Arizona has decided to divest state funds from Unilever over its subsidiary’s decision to stop selling its ice cream in Israeli-occupied territories. The decision is a result of anti-Israel boycott laws that bar Arizona from investing in businesses that are taking part in boycotts of Israel. The announcement has been made by Arizona Treasurer Kimberly Yee. The decision announced by Yee was mandated by a 2019 state law. The law prohibits the state government agencies from holding investments or doing business of more than USD 100,000 with any company that boycotts Israel or its territories. The state has already reduced its investment in the company, which owns Ben & Jerry’s, by USD 90 million in June. The state would reduce the investment in Unilever to zero by September 21. The information has been shared with Richard Williams of Unilever Investor Relations via an email sent by Yee. This is when Ben & Jerry’s has maintained that the decision is not a boycott. The company had announced earlier this year that it would stop selling ice cream in east Jerusalem and the West Bank by the end of 2022.
Ben & Jerry’s, which is based in Vermont, said that the company hears and recognizes the concerns shared by its trusted partners and fans. “We strongly believe that this is inconsistent with our values for the company’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” the company said in a statement. Arizona seems to be the first state with such laws or regulations that are on the path of being fully divested from Unilever following the decision announced by Ben & Jerry’s. Yee said that an ultimatum was given to Unilever in August. “Unilever was warned about consequences in case it fails to comply with Arizona law. The company chose to face consequences,” Yee said. Under the law, Arizona is not allowed to invest or sign any kind of contract with anyone boycotting Israel. This is defined as any action that is intended to limit the investment in Israel. Commenting on the development, Unilever said the decision does not reflect an endorsement of the BDS movement. “Unilever acquired Ben & Jerry’s in the year 2000. It has always been the part of the acquisition agreement that we recognize and accept the decisions taken by its independent board,” the company said. The ice cream company has been insisting that it is still doing business in the country.
Laura Peterson, public relations manager for Ben & Jerry’s, said that the company is not boycotting Israel. “We are going to stay in Israel despite the fact that the company will no longer sell ice cream in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. We will very much stay in Israel but through a different business arrangement,” Peterson said. The board had earlier said that staying in the occupied territories was ‘inconsistent with the company’s values.” Israel reacted strongly to the development. The country even urged US governors to take strict action against the company under anti-boycott laws. Meanwhile, Illinois warned the company of action after the company’s board decided the move. Similarly, Florida and some other states are taking action against the company. But US groups who have extended support to Israel are divided over the move. They are not sure if taking action against the company would be appropriate. It must be noted that Arizona law was enacted in the year 2016. It was later revised in 2019.
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