TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Following the Unilever reversal of boycotting sales of its Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Israel, state officials say the ice cream company’s owner remains on a state list of companies under examination for boycott efforts against the U.S. ally.
In July 2021, Ben & Jerry’s, which is owned by Unilever, chose to boycott selling their products in Israel’s occupied territories, including the West Bank. Following the boycott announcement, Florida officials including Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the ice cream brand would be placed on a list of Scrutinized Companies, and urged to reverse the boycott effort.
State officials gave Unilever until Oct. 26, 2021 to reverse the boycott plan, threatening what the state called economic consequences. As previously reported, Florida had $139 million invested in Ben & Jerry’s, with the economic threat putting that investment at risk. The State Board of Administration is still reviewing the process for how to deal with the company.
On Tuesday, Unilever announced that sales in the region, previously chosen to be boycotted by Ben & Jerry’s, had resumed, saying “The new arrangement means Ben & Jerry’s will be sold under its Hebrew and Arabic names throughout Israel and the West Bank under the full ownership of its current licensee.”
WFLA.com reached out to the governor’s office to ask about the status of the company as it pertains to Florida.
“The State Board of Administration (SBA) does due diligence prior to decisions about any changes to the State of Florida’s ‘Scrutinized Companies that Boycott Israel’ list, which currently includes Unilever. This process will take some time,” a spokesperson for the governor said.
It has been just under a year since the boycott began. Following the change by Unilever, state officials celebrated how putting Unilever on the list had helped make the change.
In their statement about the change of policy, Unilever said they “look forward to continuing to make a positive contribution to Israel’s economy,” after selling the licensing rights to their Israel-based partner, AQP.
American Quality Products Ltd., owned by Avi Zinger, is the company in Israel that operates as the licensee for the ice cream, according to Unilever. Ben & Jerry’s itself said the move by its parent company remains at odds with its own beliefs. In a Twitter thread, Ben & Jerry’s said it was aware of the Unilever announcement, but that it did not agree with it.
“Unilever’s arrangement means Ben & Jerry’s in Israel will be owned and operated by AQP. Our company will no longer profit from Ben & Jerry’s in Israel. We continue to believe it is inconsistent with Ben & Jerry’s values for our ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” the company said.
Now that Unilever has reversed course, some state officials say the threat helped pressure them into changing their stance.
“Unilever’s reversal of their discriminatory decision to forbid sales of Ben & Jerry’s throughout all of Israel is the right move and no doubt, a direct result of the pressure of being added to the Florida’s Scrutinized Companies list,” Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said. “My fellow Trustees of the SBA, including Governor DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody, deserve a lot of credit for holding companies accountable for their unlawful targeting of Israel. The State of Florida has deep ties with Israel and its great people and I will continue to work with Governor DeSantis and the SBA in support of our ally and the most free, democratic and prosperous nation in the Middle East.”
However, a manager for the SBA said in a statement to WFLA.com that “At this time, it does not appear that the status of Unilever remaining on the state’s ‘Scrutinized Companies that Boycott Israel List’ would change” and that the state will “continue to review and learn more about this development,” as analysis continues of the situation and relevant state statutes progresses.