Unilever resolves Ben & Jerry’s lawsuit over Palestinian sales

Unilever on Thursday said it had resolved a lawsuit brought by the board of its ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s over sales in the occupied Palestinian territories, ending an 18-month dispute that laid bare divisions within the company.

The UK multinational group said “Unilever is pleased to announce that the litigation with Ben & Jerry’s independent board has been resolved”, declining to provide further details.

The board of Ben & Jerry’s, whose independent role was enshrined when it was acquired by Unilever in 2000, had sought to pull the brand out of Israeli-occupied Palestinian land last year.

The lawsuit, lodged in July, followed a move by Unilever to sell Ben & Jerry’s Israeli arm to its long-term local licensee Avi Zinger. This aimed to circumvent Ben & Jerry’s attempt in 2021 to end his licensing deal as a means of ceasing sales in the West Bank. That move followed a campaign by pro-Palestinian groups.

Zinger on Thursday said his agreement to acquire the Israeli rights to Ben & Jerry’s remained in force.

“There is no change to the agreement I made with Unilever earlier in the year,” Zinger said. “I look forward to continuing to produce and sell the great tasting Ben & Jerry’s ice cream under the Hebrew and Arabic trademarks throughout Israel and the West Bank long into the future.”

Ben & Jerry’s board did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The board had argued that its role protecting the brand’s “social mission and integrity” included the right to pull out of the occupied areas. It said in 2021 that making sales in the West Bank was “inconsistent with our values”.

In the lawsuit, a rare case of a company being sued by its own subsidiary, Unilever had argued that the Ben & Jerry’s board of directors lacked the power to bring the legal action and had pushed for the litigation to be dismissed.

The move to pull out of the West Bank faced opposition from the Israeli government and from some US states, whose pension funds had begun divesting Unilever shares.

Ben & Jerry’s, which has long espoused political and environmental causes, topped €1bn in annual sales last year, becoming one of only 13 Unilever brands with sales on this scale.

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