Ben & Jerry’s asked a federal court Monday to block parent company Unilever from transferring its assets to local licensee Avi Zinger in Israel – arguing that doing so would directly undercut the left-leaning ice cream brand’s social justice mission.
Attorneys for Ben & Jerry’s independent board of directors attempted to halt Unilever from providing “know-how and trade dress” related to the company’s products, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The lawyers noted that Ben & Jerry’s has a demonstrated history of championing its favored social causes through product launches, such as an ice cream flavored “Anti-Trump Pecan Resist.”
Allowing the Israel-based licensee to acquire key trademark rights would clear the way for him to release Ben & Jerry’s products with messages contrary to the board’s values while using the same branding and recipe, the lawyers said.
Meanwhile, Unilever’s legal team noted that the sale to Zinger was already complete and could not be halted.
Additionally, the corporate parent’s lawyers argued that Ben & Jerry’s independent board lacks the authority to sue Unilever under the terms of an existing agreement. Ben & Jerry’s founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, sold the company to Unilever in 2000 for $326 million.
Representatives for Zinger did not immediately return a request for comment.
It’s unclear when the federal judge could rule on the board’s request for a preliminary injunction, according to the Wall Street Journal. A separate lawsuit currently underway will determine the extent of the independent board’s rights in relation to Unilever.
In June, Unilever said it had reached an agreement to sell its Ben & Jerry’s business in Israel to Zinger, and his firm, American Quality Products Inc. Ben & Jerry’s halted sales of its products in the West Bank in July 2019, declaring that continued operations were “inconsistent” with its values because of Jewish settlements.
Within days of the sale’s announcement, Ben & Jerry’s independent board filed suit in a bid to block it from proceeding. The argument from the brand’s lawyers in this week’s court hearing reiterated statements included in its initial lawsuit in July.
At the time, the ice cream company asserted that Unilever had made a “unilateral decision” to move forward with the sale without its consent.
Ben & Jerry’s legal team added that a court-ordered injunction halting the sale was “essential to preserve the status quo and protect the brand and social integrity Ben & Jerry’s has spent decades building.”
When addressing its decision to sell Ben & Jerry’s Israel operations earlier this summer, Unilever said Ben & Jerry’s board retained rights related to its “social mission,” but noted, “Unilever reserved primary responsibility for financial and operational decisions and therefore has the right to enter this arrangement.”
The court hearing proceeded after Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever failed to reach a resolution after two weeks of mediation.