- Ben & Jerry’s (B&J) was founded on May 5, 1978, when Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield together invested $12,000 to open an ice-cream parlor in Burlington, Vermont. The store was enormously successful and soon developed into a franchise business. In 1985 Cohen and Greenfield created the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, a philanthropy that historically has taken 7.5% […]
Ben & Jerry’s (B&J) was founded on May 5, 1978, when Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield together invested $12,000 to open an ice-cream parlor in Burlington, Vermont. The store was enormously successful and soon developed into a franchise business. In 1985 Cohen and Greenfield created the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, a philanthropy that historically has taken 7.5% of B&J’s pre-tax profits and distributed them to organizations whose political and social agendas are consistent with the leftist leanings of the founders.
In 2000, Cohen and Greenfield sold B&J to the British-Dutch conglomerate Unilever for $326 million. As Biography.com notes, “the sale … contained provisions to allow Ben & Jerry’s to maintain its existing social mission and brand identity.” Also under the terms of the sale, B&J became a wholly owned subsidiary of Unilever and maintained a separate board-of-directors that included the two founders. Although the company retained the names of its founders, Cohen and Greenfield no longer held any board or management position and were not involved in the day-to-day management of the company. The founders claimed, however, that they were now far removed from any leadership role in the company. As Greenfield put it in a 2008 interview, “[W]e’re not involved in operations or management. So we have no responsibility, no authority, and very little influence.”
B&J has long been an outspoken corporate defender of leftwing political values and agendas. Claiming, for instance, that “it can no longer be denied” that “the effects of climate change” caused by “man-made carbon pollution” are having an “increasin[g]” effect on “our fragile planet,” B&J declares: “The scientific evidence is settled; global warming is real and already impacting people around the world.” Adds B&J: “The cruel irony of climate change is that people in the developing world, who can least afford to adapt to climate change, will pay the steepest price for the 200 years of industrialization and pollution from the developed world. It truly is an issue of climate justice.” To address this matter, B&J:
- launched a carbon-offsets program for its Vermont manufacturing facilities in 2002;
- carried out its first global-warming advocacy campaign in 2007;
- initiated a “Save Our Swirled” ice-cream flavor (to increase climate-change awareness) in 2015; and
- published a list of “Endangered Pints” in 2016—i.e., ice-cream flavors that, because of “the impact of global warming” on harvests of ingredients like cocoa and peanuts, could possibly become scarce or unavailable in the future.
After the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 U.S. states in 2015, B&J, claiming that “the movement for marriage equality is on an unstoppable roll,” celebrated the decision by introducing a new cookie-dough ice-cream flavor called “I Dough, I Dough.”
Announcing its support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest movement in October 2016, B&J lamented that “systemic and institutionalized racism” was “disadvantaging and discriminating against people of color” nationwide, most notably in the form of “violence and threats to the lives and well-being of black people.” “All lives do matter,” said B&J. “But all lives will not matter until black lives matter.” One method by which B&J raised money for BLM was by selling T-shirts that read “Hands Up Don’t Shoot,” a slogan that had grown out of the false narrative which claimed that a white police officer’s fatal 2014 shooting of Michael Brown, a young black man in Missouri, had occurred while Brown was raising his hands in submission and pleading, “Don’t shoot.”
In October 2018, B&J introduced a new ice-cream flavor, “PeCAN Resist,” consisting of chocolate ice cream with fudge chunks, pecans, walnuts, and fudge-covered almonds. This roll-out was part of what the company described as a campaign to “lick injustice and champion those fighting to create a more just and equitable nation for us all”; “lift up those who are leading the resistance to the current [Trump] administration’s regressive agenda”; and “celebrat[e] the activists who are continuing to resist oppression, harmful environmental practices and injustice.” As part of the campaign, B&J partnered with four leftist organizations — Color Of Change, Honor the Earth, Women’s March, and Neta — and donated $25,000 to each of them.
