Unilever, the multinational parent company of the beloved ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s, has recently seen a sharp decrease in its stock value. The reason? A contentious 4th of July tweet from Ben & Jerry’s, calling for the return of “stolen Indigenous land” to Native American tribes.
The controversial tweet read, “This 4th of July, it’s high time we recognize that the US exists on stolen Indigenous land and commit to returning it.” The tweet further stirred the pot by remarking that the faces on Mount Rushmore, symbolizing the United States’ founding fathers, represented colonizers and oppressors of Indigenous people.
This public declaration ignited a firestorm of responses, sparking calls for boycotts against the ice cream manufacturer. Consequently, Unilever’s market capitalization took a significant hit, plunging from $130.2 billion to $128.5 billion – a near $2 billion drop.
Although Ben & Jerry’s operates independently within the Unilever umbrella, it is apparent that the ice cream company’s political stand has had a profound effect on the parent corporation’s financial performance. Conservative-leaning media outlets, like Citizen Free Press and Fox News, were swift to link the market downturn to the boycott incited by the tweet.
The backlash against Ben & Jerry’s July 4th tweet was swift and severe, with a significant number of Twitter users expressing their disapproval. One user, identifying as Oglala Lakota Sioux and Navajo, said, “I’m Oglala Lakota Sioux (related to Chief Sitting Bull) and Navajo, and you embarrass me. We don’t need you to be offended on our behalf…if you want to help Natives.” The user challenged Ben & Jerry’s to offer tangible aid to Native American communities, highlighting a stark disconnect between corporate activism and on-ground realities.
Yet another Twitter user, Brigitte Gabriel, declared, “Ben & Jerry’s is woke ice cream! I will never eat it!” reflecting a sentiment shared by many who felt alienated by the brand’s bold political stand.
Critics also pointed out the seeming hypocrisy in Ben & Jerry’s position. One user noted, “Your [Ben & Jerry’s] factory is on stolen land. Native Americans, primarily from the Abenaki tribe, have lived in Vermont for 10,000 years…” This perspective underscored the complexities surrounding the issue of indigenous land rights and further fuelled the controversy.
The significant financial impact on Unilever as a result of a single tweet from one of its brands underscores the power and risk of corporations engaging in political discourse. The incident serves as a reminder of the precarious balancing act companies must maintain between expressing corporate values and maintaining customer loyalty.
While it remains to be seen if Unilever can recover from this financial blow, the incident provides an important lesson on the influence and impact of social media in today’s digital age. It serves as a testament to the ripple effects a tweet can have, from public sentiment to stock market fluctuations. As brands navigate the complexities of corporate social responsibility and activism, Ben & Jerry’s experience provides a cautionary tale.