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Joining the Ben & Jerry's Cause

The original Ben and Jerry have taken up other causes.

May 29, 2004
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Related Topics: Corporate Culture, Mergers and Acquisitions
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Former Ben & Jerry's director Pierre Ferrari says that when Unilever bought the Vermont company, it didn’t have an easy time convincing workers that a giant multinational corporation would continue the ice cream maker’s trademark activism.

    "The Ben & Jerry’s culture was pretty anti-corporate, and that doesn’t go away easy," says Ferrari, now a member of a board that audits the company’s adherence to its original social mission. But over time, he says, Unilever has managed to win over most of the skeptical workers—in large part by proving that it is as committed to progressive causes as they are.

    In some ways, Unilever has utilized its financial heft to pursue the old values even more aggressively. "They’ve actually moved into organic ice cream, which is something the old Ben & Jerry’s was never able to do," Ferrari says, and are using only "fair trade" vanilla, coffee and chocolate so that farmers in developing nations are paid higher prices.

    Ferrari says that Unilever also has been zealous about global warming and has worked to reduce Ben & Jerry’s carbon dioxide output by investing in new refrigeration technology.

    "Certainly, Unilever had to make some changes in the corporate culture, from a business standpoint," Ferrari says. "They had to improve the efficiency and get the cash flow moving in the right direction. But now that they’ve been successful at that, I think that we’re seeing them move back toward the sort of things that were Ben & Jerry’s MO."

    As for the original Ben and Jerry, they still maintain an office in the company’s hometown of Burlington, but have moved on to other causes. Ben Cohen, the more outspoken of the two, founded True Majority, a nonprofit group whose causes include pushing for more U.S. cooperation with international efforts to combat hunger and global warming.

    During the 2004 presidential campaign, Cohen toured the country with a 12-foot-tall effigy of President Bush with fake flames shooting out of the pants, his lighthearted way of questioning Bush’s truthfulness about Iraq and other issues.

Workforce Management, April 2005, p. 37 -- Subscribe Now!

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