What's hot:

, , ,

Ben & Jerry’s supports Occupy Wall St.

Ben & Jerry’s has announced its support for the Occupy Wall Street movement. Is this a sincere gesture of support, a marketing gimmick, or pure hypocrisy? Let’s take a look.

In a letter posted online late last week, the Ben & Jerry’s Board of Directors wrote:

“We, the Ben & Jerry’s Board of Directors, compelled by our personal convictions and our Company’s mission and values, wish to express our deepest admiration to all of you who have initiated the non-violent Occupy Wall Street Movement and to those around the country who have joined in solidarity. The issues raised are of fundamental importance to all of us. … [W]e realize that Occupy Wall Street is calling for systemic change. We support this call to action and are honored to join you in this call to take back our nation and democracy.”

Also in the letter, Ben & Jerry’s identifies such issues as:

  • “The inequity that exists between classes in our country is simply immoral,” and
  • “Corporations are permitted to spend unlimited resources to influence elections while stockpiling a trillion dollars rather than hiring people.”

* * * *

Ben & Jerry’s makes incredible ice cream, and the company has a good record of sustainable business practices and charitable giving. But their endorsement of Occupy Wall Street seems a little (um…) half-baked. See, it’s not just the ice cream that’s rich.

Ben & Jerry’s is part of Unliever, a London-based multinational corporation with $8.4 billion* in profits last year.

Last year, Unilever paid its CEO, Paul Polman, compensation worth $3.8 million, plus tens of thousands of shares of stock. Polman also serves on the board of directors for Dow Chemical, which last year paid him $116,000 plus stock. When you buy a pint of Chubby Hubby, you’re helping keep Unilever’s CEO comfortably in the top 1%.

Unilever’s revenue grew last year, and the company was sitting on $3.6 billion in cash at the end of 2010. Yet Unilever is also shutting plants and laying off workers. Last month, Unilever announced plans to close an ice cream plant in Maryland, costing 50 workers their jobs. Next year the company plans to close a manufacturing plant in Connecticut, costing 184 workers their jobs.

Ben & Jerry’s, despite its success, has also had to lay people off. Earlier this year, Ben & Jerry’s cut about 24 jobs at its famous Waterbury, Vermont plant. It wasn’t the first time, either. In a 2005 Social & Environmental Assessment (SEAR), Ben & Jerry’s said: “In the last two years, our parent company’s ‘One Unilever’ initiative has also consolidated several positions at Ben & Jerry’s Vermont sites. Over the past three years, the Company has severed 242 employees.”

* * * *

Ben & Jerry’s board seems opposed to many of the business practices of Unilever. But does the Ben & Jerry’s brand have the spine to publicly attack its corporate owners? So far, no. On its Twitter feed this weekend, the Ben & Jerry’s team posted two flattering messages about Unilever.

Ben & Jerry's Unilever tweets

* * * *

I’m picking on Ben & Jerry’s to make a point. We live in a world full of contradictions.

It’s possible to love your job and do your best work every day, but to view your company with mistrust and suspicion. A corporation as big as Unilever isn’t full of people marching in unison. It’s a noisy, conflict-filled community. Not unlike the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Ben & Jerry’s does one thing very well: They market ice cream. All their social activism has to be viewed within that context. Doing good means selling more ice cream, and selling more ice cream means rich guys get richer. That’s a curious situation, but it doesn’t make doing good any less right.

* * * *

* Revenue figures in this post come from Unilever’s 2010 Annual Report and Form 6-K. Conversions from Euro to dollars were based on the Dec. 31, 2010 exchange rate.

— By Daryl Lang. Filed under Marketing, News & Journalism, Politics


  1. PA Haggerty says:

    I hope YOU did all this before Fox or some other Right leaning media ragger could. The best of us still have foibles and weaknesses. The question may be “Are you a good witch or a bad witch?” And that should be asked of all of us.

  2. Diane says:

    First, thanks for going beyond the press release or headline and giving this piece some relevant context with info from Ben & Jerry’s annual report.

    Second, my two cents: Ben & Jerry’s is doing exactly what we all should be doing. That is, voicing our personal moral convictions in a reasonable, responsible way – even if it means disagreeing with the umbrella corporation, or one’s government. Isn’t that how we in these united states are supposed to implement change? I don’t expect everyone who works for banking behemoths to up and quit their jobs; that would be stupid. I certainly hope employees on Wall Street (and everywhere) raise their voices and do their best to ensure their employers are behaving morally, responsibly, and yes, profitably. Duh. Capitalism works, but greed is still a sin. Capitalism doesn’t require oppression, lying or stealing to work, either. Let’s show the world how it’s supposed to look!

  3. rcmiller@yhoo.com says:

    Gave up Ben and Jerry’s 10years ago and I feel much better. I support our government in its war on sugar and poisoning our children. With more progress and control maybe even Ben and Jerry’s will be forced to close.

Facebook Conversations