Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the House are pressing the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate whether Unilever, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s, should be required to amend regulatory filings to include possible shareholder risks regarding the ice cream maker’s boycott of Israel.
The lawmaker group, which is being led by Rep. Richie Torres (D-N.Y.), sent a letter to SEC Chairman Gary Gensler on Friday pressing him to ensure that Unilever is complying with the agency’s rules.
“In the interests of shareholders, consumers, and public policy, we believe it is appropriate for the SEC to take steps to ensure the full disclosure of all information necessary to make Unilever’s filings in compliance with the rules and regulations of the United States’ SEC,” says the letter.
“Unilever is a widely held company with a current market capitalization of $135 billion, which places in jeopardy the manifold United States institutions, pension funds, and endowments which hold its shares on behalf of its beneficiaries,” the letter continued, according to the New York Post. “We believe that these actions require the SEC to request that the regulatory filings of Unilever be amended to disclose the material risk factors.”
Signing on to the letter were Reps. Andrew Garbarino, R-N.Y., Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa.
In July, Ben & Jerry’s said the company would no longer sell products in disputed territories that included the West Bank, which the ice cream maker’s liberal chieftains deemed “Occupied Palestinian Territory.”
The company’s announcement came as tensions and conflict ramped up between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip. The statement said that selling products in those disputed areas is “inconsistent with” Ben & Jerry’s “values.”
In a July statement to Fox News, Unilever said that the company “remain[s] fully committed to our presence in Israel,” going on to point to a 2000 agreement with the ice cream maker that “recognized the right of the brand and its independent Board to make decisions about its social mission.”
Currently, more than 30 states bar the use of public pension funds or the awarding of any contracts to companies boycotting Israel. Some have since responded to Ben & Jerry’s Israel boycott by divesting state pension funds from Unilever.
Earlier this month, Michael Ashner, who runs activist fund Winthrop Capital Partners, said that Ben & Jerry’s boycott of Israel was dragging down Unilever’s shares. He also accused the company of allowing the ice cream maker to set policy for the entire company, which is hurting investors.
He also founded the Coalition to Hold Unilever Accountable, and said he planned to meet with lawmakers to discuss the situation.
“Unilever is knowingly misleading its shareholders by failing to disclose in its regulatory filings the material risks to its business and valuation,” Ashner told the New York Post.
“The proposed termination of sales of its ice cream in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem of Israel has, among other things, directly resulted in the divestment and proposed divestment of more than $325 million of Unilever shares by a number of states, as well as proposed boycotts of Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever products,” Ashner said, citing his own calculations.
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