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Ben & Jerry's goes Fair Trade

24th February 2010

Fans of Ben & Jerry's ice cream generally assumed that the company's ethical stance would be wrung out by the Unilever Corporation after the company acquired the brand in 2000.

However, it seems that when a company's customer base is inspired by its ethics, the corporation that buys it will find it wise to let the brand continue its focus on social responsibility. Exhibit A: 10 years after its acquisition, Ben & Jerry's has just announced plans to make its products entirely fair trade.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield were in London to promote the plan to make Ben & Jerry’s fully Fairtrade compliant in all its European products by the end of 2011, followed by the rest of the world in 2013.

The company's "entire global flavor portfolio" will be composed of Fair Trade Certified ingredients by 2013, which will require reworking the production of as many as 121 flavors. Fair trade cooperatives representing more than 27,000 farmers will serve as Ben & Jerry's allies in this process.

Such ethical policies and practices have not only been key to Ben & Jerry's popularity, but are also vital in making sure the US food system can benefit all who supply it. As Tim Newman writes on the activist site Change.org, "Fair Trade is a major step in the right direction to ensuring that farmers get a fair price for their products, worker rights are protected, and farming communities receive important benefits."

Ben & Jerry's has actually been using some Fair Trade Certified ingredients since 2005, but co-founder Jerry Greenfield felt that only going part way wasn't enough. He believes it's a question of simple fairness.

"Fair Trade is about making sure people get their fair share of the pie," he said. "The whole concept of Fair Trade goes to the heart of our values and sense of right and wrong. Nobody wants to buy something that was made by exploiting somebody else.”

However, Mr Cohen confessed that progress on the Fairtrade pledge would have been achieved faster if the business had not had to answer to “risk averse” managers at Unilever.

“It used to be that the test for anything that Ben & Jerry’s was doing in the marketplace was that if other companies were doing it that was the wrong thing for us to do,” he said.

“As we got into larger and larger operations, we have got middle-level managers that are risk averse and the test becomes if other companies have not done something then we are not going to do it either.”

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