Behind the fight between Ben & Jerry's and its owner, Unilever.

Ben & Jerry’s is suing its owner, consumer products giant Unilever, in an unusual case that seeks to prevent Unilever from selling t...


Ben & Jerry’s is suing its owner, consumer products giant Unilever, in an unusual case that seeks to prevent Unilever from selling the ice cream brand’s distribution rights in Israel to a local licensee.

Last year, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the founders of the company famous for its positions on burning issuessaid they would end the sales in Territories occupied by Israel. The licensee is expected to continue to sell Ben & Jerry’s in these regions.

The rift between Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever dates back to Unilever’s acquisition of the ice cream brand in 2000, DealBook newsletter reports. As part of the deal, Unilever agreed to let Ben & Jerry’s independent board of directors, to which Unilever appoints only two of 11 seats, continue to oversee the brand and its image.

The unusual arrangement gave the founders continued control despite the sale of their business. As a general rule, shareholders vote in elections to the board of directors. But this contract is between Unilever and Conopco, which is officially the sole shareholder of Ben & Jerry’s. Conopco is obligated to vote for the choices of the Board of Directors of the Founders and their successors, who are also appointed by Ben & Jerry’s Board of Directors.

Unilever is able to choose the brand’s chief executive, which a board usually does, but even that person is expected to defer to Ben & Jerry’s independent board when it comes to maintain “the corporate social responsibility aspects of the business,” Ann Lipton, a business law professor at Tulane University Law School who studied the acquisition, told DealBook.

But Unilever appears to have a possible exit, Ms Lipton said. The contract itself may not be enforceable in court. Traditionally, a contract is made between two parties. In this case, the deal could have been between Unilever and the founders of Ben & Jerry’s, but it’s not, she said.

“It’s like having a contract with yourself,” Ms. Lipton told DealBook. “If you’re the sole shareholder of the company, the idea that the company can enter into a contract with you is kind of unheard of. It’s very strange.”

She said she hadn’t heard of a similar case, adding, “It’s a business law class case study.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Behind the fight between Ben & Jerry's and its owner, Unilever.
Behind the fight between Ben & Jerry's and its owner, Unilever.
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