US ice cream brand Ben & Jerry's sues its parent company Unilever to block sale of its Israeli business to a local licensee, saying it was inconsistent with its values to sell its product in illegal Israeli settlements.

Ben & Jerry's announced last year it will no longer sell its products in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, saying it's
Ben & Jerry's announced last year it will no longer sell its products in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, saying it's "inconsistent with our values." (Reuters Archive)

American ice cream brand Ben & Jerry's has sued its parent company Unilever to block a decision that would see its product sold in the occupied West Bank settlements, which would run counter to its values.

The company, known for its political activism, took the unusual step of seeking an injunction on Tuesday after London-based Unilever last week announced it had sold its interest in the ice cream to Israeli license-holder Avi Zinger.

The legal action was "essential to ... protect the brand and social integrity Ben & Jerry's has spent decades building," according to the complaint filed in a US district court on Tuesday.

Unilever's decision was "made without the consent of Ben & Jerry's Independent Board," and goes against the merger agreement that gave the board the ability to protect the founder's values and reputation, the complaint said.

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'Inconsistent with our values'

In July last year, Vermont-based Ben & Jerry's announced it would no longer sell its ice cream in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, which Israel seized in 1967, saying it was "inconsistent with our values," although it said it planned to keep selling its products in Israel.

However, Zinger continued to produce the ice cream in his factory in the suburbs of Tel Aviv and distribute it to the Israeli settlements, going against Ben & Jerry's decision.

Hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers live in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, in communities widely regarded as illegal under international law.

Palestinians cheered the company's move last year, seen as a victory for the BDS movement, which calls for a boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel over what it describes as the abuses of rights of Palestinians.

READ MORE: Ben & Jerry's to stop ice cream sales in occupied Palestinian territories

Unilever defends transaction

Founded in the United States in 1978, Ben & Jerry's is known for championing progressive causes, including protecting the environment and promoting human rights, and has frequently released special ice cream flavours to support causes or in protest.

Unilever, which last week said it had "never expressed any support" for the BDS movement, defended its right to execute the transaction.

"As we said in our statement of 29th June, Unilever had the right to enter this arrangement. The deal has already closed," the company said on Tuesday, adding "We do not comment on pending litigation."

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Source: AFP