TALLAHASSEE — Florida continues to move closer to ending financial ties with ice-cream giant Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company, Unilever PLC.
Ash Williams, executive director and chief investment officer of the State Board of Administration, said Tuesday he anticipates Unilever will be added to what is known as Florida’s list of “Scrutinized Companies that Boycott Israel,” prohibiting state investments and contracts with the companies.
The potential addition to the list is based on a decision by Ben & Jerry’s to stop selling its products in the West Bank and Gaza in 2022.
“We’ve not been not seeing any meaningful response from Unilever, period,” Williams told Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who serve as the State Board of Administration, which oversees state investments.
The state has about $139 million in holdings in Unilever and its subsidiaries.
Unilever was advised of the state’s position in July, and a 90-day period will end Oct. 26 for Ben & Jerry’s to reverse its decision to stop selling ice cream in the West Bank and Gaza.
On Monday, the State Board of Administration’s Investment Advisory Council adopted a proposed revision to the state’s investment policy statement to handle the anticipated ban, Williams said.
Williams said after the meeting he’s had contact with Unilever officials and doesn’t anticipate a change in position from the Britain-based company, which represents a “small part” of the state’s overall investments.
Florida isn’t the only state taking such action because of Ben & Jerry’s decision to stop selling its products in the West Bank and Gaza.
Similar action was taken in the past week by New Jersey, which has about $182 million invested in Unilever stock, bonds and securities, and Arizona, which has $143 million in public funds linked to Unilever. New York and Illinois have threatened similar action.
Ben & Jerry’s has said its decision remains consistent with its values and “concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners.”
“We have a longstanding partnership with our licensee, who manufactures Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Israel and distributes it in the region,” the company said online. “We have been working to change this, and so we have informed our licensee that we will not renew the license agreement when it expires at the end of next year.”
The company disagrees that it is part of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement.
“Although Ben & Jerry’s will no longer be sold in the (Occupied Palestinian Territories), we will stay in Israel through a different business arrangement,” the company said.
The company, founded by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, said they are “Jewish supporters of the state of Israel” and that its action “is not a rejection of Israel. It is a rejection of Israeli policy, which perpetuates an illegal occupation that is a barrier to peace and violates the basic human rights of the Palestinian people who live under the occupation.”
Unilever, which sells products ranging from Hellmann’s mayonnaise to Dove soap, purchased Ben & Jerry’s in 2000. The company said in a July news release it has always recognized the “right of the brand and its independent board to take decisions about its social mission.”
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DeSantis’ office has criticized the stance of Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever, saying there is “nothing progressive about boycotting the only democracy in the Middle East.”
— By Jim Turner