on ice

North Carolina to hold off on action against Unilever until end of 2022

Seven states have divested from the conglomerate since its subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s announced it would cease sales in ‘Occupied Palestinian Territory’

EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images

A view of the entrance of the ice-cream shop inside the Ben & Jerry's factory in Be'er Tuvia in southern Israel, on July 21, 2021.

North Carolina is holding off – for now – from divesting from Unilever, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s, even as other states take punitive actions following the ice cream maker’s decision last July to end its contract in Israel, a spokesperson for the state treasurer’s office told Jewish Insider

“The Department of State Treasurer has reviewed the statement by Ben & Jerry’s in light of North Carolina Divestment From Companies Boycotting Israel Act,” a spokesman for State Treasurer Dale Folwell told JI. “The Ben & Jerry’s statement described an action that they plan to take at the end of 2022, but have not taken. We have determined that we should not take any further action at present. We plan to re-evaluate after the time of Ben & Jerry’s action, and we will continue to monitor the situation.”

According to the state treasurer’s office, North Carolina currently invests $62.9 million in Unilever stocks and bonds.

Gov. Roy Cooper (D-NC) signed the anti-boycott legislation in 2017; the bill, which requires state institutions to cease all contracts with companies that boycott Israeli companies and/or products made in Israel, was passed by overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly. The law also prohibits any future engagement with those companies. 

Dozens of other states have enacted similar legislation, which supporters argue is needed to counteract the effort to boycott, divest and sanction companies doing business in Israel.

In March, Colorado became the latest state to divest shares of Unilever from its pension funds, a move worth $42 million. Seven states, including New York, New Jersey, Florida and Illinois, have also either divested or announced intentions to sell their Unilever stocks and bonds.

Ben & Jerry’s announced its intention to halt sales in what it referred to as “Occupied Palestinian Territory” in July 2021, as well as ending the license agreement with the Israeli company that manufacturers and distributes its products. Still, Ben & Jerry’s has insisted “we will stay in Israel through a different business arrangement,” which has yet to be announced.

Avi Zinger, the owner of American Quality Products, which manufactures and distributes the ice cream in Israel, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in New Jersey last month against Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s, alleging that the companies pressured him to violate Israeli anti-boycott laws.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) rebuked Unilever for its decision last year. 

“Let me get this straight, while Ben & Jerry’s boycotts our ally Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, its parent company Unilever recently invested $112 million in an ice cream factory in Communist China, where the regime forces Uighur Muslims into concentration camps,” Tillis tweeted shortly after the company’s announcement in July. 

In January, Tillis and two Republican colleagues on the Senate Banking Committee accused the conglomerate of intentionally misleading investors into believing Ben & Jerry’s would still be sold in Israel despite no new contract with a different licensee. The senators also urged the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to open an investigation.

“Based on a history of comments from Ben & Jerry’s, there is strong reason to believe that these July 19 statements (announcing the decision to halt sales) were knowingly and recklessly false,” a letter from Tillis, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) and Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) stated. “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.”

North Carolina, and its Research Triangle Region in particular, is home to several tech, biotech and pharmaceutical companies that work with similar entities in Israel. The North Carolina Economic Development Partnership reports Israeli investments in North Carolina total more than $590 million and led to the creation of more than 1,000 jobs.

“State leaders are supportive of diversity and of Jewish people in our state. I compliment them on that,” Judah Segal, president of the Raleigh-Cary Jewish Community Relations Council, told JI. “I’m not concerned because ultimately North Carolina will divest from Unilever, or Ben & Jerry’s will ultimately change course. Not everything happens immediately, but in the right time the right thing will happen.”