The National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC), an ethics watchdog group, released a letter today that it sent to North Carolina State Treasurer Dale Folwell. The letter requests that the Tar Heel State join others in “the immediate divestiture of Unilever holdings in all public pension funds managed and controlled by the State of North Carolina….”
An earlier letter was sent by NLPC to New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, and the Falls Church, Va.-based nonprofit also filed a complaint was filed with the Internal Revenue Service. Arizona and New Jersey have already announced intentions to withdraw investments from their states’ holdings, due to Unilever subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s plans to discontinue selling its products in Israel’s so-called “occupied territories.”
More than 30 states, including North Carolina, have laws that prohibit state investments in companies that engage in boycotts against the nation of Israel.
“So far Unilever has refused to do anything about the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic actions of its wholly-owned subsidiary Ben and Jerry’s,” said Peter Flaherty, NLPC Chairman. “Until Unilever changes its policy, it must pay a price.”
The letter, signed by NLPC’s Corporate Integrity Project Director Paul Chesser, explains how Anuradha Mittal – the Chair of Ben & Jerry’s Board of Directors – was the architect of the ice cream company’s policy to end sales in Israel’s “occupied territories.”
“Mittal proposed a boycott of all of Israel. Her Twitter account has many anti-Israel tweets and as Chair of the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation may have steered funds in a self-dealing scheme,” stated Chesser. “We urge North Carolina to join other states in divesting from Unilever.”
A complete copy of the letter is below:
Dear Treasurer Folwell:
We write to respectfully request that you affect the immediate divestiture of Unilever holdings in all public pension funds managed and controlled by the State of North Carolina, under your authority.
In July New York’s Office of the State Comptroller warned Unilever that its Ben & Jerry’s subsidiary, by its decision to stop selling ice cream in Israel’s “occupied territories,” jeopardized its Common Fund’s ability and willingness to invest in Unilever.
Since that time, the states of Arizona and New Jersey have announced their intention to divest themselves of Unilever stocks and bonds. Under its current law, Florida is reportedly discontinuing further investments in Unilever. Illinois is considering the same, and other states are reportedly reviewing their investment holdings in Unilever under their existing anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) laws.
More urgently, Unilever’s position that it is opposed to anti-Semitism is belied by the actions and associations of Anuradha Mittal, the Chair of Ben & Jerry’s Board of Directors. The Ben & Jerry’s Board is not an actual governing board, but holds special control under its agreement with Unilever that is “empowered to protect and defend Ben & Jerry's brand equity and integrity.”
Mittal is the architect of the ice cream company’s policy to end sales in Israel’s “occupied territories.” Reportedly, Mittal also proposed a boycott of all of Israel. Her Twitter account has many anti-Israel tweets, and contains specific endorsements of the BDS movement.
Mittal is also a trustee of the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation – listed as vice president of the four-member board as recently as 2019 – which reportedly has made $170,000 in grants to a nonprofit called the Oakland Institute, of which Mittal is the paid executive director. In August, the National Legal and Policy Center filed a Complaint with the Internal Revenue Service, alleging that this arrangement may violate the Internal Revenue Code’s prohibition on self-dealing.
In 2017, the Oakland Institute reportedly made a sub-grant to the so-called Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights. Last year, the European Union ended its funding of this Center after it refused to agree to an “anti-terror” clause in its funding contract.
If Unilever were truly opposed to anti-Semitism – as well as the appearance of unethical self-dealing between Ben & Jerry’s corporate, its foundation, and organizations it supports – then it would have already severed its relationship with Mittal.
Moreover, Unilever’s anti-Israel bias is underscored by the fact that it has announced no intention to end ice cream sales in China, where it is a leading foreign brand.
National Legal and Policy Center promotes ethics in public life, and sponsors the Corporate Integrity Project. We are heartened to see state officials of both political parties in different states defending Israel and taking a strong stand against anti-Semitism.
Unilever was given the opportunity to do the right thing, but instead the company doubled down on defending the indefensible. It is time for investors to do the right thing and divest from Unilever.
If I can be of further assistance or answer any questions, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Director, Corporate Integrity Project
Please visit http://www.nlpc.org
National Legal and Policy Center