US judge weighs Ben & Jerry’s claims against owner over Israeli business

NEW YORK, Aug. 8 (Reuters) – A US judge on Monday suspected that Ben & Jerry’s deserves an immediate injunction against its parent company Unilever Plc for restricting marketing of its ice cream in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Ben & Jerry’s said. It was against the values.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Carter said at a court hearing in Manhattan that he was unsure whether Ben & Jerry’s showed it had “imminent harm” after Unilever sold the ice cream maker’s Israeli business to local licensee Evie Zinger on June 29. was faced.

The unusual controversy illustrates the challenges facing Unilever as it encourages its brands, which number more than 400, for the social mission the company says help increase sales.

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The independent directors of Ben & Jerry’s sued Unilever on July 5, nearly a year after the maker of Half Baked and Cheri Garcia decided to end sales in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian Territories because it was “inconsistent” with its values. was. Although the lawsuit also sought to stop the sale altogether, Monday’s hearing focused on whether Ben & Jerry’s could use its English-language trademarks as a temporary injunction preventing Zinger from selling new or rebranded products. Is worthy.

Ben & Jerry’s attorney Shahmir Halepota said in court that Zinger may be producing new products with “the exact opposite stance,” leading to consumer confusion.

“Instead of peace pops, you can make ‘tank pops,'” Halepota said, and shoppers would see the two walking down the grocery store aisle.

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The judge did not rule immediately, but told Ben & Jerry’s attorney: “I don’t hear anything saying anything is imminent. It doesn’t look like … anything is going to happen in the next few weeks.”

He did not say when he would rule.

When Unilever bought Ben & Jerry’s in 2000, it allowed the brand’s board to retain the primary responsibility of overseeing the ice cream maker’s social mission. Ben & Jerry’s board said the sale of Zinger reduced its right to do so. The two Unilever appointments sparked disagreement.

“This is an American institution that has built its credibility on this authenticity of a social mission for the past 40 years,” Halepota said.

Conversely, Unilever has stated that it retained the right to make operational decisions for Ben & Jerry’s, and that the sale cannot be undone because it has ceased irreversibly.

“There is no reason to believe … that the continued sale of ice cream could cause irreparable harm,” said Unilever’s attorney, David Marriott.

Ben & Jerry’s sales topped 1 billion euros (US$1.02 billion) for the first time last year.

Jeff Furman, who helped build the business and served on the board of Ben & Jerry’s for nearly 40 years, said the company had not sued Unilever at first, but it did so once it discovered quality issues in the ice cream. Thought, which was later resolved.

“We have our fingers – that’s part of the job – to be alert and concerned about everything,” he said.

Last week, Ben & Jerry’s said that Unilever had put a moratorium on compensation for independent directors. read more

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Ahead of Monday’s hearing, two weeks of mediation broke down to reach an out-of-court settlement. read more

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Reporting by Jonathan Stempel and Jessica Dinapoli in New York; Editing by Grant McCool

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Jessica Dinapoli

Thomson Reuters

The New York-based reporter covers American consumer products from paper towels to packaged food, the companies that make them and how they are responding to the economy. Previously reported on corporate boards and troubled companies.