Political posturing by Ben & Jerry’s has badly damaged its British parent company’s finances, campaigners have claimed in a call for an end to costly corporate “virtue signalling”.
UK-based multinational Unilever has lost £15bn in stock market value since July 2021 - when its US ice cream brand took a radical public stance on Israel.
Critics say the loss is at least in part the result of the political fallout.
The FTSE index rose by 17 per cent over the same period.
The company’s decision to stop doing business in east Jerusalem and the West Bank last July was branded a “disgraceful capitulation” to antisemitism by Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid.
In recent weeks, Ben & Jerry’s have once again incurred criticism by objecting to military support for Ukraine against Russia.
This morning protestors from the group Campaign For Common Sense (CCS) gathered outside Unilever’s headquarters in London on Thursday morning, as the company released its full year and Q4 results.
An advertising van pulled up outside the building with a poster bearing the warning: “Ice cream and politics don’t mix", amid concerns by some shareholders that Ben & Jerry’s political posturing could impact on the brand’s commercial success.
Earlier this month, Ben & Jerry’s criticised US military policy on the Ukraine-Russia crisis, posting on Twitter: “You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war”. The company called on US President Joe Biden to “de-escalate tensions and work for peace rather than prepare for war.”
Ben & Jerry’s has maintained an independent board since it was bought out, but critics claim the US brand has the power to make “social” decisions only if they are “commercially reasonable”.
Unilever, which also manufactures Hellman’s Mayonnaise, Domestos bleach and Dove soap, suffered a three per cent drop in its share price in early morning trading on Thursday.
A CCS spokesman said: “This isn’t about one specific policy or another, it’s about the very idea a company should prioritise virtue signalling over its real business. We’re calling for Unilever to stop engaging in pointless public posturing and to cancel all bad commercial decisions they’ve made based on fringe political opinions.
“They should stick to what they do best – making ice cream – and leave foreign policy to the experts. Unilever needs to focus on serving its customers and stakeholders by bringing Ben and Jerry’s under control to stop the damage it is doing to the business. It’s common sense: nobody expects their ice cream to have a foreign policy.”
He added: “ESG policy should not be highjacked by fringe activists with geopolitical axes to grind. Higher ESG scores do not correspond with high performance, as shown by Credit Suisse research, and inclusion of ever wilder causes in ESG policy can only worsen performance.”