Iran and Syria.
The Daily Caller reported that in a 2020 letter to the SEC, Unilever acknowledged conducting business with a hotel affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which the Trump administration designated as a terror group in 2019; the administration argued at the time “that the IRGC actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft. The IRGC is the Iranian government’s primary means of directing and implementing its global terrorist campaign.” Unilever also acknowledge paying taxes and fees to the Iranian government in the letter.
Additionally, in separate letters to the SEC in 2006 and 2010, Unilever stated that the business it was conducting in Iran, Syria and Sudan was not with any state-run companies; in Cuba, they conducted business with a government-run manufacturing company. Unilever argued that their business in these countries was beneficial to poorer residents.
Marc Greendorfer, founder of the Zachor Legal Institute, told The Daily Caller that it was hypocritical for Unilever to allow Ben & Jerry’s to cease operating in the “Occupied Palestinian Territory” while continuing to do business in “countries with the worst human rights abuses,” after having “defended doing so to United States regulators on the basis that the operations are not material to their operations.” “Surely, the revenues from selling ice cream to Jews in their historic homeland are even less material to Unilever’s operations than, say, the revenues from doing business in Syria, Iran or Cuba, yet it looks like Unilever continues to do business in those countries as they boycott Jews.” He added that the SEC should mandate Unilever “to provide investors with full disclosure on the financial impact of engaging in boycotts so investors can make a reasoned decision as to whether the actions are material to their decision whether to buy, hold or sell their Unilever shares.”
Unilever did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment.
Arizona, New York, New Jersey and Florida are among the states that have announced that they will be divesting from Unilever after concluding that Ben & Jerry’s Israel move violates their anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) laws. StandWithUs Co-Founder and CEO Roz Rothstein argued in a letter on behalf of StandWithUs and the Israeli American Coalition (IAC) for Action that Unilever does have the power to overrule Ben & Jerry’s and should do so.
“Ben and Jerry’s must explain—to you and to the investing public—how its social mission requires such a boycott when it signed a contract showing that doing business in Israel was consistent with its social mission,” Rothstein wrote. “Clearly, it is Ben and Jerry’s that is in breach, and it is within Unilever’s rights to reverse the Board.”