Last week we wrote an article entitled “Action, not tweets: Five ways corporate America can combat racism.” As an example of the actions we promoted, the famous ice cream producer, Ben & Jerry’s, has been at the forefront of social activism since its creation in the 1970s.
In response to the killing of George Floyd and subsequent protests last week, the company did more than just acknowledge the realities of racism in the United States. It released a 700-word statement supplying a four-point plan for dismantling white supremacy in all its forms and said, “The murder of George Floyd was the result of inhumane police brutality that is perpetuated by a culture of white supremacy.” The CEOs also joined a Zoom gathering of 300 leaders from business and government to talk about race and the need for change.
Founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield set out to create a company that disrupted traditional business practices and gave back to the customers it served. “We wanted to alleviate some of the problems that the business creates. We broke a lot of rules,” said Cohen.
The company has been vocal about supporting causes like Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, and prison reform. As much as one-fifth of their discretionary marketing budget is dedicated to these causes and more each year.
This year, the company began encouraging franchisees to pay an in-store staffer to promote local activism. This employee is paid far above minimum wage and there are 90 in parlors across the country. If you pick up a carton of their cinnamony/chocolatey Justice ReMix’d flavor, you’ll find a write up on the Advancement Project, a non-profit which advocates for the end to excessive incarceration policies and better education options in communities of color.
Many of the ingredients in their classic flavors are sourced from Greyston Bakery in New York, which Cohen specifically chose in the 1980s due to their no-background-check hiring procedure.
Ben & Jerry’s CEO Matthew McCarthy recognizes that there are complexities in mixing business with social justice. The brand has drawn criticism from customers and even boycotts from grocers who oppose their politically active stance. “Equity is not a destination,” Mr. McCarthy said. “It’s definitely a process.” It’s messy, the situations can get sticky, but the company figures it’s worth the licks.