When your favourite Ice Cream brand, Ben & Jerry’s, stands up for Human Rights

by Sonia Said
Image: Hybrid Storytellers / Unsplash

Recently, the atrocities perpetrated in Palestine have been well known by the users of social media platforms. Information being shared this way allowed for the killings, violence, and mass protests to be documented in real time. It meant that the inaction of powerful figures was highlighted as well. Not only were the killings, violence, and mass protests documented but also the inaction and carelessness of those capable of having a significant impact.In that sense, while people in the Occupied Palestinian Territories were (and are) fighting for their basic rights, the situation quickly became a game of power where each player had to choose a side. In the midst of this turmoil, one particular actor had an undeniable impact: the ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s.     

The disruptive factor

On July 17th 2021, the US-based ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s created a buzz on social media with a powerful statement: “Ben & Jerry’s will end sales of our ice cream in Occupied Palestinian Territories.” The ice cream brand sold in 35 countries as of 2015, decided to take a decisive stand. The company posted a short statement on their website, claiming that “it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).” Moreover, the company added: ”although Ben & Jerry’s will no longer be sold in the OPT, we will stay in Israel through a different arrangement.”While some suggested that the brand was influenced by the BDS movement (or Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement) created to put an end to Israel’s oppression of Palestinians, others complained that the brand was picking sides and creating injustice in Israel. 

Some precisions 

If you take a look at Ben & Jerry’s official statement the ambiguity is clear upon closer inspection. While the company kept its explanation cute and short, they added a FAQs section on their official website to tackle  possible misunderstandings of the decision. The company shed light on the fact that they are not part of the BDS movement, nor are they leaving Israel, but simply ending their sales in the region that is considered Occupied Palestinian Territories according to the United Nations. Moreover, the company also took the time to explain that the firm is not rejecting the State of Israel but the policies implemented. In that sense, this detail can become an element of debate per se. In a democratic state like Israel, are the policies not supposed to mirror the beliefs held by the population?

Simply a marketing strategy?

Even though the statement may seem diplomatic, Ben & Jerry’s must  deal with its own issues regarding its position. Firstly, the company will need to wait until the expiration of the license agreement with the unique local franchisee in the zone, which will happen in December 2022. In addition, it must remove its merchandise sold in grocery stores in the West Bank to comply with its promise. Then, it is important to mention that the company was officially bought by Unilever in April 2000; interestingly enough, after the brand’s announcement, the CEO of Unilever declared in a separate statement that the giant, independently from Ben & Jerry’s, will remain “fully committed” to its presence in Israel. In other words, Ben & Jerry’s is taking a stand alone.   

The solution to the Palestinian apartheid = no more Ice Cream in Israel? 

Now at this point, you might ask yourself; how does the withdraw of ice cream sales in Occupied Territories will help put an end to the Palestinian apartheid? The truth of the matter is that it will not end the apartheid. But the company decided to take a stand, advocating for human rights at its own scale and that is how influence can be spreaded. If we take a deeper look at the company’s values, Ben & Jerry’s has aimed at using their position as a multinational company to influence change. In that sense, the firm supports causes that defend the rights  of refugees, advocates for climate justice, and protests for climate justice reform. Therefore, for Ben & Jerry’s, on top of the marketing strategy that is undeniable, the company has bet on the right spot: an issue which can influence the world and make it a better place. The Palestinian apartheid is an issue which has been ongoing for years and has recently attracted the attention of people around the world. But if everyone raises their voices against injustices, the world would be a completely different place.  

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