Business news | Ben & Jerry's Loses in Court Battle Over Israel Sales

Ben & Jerry's of Vermont had asked a federal judge to halt a corporate parent's plan to use an intermediary to sell its goods in east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, but the judge denied the plea.

On Monday, a federal judge denied Ben & Jerry's attempt to halt a corporate parent's proposal to permit the sale of its goods in east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, which is against the wishes of the Vermont ice cream maker's independent board of directors.

The decision by the London-based consumer products behemoth Unilever would harm Ben & Jerry's social mission or confuse its customers, according to U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Carter.

Carter stated in his three-page ruling that the injury Ben & Jerry's claimed was "too hypothetical."

The decision stated that "the products sold in Israel and the West Bank will use no English trademarks, instead displaying new Hebrew and Arabic language Ben & Jerry's trademarks, [thereby] being dissimilar from other Ben & Jerry's products, mitigating, if not eliminating the possibility of reputational harm."

According to Sean Greenwood, a representative for Ben & Jerry's, the firm has "no new stance for us to disclose at this time."

Ben & Jerry's complaint in the case, which was filed last month, described the company's 44-year history of social action, which included opposition to American nuclear weapons spending in the 1980s and support for farmers' rights and LGBTQ+ rights in the 1990s.

After being acquired by Unilever in 2000, that activism persisted, with an emphasis on climate change and migrant justice among other things, and after George Floyd's death in 2020, Ben & Jerry's became a supporter of Black Lives Matter.

The independent board of Ben & Jerry's said last year that it would stop selling its ice cream in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and disputed east Jerusalem because such sales are "inconsistent with our principles."

An Israeli licensee would market the goods with Hebrew and Arabic labels after Unilever sold its business interest in Ben & Jerry's in Israel to the Israeli licensee earlier this year.

Ben & Jerry's said in its lawsuit that Unilever's action "poses a risk" to the reputation of its brand. Additionally, according to Ben & Jerry's, the acquisition agreement from 2000, which gave the company freedom from Unilever to make commercial decisions, was broken by the transaction.

Unilever did not respond to a message given to it on Monday right away, but the corporation has previously claimed that "the agreement has already closed" and that it did have the right to the sale.

While the 2000 acquisition deal indicated that Unilever would have the final say on financial and operational choices, it gave Ben & Jerry's board discretion over the company's social goal.

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