The Financial Times reports that the ice-cream maker Ben & Jerry’s has become embroiled in a row with Boris Johnson’s government over its handling of the migrant crisis in the English Channel, in a new sign of how companies are using political controversy to generate publicity.
In a bust-up probably convenient to both sides, the company called on home secretary Priti Patel to show more “humanity” in dealing with the marked increase in migrants attempting to cross the Channel as people smugglers take advantage of calm seas and warm summer weather.
Ben & Jerry’s was acquired by Unilever 20 years ago after more than two decades of being outspoken on social issues and has retained this campaigning streak, sometimes leading the way for its parent.
In June it announced it would boycott Facebook in the US because of racism and hate speech, paving the way for Unilever days later to become one of the first multinationals to pull its advertising from the platform.
Ben & Jerry’s has also been a vocal supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, calling in June for an end to a “culture of white supremacy”.
The brand’s spat with the home secretary contrasts with a warm government response to Unilever when the consumer goods group announced, also in June, that it would seek to combine its UK and Dutch arms into a single London-based legal structure.
Under an agreement made at the time of its acquisition, Ben & Jerry’s has an independent board of directors in addition to Unilever’s, which it says is “not a governing body in the conventional sense, but a (very!) independent B.O.D. that’s empowered to protect and defend Ben & Jerry’s brand equity and integrity”.
In February, Unilever said it would stop marketing ice-cream such as Ben & Jerry’s to children in the light of the obesity crisis.