On December 10, 2020, B&J announced that it was partnering with former National Football League quarterback and Black Lives Matter activist Colin Kaepernick to bring consumers a non-dairy, vegan-flavored flavored ice cream called “Change the Whirled.” Said the company in a statement: “We are so inspired by Colin Kaepernick’s bold activism for racial justice that we did what we do best: We whipped up a euphoric flavor to honor his work.”
In early February 2021 in Tampa Bay, the city which was hosting that year’s Super Bowl, B&J erected a 30-foot-by-90-foot billboard with a mural honoring Kaepernick. The sign depicted Kaepernick with a raised fist, along with images of his “Change the Whirled” ice cream, an “I Know My Rights” sign from his “Know Your Rights Camp,” and children wearing Kaepernick t-shirts. “As we look back, it’s clear that Colin was on the right side of history,” said Chris Miller, the head of B&J’s global activism department. “His pre-game protests were before George Floyd’s murder, before the 2020 summer of racial reckoning. He knew a long time ago that we need to address the root causes of racism and the structures of our society that are so brutal to Black people. We wanted to be part of the effort to honor Colin’s courage and legacy because we share the same values.”
On April 12, 2021, B&J tweeted about an incident where a white female police officer in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota had accidentally shot and killed a young black man named Daunte Wright when he resisted arrest and tried to flee the scene. “The murder of #DaunteWright is rooted in white supremacy and results from the intentional criminalization of Black and Brown communities,” B&J tweeted, adding: “This system can’t be reformed. It must be dismantled and a real system of public safety rebuilt from the ground up.” The tweet also included the hashtag #DefundThePolice.
On July 19, 2021, B&J announced that it would stop selling its products in the West Bank and parts of contested East Jerusalem when its license agreement expired the following year, on grounds that sales in the Israeli settlements located in those regions were “inconsistent with our values.” But B&J’s independent board of directors, which is in charge of Ben & Jerry’s “social mission” and brand integrity, did not feel that the announcement went far enough in punishing Israel. Specifically, they objected to the final paragraph, which said: “Although Ben & Jerry’s will no longer be sold in the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories], we will stay in Israel through a different arrangement.” The board members also objected to a separate statement in which the parent company, Unilever, said: “We remain fully committed to our presence in Israel, where we have invested in our people, brands and business for several decades. Ben & Jerry’s was acquired by Unilever in 2000. As part of the acquisition agreement, we have always recognised the right of the brand and its independent Board to take decisions about its social mission. We also welcome the fact that Ben & Jerry’s will stay in Israel.” Infuriated by these statements, the board released its own statement denouncing what Unilever had done in its subsidiary’s name. Moreover, B&J’s board chair Anuradha Mittal fumed: “They are trying to destroy the soul of the company. We want this company to be led by values and not be dictated by the parent company.” Mittal has a history of referring to Israel’s creation as a “catastrophe,” and of supporting the Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions movement against Israel.
In September 2021, B&J unveiled a new flavor of ice cream, called “Change Is Brewing,” in support of the People’s Response Act (PRA) which had recently been introduced in the House of Representatives by Congresswomen Cori Bush, Ayanna Pressley, Pramila Jayapal, and Jan Schakowsky. Aligned with the “Defund the Police” movement promoted by Black Lives Matter and the radical Left, the PRA called for police officers to be replaced by “unarmed, licensed professionals” and “community-led first responders” in instances of “mental health emergencies.” Asserting that this “visionary” plan was rooted in “respect, dignity, and caring” and “will save lives,” B&J said in its announcement introducing the new flavor: “Change is Brewing! Grab your spoon & dig into a flavor boldly celebrating safety & liberation for all. It’s time to divest from systems that criminalize Black communities & invest in a vision of public safety that allows everyone to breathe free.” “Police officers—militarized, armed, primed for conflict—are not trained behavioral, medical, or mental health experts,” added B&J. “We know what results when they respond to health crises: too often, it’s violence and death.” By B&J’s telling, the PRA would “hel[p] to transform the nation’s approach to public safety to one that prioritizes community needs, in collaboration w/ @Mvmnt4BlkLives.”