Ben & Jerry’s sees boycott call after July 4 appeal to return ‘stolen indigenous land’

Parent company Unilever loses nearly $2 billion worth of stock since announcement; Native American tribe whose land company’s HQ is built on expresses interest in its return

Ben & Jerry's ice cream on sale at a shop in Jerusalem, on July 19, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Ben & Jerry's ice cream on sale at a shop in Jerusalem, on July 19, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ben & Jerry’s faced calls for a boycott this week after it called on the United States to return “stolen indigenous land” in a tweet sent to mark the country’s Independence Day.

It is not the first time the ice cream company has sparked controversy for its activism. An attempted boycott of West Bank settlements in 2021 drew charges of antisemitism and resulted in a deal allowing the Israeli branch of Ben & Jerry’s to operate independently.

“The United States was founded on stolen indigenous land. This Fourth of July, let’s commit to returning it,” Ben & Jerry’s tweeted Monday, on the eve of celebrations.

In a full statement on its website, the firm contended that Independence Day celebrations can “distract from an essential truth about this nation’s birth,” and suggested that the Mount Rushmore monument should be the first place to be handed over to its original landowners.

“The faces on Mount Rushmore are the faces of men who actively worked to destroy Indigenous cultures and ways of life, to deny Indigenous people their basic rights,” the statement read, referencing former presidents depicted on the monument who played a role in atrocities against Native Americans.

In response, social media users called for a boycott and compared the situation to the controversy surrounding Bud Light’s recent partnership with transgender social media personality Dylan Mulvaney — which also sparked calls for a boycott.

Ben & Jerry’s parent company, Unilever, has lost nearly $2 billion in its publicly traded stocks since the announcement.

“Just when you think @benandjerrys couldn’t go any lower – they pull this stunt. Boycott Ben and Jerry’s,” a user tweeted.

“Sounds good. Let’s start with giving away Ben and Jerry’s,” responded another.

“Make @benndjerrys Bud Light again,” tweeted country singer John Rich.

One user told the company to “give ALL of your property and land back to the Native Americans right now then… or shut up.”

Don Stevens, a chief of the Abenaki tribe that owned the land the company’s headquarters was built on told Newsweek they are “always interested in reclaiming the stewardship of our lands,” but that Ben & Jerry’s have not contacted them.

According to the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs website, the Abenaki nation existed on the land of present-day Vermont, where the company is based, for 12,900 years.

Newsweek said they approached the firm for comment, but they have yet to respond.

Last year, Ben & Jerry’s announced a boycott of “occupied Palestinian territory.” The decision sparked massive financial blowback for Unilever, as US states enacted anti-BDS divestment laws, pulling hundreds of millions of dollars in investments from the conglomerate.

Ben & Jerry’s Israel and its parent company Unilever struck a deal earlier this year that would see branding rights fall to the local Ben & Jerry’s franchise, disconnecting it from the global brand.

The US branch of Ben & Jerry’s then launched a lawsuit in an attempt to block the deal, claiming it would represent a threat to their branding. Unilever said it had resolved its dispute with Ben & Jerry’s in December without specifying the terms of the agreement. The case had appeared to be going against Ben & Jerry’s before the deal was announced.

The Jewish founders of Ben & Jerry’s, who no longer run the company, have said Unilever “usurped their authority” by spinning off the Israel branch.

The case has illustrated the pitfalls of progressive corporate activism, the risks for companies attempting to boycott Israel, and the growing role of corporate investment in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute in the US.

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