Unilever 'firmly committed to Israel', CEO says
British consumer goods company Unilever on Thursday attempted to distance itself from a decision taken by subsidiary company Ben & Jerry's to halt the sale of its famed ice cream in the occupied Palestinian territories.
In a conference call with investors, Unilever CEO Alan Jope said the consumer goods giant remains "fully committed" to doing business in Israel.
"Obviously it's a complex and sensitive matter that elicits very strong feelings," he said. "If there is one message I want to underscore in this call, it’s that Unilever remains fully committed to our business in Israel," Jope said.
He added that "it is not our intent" to delve into such sensitive matters. "It’' been a long-standing issue for Ben & Jerry’s," he said. "We were aware of this decision by the brand and its independent board, but it’s certainly not our intention that every quarter will have one quite as fiery as this one."
Ben & Jerry's, which prides itself in taking up global social justice issues including climate change and LGBTQ rights, made the decision on its own without consulting its parent company, according to the Unilever CEO.
The company motivated the decision to stop distributing ice cream in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem by saying such sales were "inconsistent with our values".
In its statement, Ben & Jerry's sought to differentiate between Israel and its settlements, which are illegal under international law. The company would continue to produce ice cream inside Israel through a "different arrangement," it said.
Unilever purchased Ben & Jerry’s in 2000, however the company has maintained some independence over its social justice policies.
Jope gave no indication that Unilever would oppose Ben & Jerry's decision or force it to take a step back.
The chairman of Ben & Jerry's board of directors, Anuradha Mittal, had claimed that the company had been trying for years to withdraw its products from the occupied Palestinian territories but was prevented by Unilever.
The announcement is one of the starkest measures undertaken by a global company against Israel’s settlements, which are internationally regarded as illegal.
The Israeli government has condemned the decision, accusing the company of joining a Palestinian-led boycott campaign against Israel.
Speaking to Jope earlier this week, Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called the move a "clearly anti-Israel step."
He said Israel would take legal and other measures to oppose the decision.
"There will be a price to pay," Bennett said.