‘Hypocritical’ Ben & Jerry’s Sued over Child Labor after Anti-Israel Boycott Bid

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

Woke ice cream giant Ben & Jerry’s is being sued for its “hypocritical” use of child labor, despite the company’s oft-stated commitment to social justice causes.

The news of child labor comes on the heels of a settlement with its parent company, Unilever, which Ben & Jerry’s accused of violating a merger deal signed over two decades ago with its recent decision to allow the sale of its Israel-based operations. despite an attempted boycott by the ice cream maker.

The company’s involvement with child labor came to light shortly after it settled a high-profile legal battle with its parent firm over an attempted boycott against Israel, which Israel supporters viewed as prejudiced. The Ben & Jerry’s board responsible for the boycott has stayed mum about the labor issue, while its leader has continued to take shots at Israel.

New York Times investigation published last month alleged Ben & Jerry’s dairy facilities exploit migrant child laborers, often for dangerous and factory jobs, despite the ice cream company’s declared mission to “honor and stand with” migrants.

More than 100 migrant children interviewed for the expose, many of whom had entered the U.S. as unaccompanied minors from Central America, “described jobs that were grinding them into exhaustion, and fears that they had become trapped in circumstances they never could have imagined,” the report said.

The children work to pay back smugglers, pay for living, and send to their families back home, the report said.

“Ben & Jerry’s is opposed to child labor of any kind whatsoever. The company has an established track record standing for justice and equity for all including five plus years with Milk with Dignity supporting migrant workers. The Milk with Dignity Standards Council ensures that farmworkers are fairly compensated for their labor, work in healthy conditions, and builds in additional safeguards for those who are 16 and 17,” a spokesperson for the company told the Times.

But as Daniel Freedman from JNS points out:

The Milk With Dignity code goes so far as to bar “the threat or use of sexual or physical assault” against workers, which is pretty noble of Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield. Nothing says respect for human rights like agreeing not to sexually assault workers.

But the code only bars “systemic unlawful child labor.” That’s quite a few loopholes in just four words. The full wording in the code defines “the use of systemic unlawful child labor, as defined by applicable law in the jurisdiction in which the farm is located.” That’s as good as an admission. Child labor can be systemic or it can be unlawful, but it can’t be both systemic and unlawful.

Plaintiff Dovid Tyrnauer filed a federal class action lawsuit against Ben & Jerry’s in a New York court, the Times of Israel reported. The case argues Ben & Jerry’s had misrepresented its ethical commitments to consumers.

When Ben & Jerry’s sued Unilever – effectively for not agreeing to boycott Israel – their legal argument was heavily based on its sense of justice, Tyrnauer’s lawsuit claimed.

A view of the entrance of the ice-cream shop inside the Ben & Jerry's factory in Be'er Tuvia in southern Israel, on July 21, 2021. - Ben & Jerry's announced that it will stop selling ice cream in the Israel-occupied Palestinian territories since it was "inconsistent with our values", although it said it planned to keep selling its products in Israel. The West Bank and East Jerusalem have been under Israeli control since 1967. Roughly 475,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank, in communities widely regarded as illegal under international law, alongside some 2.8 million Palestinians. (Photo by Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP) (Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images)

A view of the entrance of the ice-cream shop inside the Ben & Jerry’s factory in Be’er Tuvia in southern Israel, on July 21, 2021. (EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images)

“While Ben & Jerry’s purports to use ethical supply chains and professes concern about farmworker welfare, the reality could not be further from the truth. Migrant child labor is used in Ben & Jerry’s supply chains,” the lawsuit claimed. “Ben & Jerry’s wishes to have its ice cream and eat it too. It wishes to sell premium priced products with pompous virtue-signaling representations regarding its supposedly ethical sourcing, all the while migrant child labor is used in its supply chains. Put simply, this is a case about greed run amok.”

“The premiums that consumers pay for allegedly ethically-sourced products, in this instance, are not justified and constitute a breach of consumer trust through the misrepresentations,” the lawsuit said.

Contacted for comment about the class action lawsuit, Ben & Jerry’s referred The Times of Israel to a previous statement issued in response to the New York Times report, which, notably, condemned child labor but did not deny that its suppliers were using it.  The ice cream maker also refused to answer the outlet’s questions.

As per The Times of Israel:

The Ben & Jerry’s independent board tasked with protecting the company’s “social mission,” which decided to boycott Israeli settlements, has not commented on the child labor issue. A company spokesperson said the statement responding to the New York Times investigation was not attributable to the board.

The board’s chair, Anuradha Mittal, has not publicly commented, but has repeatedly shared anti-Israel content on Twitter since the child labor issue came to light. Mittal has a pro-intifada poster on her office wall.

Alyza Lewin, a lawyer for Ben & Jerry’s Israel in its lawsuit against the boycott, said the child labor allegations had exposed the company’s double-standard when it comes to Israel.

“This information that’s now come out about the immigrant child workers does kind of confirm the hypocrisy of the whole episode with Israel,” Lewin said. “What you had was a board that caved to BDS pressure and it was never about trying to help Palestinians.”

“If you’re going to go out there and claim that you’re all about social justice, then where is your voice now when it comes to these poor children?” Lewin said.

The social justice warriors at the helm of the ice cream giant have a long record of leveraging the brand for their political activism, with the release of new flavors for a range of causes du jour from climate change, same sex marriage, Occupy Wall Street, and Black Lives Matter.

In an interview last year, Cohen and Greenfield were asked why the decision to boycott a state over its policies never stretched to Georgia and Texas, despite their vocal opposition to those states’ abortion and voting rights laws.

“Why do you still sell ice cream in Georgia? Texas?” McCammond asked.

Clearly stumped, Cohen, a Bernie Sanders supporter, shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know,” he said, laughing.

“You ask a really good question and I think I’d have to sit down and think about it for a bit.”


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