I just saw a Wal-Mart commercial that advertises ice cream. A suburban backyard sprinkler party for 4 year olds in floaties, I never wore floaties in the backyard, is interrupted by a blond soccer mom briskly walking out of a huge white picket fenced house, waving an ice cream scoop and announcing “Ice Cream!” as only a woman who never wanted to work a day in her life and subsequently hasn’t, could. The tots run over to a table covered with different frozen goodies, all of which are Unilever products. Unilever owns and internationally distributes a host of goods; ranging from Country Crock Spread and Axe Body Spray, to Slimfast and Breyers. In this commercial, the mother explains that with Wal-Mart, she can buy everything to make this “hot summer, great. And with Wal-Mart’s low prices, she can afford to buy everyone’s favorite treat.” Pan through kids covered with fudge and ice cream and orange popsicle juice. Then, a Ben & Jerry’s pint crosses the screen and my jaw hit the floor. I worked at a Ben & Jerry’s factory. I showed visitors around and explained the company’s mission statement, which included this little doozie.
“Social Mission: To operate the company in a way that actively recognizes the central role that business plays in society by initiating innovative ways to improve the quality of life locally, nationally & internationally.”
That was Ben & Jerry’s Social Mission. Ben and Jerry wrote it in the 80s, way before they sold the company to Unilever in 2000. Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream states that they still adhere to this Social Mission, but the facts speak for themselves. Since the sale to Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s has canceled the non-bleached and recyclable “eco-Pint” container program and returned to the less environmentally friendly, but more profitable, bleached, waxed pint container (2006). At one point while I was working for the company, Ben & Jerry's instituted a policy that no one person would be paid ten times more than the lowest paid employee. "In 2001, sales associates, the most common job in Wal-Mart, earned on average $8.23 an hour for annual wages of $13,861." ["Is Wal-Mart Too Powerful?", Business Week, 10/6/03]. It is hard to believe that any of the top dogs at Unilever would ask Wal-Mart to raise their minimum wage just so that they could break $140K a year. Also in 2006, Ben & Jerry’s (read Unilever) “dropped” their egg suppliers because the chicken coop was accused of mistreating their chickens. “The Humane Society said an investigation of a Michael Foods egg farm in June found hens dying of starvation, live hens living among dead ones and sick or injured birds caught in cage wires (link).” Assuming that Ben & Jerry’s (again, read Unilever) didn’t know that the egg producing chickens were being mistreated indicates that they no longer research or care about who they are purchasing ingredients from, putting into question every supplier that they use. Non rGBH milk? Who knows. Family Dairy farmers? Maybe. Fair Trade Sugar? I thought so, but I could be wrong.
Now Ben & Jerry’s is now being sold in Wal-Marts around the world, a company that has been sued for wage and employment discrimination, tax evasion, corporate welfare fraud, unfair wage scales, poor worker compensation and almost non-existent worker benefit packages, and the list goes on. There aren’t many people who think that having a Wal Mart nearby stimulates the surrounding economy, or shall I say “initiates innovate ways of improving the quality of life locally.” Boooo to Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield for not having the foresight to see that the good name of the company that they built from the ground up, and their own good intentions, would be dragged through the corporate mud by the global distribution company hell bent on profits that they sold it to. Boooo to Unilever for destroying a company that I took pride in working for and being a shareholder of. Boooo to Wal Mart for their soulless treatment of their workers, their community and their effect on local economics. Boooo to the loss of a once great, socially aware company. It is sad to see a product that I once felt good about buying and supporting and working for and being a part of, become yet another corporate money whore. At least there is still Nutty Steph’s Granola.