New York State Common Retirement Fund's investment in Unilever could be threatened by subsidiary Ben & Jerry's Israel boycott, the state comptroller's office warned the company.
Liz Gordon, executive director of corporate governance for the $254.8 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund, Albany, said in a July 23 letter to Unilever CEO Alan Jope that the fund's trustee, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli "is troubled and concerned" about reports that Ben & Jerry's is involved in Israel boycott activities, and that if they are true, the pension fund will include Unilever on a list of companies with investment restrictions.
In 2016, the comptroller's office adopted a policy to review companies in its portfolio that engage in "Boycott, Divest, Sanction" (BDS) activities against Israel, because they "may face legal, reputational and financial risks." Companies determined to be engaging in such activities may be subject to investment restrictions or even exits, the policy said, and concerns "will be resolved through engagement with the company or by termination of the relationship."
At the time the policy was announced, the pension fund had invested about $532 million in Israel-based opportunities, and Mr. DiNapoli said that "Israel remains an attractive place to invest and we look forward to finding new opportunities there. We're putting companies engaged in BDS activities on notice that there will be consequences if their anti-Israel activities expose our investments to financial harm."
Ben & Jerry's Israel boycott also caught the attention of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. In a July 22 letter to Ash Williams, executive director and chief investment officer of the $245.8 billion Florida State Board of Administration, Tallahassee, Mr. DeSantis asked that Unilever be placed on a list of "scrutinized" companies because of the Israel boycott. If it continues, the board "must refrain from acquiring any and all Unilever assets," the governor said, calling it "a matter of law and principle" because it discriminates against Israel.
State Board of Administration spokesman John Kuczwanski said in an email that the board is engaging with Uniliver, "and will be discussing Florida's Scrutinized Companies that Boycott Israel list in detail on a call later this week."