Ben & Jerry’s board says pro-Palestinian campus protests are ‘essential’ to democracy

By Thomson Reuters May 13, 2024 | 10:15 AM

By Jessica DiNapoli

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The board of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, a brand owned by Unilever, said that the pro-Palestinian protests sweeping U.S. college campuses and graduation ceremonies are “essential” to democracy.

The Vermont-based frozen dairy dessert maker, sold on some college campuses, called for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza in January.

“Lunch counter sit-ins, student-led protests against the Vietnam War and Apartheid South Africa, and now the campus protests in solidarity with Gaza, all are part of our rich history of free speech and non-violent protest that makes change and is essential to a strong democracy,” the independent board said in a statement.

Three years ago, Ben & Jerry’s announced it would stop selling its ice cream in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, saying it was “inconsistent” with its values, and leading parent company Unilever to look for a “new arrangement” for selling the ice cream in Israel.

Unilever then offloaded its Israeli Ben & Jerry’s business to a local licensee, keeping the ice cream for sale in the country. The Ben & Jerry’s board sued to try to block the sale, and the lawsuit was later “resolved.”

Unilever is now planning to spin out its ice cream unit by 2025 in an effort to simplify its business.

London-based Unilever did not immediately return a request for comment.

Although many companies and executives initially condemned Hamas’ attacks on Israel on Oct. 7, few have said much about the specific conduct of the war since, although some have supported charity efforts to send aid to the region.

Ben & Jerry’s has spoken out on a number of issues, including gay marriage, prison reform and abortion rights.

(Reporting by Jessica DiNapoli in New York; additional reporting by Ross Kerber; Editing by Susan Fenton)