US states continue to take action over Ben & Jerry’s decision to stop selling ice cream in the occupied Palestinian territories. The New York Post reported Friday that the main pension fund for New York state’s government workers warned that it might divest funds from Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s UK-based parent company.
Over 30 US states have passed legislation against the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement that advocates for global boycotts to pressure Israel for its occupation and war crimes against Palestinians. New York hasn’t passed BDS legislation, but in 2016 Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order requiring state agencies to divest from organizations and companies that boycott Israel. At the time, Cuomo said passing legislation was a “tedious affair” and that he wanted to take “immediate action” against BDS.
Liz Gordon, executive director of corporate governance of the $254.8 billion New York pension fund, sent a letter to Unilever CEO Alan Jope. According to the Post, the pension fund has $73 million invested in Unilever. Gordon said state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli “is troubled and concerned” by Ben & Jerry’s decision.
Gordon warned that the state pension fund has a policy of restricting investment in companies that participate in BDS. She said reports suggest “Ben & Jerry’s, a Unilever wholly-owned subsidiary, is involved in BDS activities.”
She wrote: “The Fund views BDS activities as a potential threat to Israel, its economy, and, as a result, the fund’s relevant investments. Further, a number of US states have acted or are considering actions to penalize companies that engage in such behavior. As a result, companies that engage in BDS activities may face legal, reputational and financial risks.”
Gordon gave Unilever 90 days to respond and “confirm or deny whether Unilever or its subsidiaries have undertaken any activities with the intent to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with, the State of Israel.”
Ben & Jerry’s said they would stop selling ice cream in the “Occupied Palestinian Territory” after a contract with a distribution expires at the end of next year. The company said they would still sell products in Israel, so the ban only applies to illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
After the announcement, Israel urged the governors of the US states with anti-BDS laws on the books to enforce them against Ben & Jerry’s, and some seem happy to comply. So far, New York, Texas, Florida, New Jersey, and Illinois are considering action against the ice cream company.