I wanted to take a moment to respond to my various friends on various social networks who are linking to the above Ben & Jerry’s announcement that the brand supports the Occupy Wall Street protests.
It doesn’t really matter what Ben & Jerry’s board of directors supports as they are merely a division of consumer products conglomerate Unilever, the third largest food company behind Nestle and Kraft. Don’t be fooled by a shallow marketing ploy.
This is one of the problems with global corporations—they can have no obligation besides profit. The pleasant statements from a small brand within an enormous conglomerate do not reflect what your dollars support when you buy their products. Short of a Unilever announcement of support—followed by a fundamental restructuring of the company—we shouldn’t take the B&J statement seriously.
Ben & Jerry’s concerns don’t mesh with their parent company—you know, the people who pocket your money when you scarf down a pint of Schweddy Balls ice cream.
The B&J statement lists the following concerns they claim to share with the protestors:
- The inequity that exists between classes in our country is simply immoral.
- Many workers who have jobs have to work 2 or 3 of them just to scrape by.
When Unilever CEO Niall Fitzgerald left Unilever in 2004, he received more than $20-million in salary, bonus, and benefits. Current CEO Paul Polman has made it a priority to close factories, eliminate jobs, freeze wages, and raise the cost of their products. His starting pay package was around $4-million. By contrast, starting wages at Ben & Jerry’s are $8/hour. No wonder workers need 2 or 3 jobs just to scrape by.
- We are in an unemployment crisis. Almost 14 million people are unemployed. Nearly 20% of African American men are unemployed. Over 25% of our nation’s youth are unemployed.
Unilever has laid off more than half its global workforce since 2000, despite increases in profits and productivity alongside rising executive pay packets. A 2010 report from FNV organization of unions found that Unilever has denied workers their legal rights, refused to recognize trade unions as representatives of the work-force, intimidated workers and replaced permanent workers with casual, temporary laborers who have fewer rights. It also estimated that around half of Unilever’s global workforce (approximately 150,000 people) is now outsourced. This means that all these people are not recognized as employees and Unilever does not pay them the wages and benefits that unions have successfully fought for and negotiated.
Unilever is concerned with racial inequality in employment. The company’s solution? Their very own skin-lightening cream.
Unilever’s proper concern for racial inequality in employment is ironic considering the company’s India division sells a skin-lightening cream (Fair & Lovely) that is promoted in commercials depicting depressed, dark-skinned women who are ignored by their employers until they use the cream, then suddenly find glamorous careers and happiness. Watch, it’s crazy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIUQ5hbRHXk
And, why not, child labor, too:
The page goes on to list B&J’s myriad, mostly benign lobbying efforts, but this caught my eye:
- Support for the Youth PROMISE Act, which funds proven youth violence prevention programs.
It’s good that they oppose child violence. But why not child labor? A report from Indian researcher Dr. D. Venkateswarlu for the Indian Committee of the Netherlands estimated that 25,000 children, mostly girls, work an average of ten to thirteen hours a day in cottonseed production for Hindustan Lever, a division of Unilever.
Okay, that’s all. Please share with anyone who shares the Ben & Jerry’s announcement.