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Illinois bans pension funds from investing in Ben & Jerry's parent company

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 20: Ben and Jerry's ice cream is stored in a cooler at an event where founders Jerry Greenfield and Ben Cohen gave away ice cream to bring attention to police reform at the U.S. Supreme Court on May 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. The two are urging the ending of police qualified immunity. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
Ben & Jerry's ice cream is stored in a cooler at an event in Washington, US on 20 May 2021 [Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images]

An Illinois board of directors that oversees state employee pension funds voted on Wednesday to ban such reserves from purchasing Unilever shares due to its subsidiary's decision to stop the sale of its ice-creams in illegal Israeli settlements, Reuters reports.

A representative for the Illinois Investment Policy Board said it voted 7-0 at a meeting on Wednesday "to add Unilever to its prohibited entity list," following similar moves by other states including New York and New Jersey.

Ben & Jerry's to freeze ice-cream sales in West Bank settlements - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Ben & Jerry's to freeze ice-cream sales in West Bank settlements – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

The exact value of Unilever shares that state funds must now sell, if they own them, was not immediately available. Members of the board include representatives of Illinois teachers and university retirement systems and the Illinois State Board of Investment, who did not immediately respond to questions.

Unilever representatives did not immediately respond to questions.

Like other states, Illinois law bars investments in companies that boycott Israel.

About 35 states in the US have anti-Israel boycott laws. In September, Arizona became the first state to divest from the company over what it labelled an "anti-Semitic" move.

New Jersey followed suit, and Texas has announced that it is taking steps to divest from Unilever following Ben & Jerry's decision.

In July, Ben & Jerry's moved to end a licence for its ice cream to be sold in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, saying sales there were "inconsistent with its values." This came following a stream of reports by human rights groups and the UN, and articles by former Israeli ambassadors labelling Israel as an apartheid state. The ice-cream firm's founders, Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield explained that the company drew a line between what they called the "democratic territory of Israel and the territories Israel occupies", stressing that "the decision to halt sales outside Israel's democratic borders is not a boycott of Israel."

Unilever had said the decision was made by Ben & Jerry's independent social mission board and said it does not support efforts to boycott or isolate Israel, where it employs nearly 2,000 people.

READ: NY state pension fund to divest from Ben & Jerry's over Israel settlements pullout

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