Ben & Jerry’s, the ice cream company with soul, is now a B Corporation. B Corporations are legally allowed and required by certification to make business decisions that consider social responsibility as well as obligations to shareholders. Companies seeking B Corp designation must meet and maintain rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.
The company is the first wholly-owned subsidiary to become a B Corp, something of a happy ending to a story watched carefully by the industry when Ben and Jerry’s was sold to Unilever after bowing to shareholder pressure in 2000. Although the famously socially conscious ice cream makers have continued to be as crunchy as their ice cream flavors, fans and supporters worried about what could have happened after the aquisition by Unilever.
FastCo.Exist’s Alex Goodmark explains,
The outrage is over what could have happened; that the iconoclastic founders couldn’t do what they and their customers wanted with the company. Co-Founder Ben Cohen referred to the acquisition as a “forced marriage.”
The case of Ben and Jerry’s proved that existing law was too narrowly focused on shareholder rights to protect the essence of a company, the values, the way of doing business. Unilever could have ended many of the social practices, even though they didn’t. (They did downsize however.) It’s a situation other social entrepreneurs want to avoid like an IRS audit.
The company’s certification survey and scoring are available on the B Labs (the non profit that certifies B Corporations) site so that anyone and everyone cab feel good about supporting Ben and Jerry’s.