Melting Point

GOP senators urge SEC to investigate Unilever

Banking committee members claim that the Ben & Jerry’s parent company made ‘materially false and misleading statements’

AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images

A man buys Ben & Jerry's ice cream in Jerusalem on July 20, 2021.

Three Republican members of the Senate Banking Committee are urging the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate Unilever, alleging that the company deliberately misled investors about the pullout by its subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s from what the ice cream maker referred to in July as “Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

The letter from Sens. Thom Tillis (R-NC), John Kennedy (R-LA) and Tim Scott (R-SC), sent to SEC Chairman Gary Gensler in mid-December but not disclosed publicly until Jan. 5, alleges that Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever intentionally made misleading comments when they said that the dessert company planned to continue sales within Israel.

“Based on a history of comments from Ben & Jerry’s, there is strong reason to believe that these July 19 statements were knowingly and recklessly false,” the letter reads. “Israeli law bars boycotts of Israeli citizens of all backgrounds based on their location. Effectively, that means Ben & Jerry’s can stay and sell in all of Israel, including the [Occupied Palestinian Territories] referenced in the firm’s July 19 statement, or it can leave Israel entirely, but it cannot remain in the country in the way it publicly said it would: partially-in, partially-out.”

The letter cites 2013 comments from Ben & Jerry’s — rejecting a push by activists for it to divest from Israel — in which the company allegedly said it could not boycott parts of Israel without violating Israeli law, as evidence that it was aware of this Israeli regulation.

The senators also argue that the statements from Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s over the summer were an attempt to sidestep state-level anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions laws, which would have triggered several states to divest their state pension funds in the event of an Israel boycott. 

Several states have nonetheless announced plans to divest from Unilever or otherwise take action against it. Last month, Illinois became the sixth state to penalize Unilever, when its investment policy board voted to divest state funds from Unilever.

“It is a reasonable assumption that these statements were orchestrated by Unilever and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Ben & Jerry’s, to deceive shareholders and avoid violating state anti-BDS laws,” the letter reads.

Caroline Anderegg, a spokesperson for Scott, told Jewish Insider, “Woke corporations like Ben & Jerry’s want to have their cake — or in this case, ice cream — and eat it too. Senator Scott is committed to holding them and their parent company accountable for misleading shareholders and the public.”

This Senate letter follows a call from a bipartisan group of House members for the SEC to investigate Unilever, arguing that the company should amend its regulatory filings and that it potentially violated the law by failing  to properly disclose risks to investors, but does not explicitly allege that either the international conglomerate or its subsidiary deliberately misled investors.