Recent controversies surrounding Ben & Jerry’s, known for their activism-driven approach, have once again stirred up debates on the role of companies in social issues. Despite the cautionary examples set by Bud Light and Target Stores earlier this year, Ben & Jerry’s remains committed to taking a stand on various causes, often drawing both support and criticism.
On Independence Day, the company released a statement with an anti-American sentiment, following a trend among left-leaning organizations to question the nation’s history and challenge patriotism. Their message, which implied the nation was essentially stolen, garnered mixed responses, with some mocking the brand and others suggesting that Ben & Jerry’s should set an example by returning the lands they utilize for their business.
In their statement, the company specifically called for the Black Hills area of South Dakota, home to Mount Rushmore, to be returned to the Sioux Tribes. Notably absent from their demands was any mention of returning the lands under their own purview. Ben & Jerry’s occupies significant acreage, including factory sites, milk-producing farmland, and numerous ice cream shops across the country, raising questions about their commitment to the cause they advocate.
Ironically, the unintentional proposal made by Ben & Jerry’s caught the attention of an indigenous tribe in Vermont, the Abenaki, who expressed interest in reclaiming the land on which the company’s headquarters is located. Chief Don Stevens of the Nulhegan Band of The Coosuk Abenaki Nation confirmed the tribe’s keenness to reclaim their stewardship over the land, although Ben & Jerry’s has yet to reach out to them about the matter.
This incident sheds light on a recurring pattern where activists voice strong opinions but often fail to follow through with practical actions. It underscores the need for responsible discourse and genuine engagement when addressing complex social issues. The unintended consequences of such grandiose statements may result in significant challenges and scrutiny for those who made them.
Ben & Jerry’s has faced backlash in the past for their activism. In 2020, they expressed support for Black Lives Matter protests, which some perceived as divisive. Their open letter also contained demands that were already addressed and promoted controversial ideas such as defunding the police. Furthermore, their decision to withdraw from the “occupied” West Bank in Israel stirred controversy, as it denied Palestinians access to their product while being unable to sever ties due to existing contracts made by their parent company, Unilever.
It is important to note that Ben & Jerry’s sold their company to multinational corporation Unilever in 2000. While the founders retained a social activist board overseeing their programs, the partnership has occasionally caused headaches for Unilever. The recent controversy surrounding the July 4 announcement led to some calls for a boycott, resulting in a stock sell-off for Unilever.
Time will tell whether these controversies will significantly impact Ben & Jerry’s market presence. However, their recent actions have ignited a fervent discussion on the intersection of social activism, business, and the potential consequences companies face when engaging in contentious issues.