Oct 10, 2021 - Axios on HBO

Scoop: Ben and Jerry stumped by Texas and Georgia

The activist co-founders of Ben & Jerry’s admitted in an interview with “Axios on HBO” that they don't know how to hold states like Georgia and Texas accountable when they pass laws with which they disagree.

Why it matters: Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield have made progressive politics synonymous with their brand. The 70-year-old entrepreneurs, who no longer control the company but retained their right to be its social conscience, have shown they’ll use business muscle in pursuit of their ideals.

Axios' Alexi McCammond asked, during an interview in the brand’s home state of Vermont: “You guys are big proponents of voting rights. Why do you still sell ice cream in Georgia? Texas — abortion bans. Why are you still selling there?”

  • “I don’t know,” Ben Cohen said with a laugh. “It’s an interesting question. I don’t know what that would accomplish. We’re working on those issues, of voting rights. ... I think you ask a really good question. And I think I’d have to sit down and think about it for a bit.”
  • When pressed on the Texas limits on women’s access to abortion, Cohen said: “By that reasoning, we should not sell any ice cream anywhere. I’ve got issues with what’s being done in almost every state and country. ”
  • "One thing that's different is that what Israel is doing is considered illegal by international law. And so I think that's a consideration," Greenfield said.

One of the company’s latest moves — its 2021 decision to stop selling ice cream in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories — led to serious backlash.

  • Cohen and Greenfield wrote a joint NYT op-ed defending the company’s decision. “While we no longer have any operational control of the company we founded in 1978, we’re proud of its action and believe it is on the right side of history,” they wrote.
  • Thirty-five states in the U.S. have anti-Israel boycott laws, and so far four have announced they’re taking action or considering divesting from Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s parent company.
  • Greenfield told “Axios on HBO” that those states’ decisions are based on “misinformation” that “Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever are being characterized as boycotting Israel — which is not the case at all. It’s not boycotting Israel in any way,” he said.

The bottom line: Cohen said they have found “ways to do things that increase justice — and also increase ice-cream sales.”

  • “Ben & Jerry’s publicly supported Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter. But over the years, the company continues to sell more ice cream and thrive,” Greenfield said.
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