GOP senators demand SEC investigate Unilever after Ben & Jerry's Israel boycott
Lawmakers call for investigation into statements made by Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever
FIRST ON FOX: GOP senators on the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee have demanded answers from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on whether the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s has violated SEC rules in its Israel boycott.
In a December letter obtained exclusively by FOX Business to SEC Chairman Gary Gensler, Republican Sens. Thom Tillis, of North Carolina, John Kennedy, of Louisiana, and Tim Scott, of South Carolina, called for an investigation into statements made by Unilever following the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in July 2021.
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On July 19, 2021, Ben & Jerry’s announced it would no longer sell its ice cream in the "Occupied Palestinian Territory," referring to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The company said the move did not mean Ben & Jerry’s was exiting or boycotting Israel and was specifically not a part of the "Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement."
"We will stay in Israel through a different business arrangement," the ice cream company said.
Unilever backed the move saying, "We also welcome the fact that Ben & Jerry’s will stay in Israel," noted the lawmakers in their letter.
"There is strong reason to believe that these July 19 statements were knowingly and recklessly false," the GOP senators wrote, referencing an Israeli law that prohibits targeted boycotts based on location.
"Effectively, that means Ben & Jerry’s can stay and sell in all of Israel, including the OPT referenced in the firm’s July 19 statement, or it can leave Israel entirely," the lawmakers wrote. "But it cannot remain in the country in the way it publicly said it would: partially-in, partially-out."
The senators alleged that Ben & Jerry’s knew the proposal to move sales from the West Bank and Gaza Strip were a violation of Israeli laws and pointed to a 2013 decision in which the company rejected a similar boycott floated by the Vermonters for Justice in Palestine, an activist group.
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Additionally, the lawmakers claimed that following the July statement by Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s head of the independent Board of Directors, Anuradha Mittal, said the parent company had issued its statement without board approval.
"It is a reasonable assumption that these statements were orchestrated by Unilever and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Ben & Jerry’s, to deceive shareholders and avoid violating state anti-BDS laws that would trigger mandatory divestment of the companies by state public pension funds," the senators argued in their letter.
The letter claims that Unilever and its wholly owned subsidiary, Ben & Jerry’s, have violated SEC Rule 10b-5(b) which says it is unlawful "to make any untrue statement of a material fact or to omit to state a material fact necessary, in the light of circumstances under which they were made."
The lawmakers have called for an investigation into the statements made by Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever, arguing it is necessary to "defend the integrity of U.S. markets."
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"Woke corporations like Ben & Jerry’s want to have their cake – or in this case, ice cream – and eat it too," a spokesman in Scott’s office told Fox News. "Sen. Scott is committed to holding them and their parent company accountable for misleading shareholders and the public."
The SEC did not immediately respond to Fox News’ questions.