More and more companies are embracing progressive causes to satisfy the militant fringe of their customers. At their peril.
By Luc de Barochez
Not happy with filling us with sugar and fat with its ice cream, Ben & Jerry’s has set itself a crucial political mission: “dismantling white supremacy. The American company has been proclaiming this on its website since the death of African-American George Floyd, who was choked to death by a white police officer’s knee. One year later, is it any wonder that the only identified target of its virtuous crusade is the State of Israel? Under the guise of anti-Zionism (a euphemism that often conceals the most vile anti-Semitism), the neo-Marxist “woke” left sees the Middle East conflict through a distorting identity prism. Israelis are the oppressive “whites” and Palestinians the oppressed “blacks”.
Attacking Jews is a cheap way to buy a conscience, even when you are a prominent representative of globalized capitalism. Ben & Jerry’s now refuses to allow its ice cream to be distributed in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It has terminated its contract with its Israeli distributor. Everyone has of course the right to criticize Israeli settlements. And Ben & Jerry’s has assured that it will remain present in Israel itself… although without a distributor, it is difficult to see how this would be possible.
The boycott is nevertheless a belligerent act. It is detestable that a private company should assume the right to do so. The use of such a weapon also tends to deny the legitimacy of a democratic state and to express double standards. Why does Ben & Jerry’s continue to sell its products in China, for example, where the treatment of the Uighur or Tibetan minorities and the repression of the democracy movement in Hong Kong are no less reprehensible? At that point, most countries could be boycotted. Yet only one is stigmatized: the Jewish state.
On a practical level, it is hard to understand how depriving Israeli settlers of sweets will improve the lot of Palestinians. This point is secondary for Ben & Jerry’s, which seeks above all to assert its moral superiority. The company has been instrumentalizing societal causes since it was founded in 1978 by two Americans who sold it for $326 million to the Anglo-Dutch Unilever in 2000. It has campaigned against GMOs, for gay marriage and for the Black Lives Matter racial equality movement. He is at the forefront of the cause struggle.
More and more companies are looking for values to defend rather than worrying about the well-being of their employees, dividends to be distributed or the quality of their products. Consumers are pushing them in this direction, expecting their favorite brands to take a stand on the issues of the day. American companies now have a “Chief Purpose Officer”, a director of meaning. The goal, in espousing societal goals, is to clear themselves of the suspicion of being among the privileged and exploitative. Nike saw its sales explode when it hired progressive icon Colin Kaepernick in 2017. The American soccer player made a statement by taking a knee before every game to protest racism.
This development, however, makes brands more vulnerable. By taking the risk of offending customers by their stance, they can end up being pilloried on social networks. In France, Evian made a fool of itself last spring when it apologized for recommending on Twitter to drink water during Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. This summer, it was Kodak that bowed to China for publishing on its Instagram account an image of Xinjiang taken by French photographer Patrick Wack, accompanied by a caption denouncing the repression of Uighurs. Faced with the ire of Beijing, Kodak censored the photo. It is well seen to vilify Israel, but one does not have the right to upset the Chinese Communist Party. The Asian market is too juicy.
The increasing moralization of corporate activity is a testament to the puritanism of our age, where resentful crowds seek to impose their worldview through social networks, rejecting all deviance and dissent. But behind this phenomenon where electronic invective replaces democratic deliberation, intolerance is on the rise and freedom is on the decline.
This is a translation of an editorial by journalist Luc de Barochez published in French weekly magazine Le Point.
Here is a link to the original article: