Ben & Jerry’s Sues Unilever Over Sale of Israeli Business Sale

Ben & Jerry’s has filed a lawsuit against its parent company to cancel its business sale in Israel.

Last week, Unilever (UL) announced that it would sell Ben & Jerry’s Israeli business for an undisclosed amount to a local partner that would continue distributing its products in the West Bank.

However, the Vermont-based ice cream maker filed a complaint in the US District Court in New York, seeking an injunction against the Anglo-Dutch conglomerate “to protect the brand and social integrity Ben & Jerry’s has spent decades building.”

The dispute began when Ben & Jerry’s, a brand that has done business in Israel for 34 years, announced it would stop selling in the West Bank altogether in July last year. The company has faced pressure for selling in West Bank settlements, considered illegal under international law.

In response, its longtime distributor in Israel, American Quality Products (AQP), sued Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company Unilever in March, arguing the decision “illegally” ended their 34-year relationship to boycott the country.

Last week, Unilever announced that it had sold Ben & Jerry’s Israeli company to AQP for an unknown amount in what was described as an attempt to put an end to the discussion.

The retail giant, considered one of the world’s largest distributors of consumer goods, including Dove soap and Magnum ice cream, said that Ben & Jerry’s would henceforth be marketed in Israel and the West Bank under its Hebrew and Arabic names.

However, the sale reportedly caught Ben & Jerry’s management by surprise, and its chairman was “stunned” upon hearing the announcement, court documents showed.

Ben & Jerry’s has repeatedly said that it would not sell its products in Judea and Samaria because it would be inconsistent with its brand. The court filing notes a 2000 agreement with its parent company allowed an independent board of directors to legally oversee its brand’s values.

Unilever released a statement last week saying that “Ben & Jerry’s and its independent board were granted rights to make decisions about its social mission.” However, the conglomerate argued that the company “reserved primary responsibility for financial and operational decisions, and therefore has the right to enter this arrangement.”

On Wednesday, a Unilever spokesman insisted the retail giant “had the right to enter this arrangement,” adding that it would not comment on pending litigation because the deal had already closed.