The independent board of Ben & Jerry’s claimed this week that its parent company, Unilever, froze the salaries of its directors last month to pressure the ice cream company in advance of a mediation over the sale of the Israeli business to its franchisee.
The sale was made after a year in which multiple American states divested their holdings from Unilever over a decision by Vermont-based Ben & Jerry’s to terminate its decades-long contract with Israeli franchisee Avi Zinger.
The decision was made due to Zinger’s refusal to stop selling the ice cream in post-1967 areas of Israel, including Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and parts of Jerusalem.
The independent board of Ben & Jerry’s sued Unilever in an effort to stop the parent company from selling the Israeli franchise to Zinger.
“This decision for us to go to court is because of Unilever’s sale without our input, which is a clear violation of the letter and the spirit of our original acquisition agreement with Unilever,” board chairperson Anuradha Mittal said in an interview with Reuters.
“If Unilever is willing to so blatantly violate the agreement that has governed the parties’ conduct for over two decades, then we believe it won’t stop with this issue.
“If left unaddressed, Unilever’s actions will undermine our social mission and essential integrity of the brand, which threatens our reputation and ultimately our business as a whole,” she added.
In response, Unilever said in a statement that it reserves primary responsibility for financial and operational decisions under the terms of its 2000 acquisition agreement of Ben & Jerry’s, and “therefore has the right to enter this agreement with Avi Zinger.”
Attempts to reach a settlement out of court failed, leading to a hearing scheduled for August 8 on Ben & Jerry’s request to block the sale.
Unilever’s 400+ brands include basic household products sold in Israel such as Vaseline skin lotion, Dove soap, Hellman’s mayonnaise and numerous others.