Ben & Jerry’s executives called for an end to economic inequities in the U.S. and promised to continue supporting Occupy protests around the world today at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
“In just two short months, Occupy Wall Street has been successful in unmasking America’s dirty little secret,” said Ben Cohen, referring to the financial extremes that have developed in the U.S. recenlty. Cohen founded the international ice cream company along with Jerry Greenfield in 1978.
“We need to create a system where everyone’s voice is heard,” he said.
The company’s leaders, which included its CEO Jostein Solheim and chairman Jeff Furman, called for an end to corporate personhood. Specifically, the company supports the repeal of a decision made last year that allows companies to financially back political campaigns. In the decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot censor political broadcasts in elections that are funded by corporations.
With that change, the honest political process would be returned to the American people, Ben & Jerry's executives argued.
“Capitalism and the common good can co-exist, if the government levels the playing field,” Cohen said.
Despite the fact that the $300 million ice cream company is owned by the Unilever corporation, company leaders said they supported the “99 percent” involved in the Occupy movement. “We must get money out of politics,” Furman said. “We choose democracy.”
During the press conference, the chairman said they were aligned “for the long haul” with the Occupy protestors and called for other businesses to follow.
“I’m excited about this movement,” Solheim said. “Business as usual is not going to change the system.”
Political activism is nothing new for the Vermont-based quick-serve. Earlier this year the company became a founding member of Business for Democracy, an organization that includes brands like Patagonia, White Dog Café, and Justin’s Nut Butter, and promotes economic sustainability and government responsibility in areas such as consumer protection.
In 2012, Ben & Jerry’s will continue its calls for political and economic reform. It will be launching the “Get the Dough Out of Politics” campaign and will supply Occupy protesters with basic infrastructure needs as well as computers and office space.
“The system is rigged,” Greenfield said. “It advantages the wealthy, and other people don’t get a real opportunity.”
He went on to explain that the Occupiers warmly welcomed the leaders’ participation at a variety of Occupy sites, including Washington, D.C.; New York City; London; and Geneva. “They’re not anti-business,” Greenfield said.
Although Solheim and the company’s founders are adamant about their support for the protestors, they’re in the minority in the foodservice industry.
According to Solheim, CEOs are “much more comfortable in the solution mode versus the protest mode.” As a result, he expects more CEOs and companies to get on board once there is a clear strategy for achieving economic and business transparency.
“It’s a very uncomfortable situation for business leaders,” he said, explaining that he’s spoken with several executives who are confused about the company’s participation in the Occupy movement. “There’s been a definite uncomfortability in the corporate world.”
The CEO refused to name those he had spoken with about the Occupy protests and the need for the end of corporate personhood.
“This is just the beginning of the beginning,” founder Cohen said. “You can’t evict an idea who’s time has come.”
By Blair Chancey