Ben and Jerry's Didn't Sell Out


| November 9, 2000


Ben & Jerry's Didn't Sell Out
Last spring, when Dutch multinational Unilever bought ice cream maker Ben & Jerry's Homemade, many mourned the selling out of a paragon of socially-responsible business. Not so, says Terry Mollner, a leading figure in the socially-responsible investment world and a member of the company's board. Rather, he argues, the way Unilever purchased Ben & Jerry's 'suggest[s] the beginnings of a new movement: the maturation of capitalism.'

Writing in the fall issue of GreenMoney Journal, Mollner gives a fascinating account of his four-month crusade to save Ben & Jerry's from a hostile takeover bid that would have ended the company's progressive social mission. Citing a Wall Street Journal study that named Ben & Jerry's the country's fifth most-respected brand, Mollner tried unsuccessfully to pull together a group of investors to outbid ice cream giant Dreyer's.

When Unilever expressed interest in buying the company, Mollner convinced them to consider the value of Ben & Jerry's progressive image. In the end, says Mollner, 'To the surprise of all, Unilever allowed Ben & Jerry's to remain a separate subsidiary corporation with the same board of directors continuing to direct the company.' In addition, Unilever, the world's largest producer of consumer goods, 'requested that representatives from Ben & Jerry's serve on a committee to improve their social impacts in the 120 countries in which the $55 billion company operates.'

The question everybody is asking, says Mollner, is ''Will Unilever become more like us or us more like them?' I am absolutely confident that nature, evolution, cooperation, maturation, and love are with us and that the leadership at Unilever will continue to join us in it. It is only an issue of how far and how fast.'
--Leif Utne
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