‘Social change … is part of business,’ Ben & Jerry’s CEO says

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Businesses really don’t have a choice about social activism, Ben Jerry’s new CEO Matthew McCarthy told CNBC on Friday.

“The idea there’s a choice to be made between being proactive, being activists as a business, and not is a bit of a false narrative,” McCarthy said on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.” “So I think acknowledging that you are part of a community and being part of social change that you want to see … in the world that you serve is part of business.”

A 21-year veteran of Ben Jerry’s parent company Unilever, McCarthy took the helm of the Vermont-based ice cream company in July with a promise to ramp up the already progressive brand’s corporate activism. At Unilever, McCarthy was responsible for several initiatives, including transitioning Hellmann’s mayonnaise to cage-free eggs and launching Unilever’s first U.S. organic snack brand, Growing Roots.

Activism is “in the DNA of Ben Jerry’s, and why I’m so excited to be part of the business,” McCarthy said.

At risk of alienating some of the brand’s conservative customers, McCarthy said Ben Jerry’s looks to ramp up efforts to combat systemic racism and fight for environmental and social justice, as well as continue its support of the Black Lives Matter movement. But McCarthy said the ice cream maker’s activism is less about liberal or conservative issues than it is about starting a conversation.

“I think that not everybody may agree with our position…and that’s actually something where it gets me excited because I want to create more dialogue. This is not about one side fighting another on issues,” he said.

Ben Jerry’s efforts to increase its social activism come at a time when major players in business and politics are exploring questions about conscientious business.

In technology, social media companies like Twitter and Facebook face serious questions about whether or not to police content on their platforms. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey suspended InfoWars’ Alex Jones for a tweet that violated Twitter’s policies, after initially allowing the conspiracy theorist on its platform. Twitter was one of the last major platforms not to remove Jones from its platforms.

“Companies probably should have a conscience, and if not they can be shamed or pushed into it. We are now in a world in which only the bottom line for investors seems to be driving things. But I think we can push back a bit on that,” journalist and author Walter Isaacson said Thursday on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

Meanwhile in politics, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., unveiled her proposed Accountable Capitalism Act this week. The new legislation aims to mitigate income inequality by obligating company directors to consider the interests of all stakeholders, including employees and those in the community where the company is based, not just those who own the stock.

Warren’s proposed bill has faced widespread pushback from those in business who argue government regulation is the last resort.

At Ben Jerry’s however, McCarthy seems to be taking matters into his own hands

“I get the privilege of leading a team and a business that has a four-decade track record of, not only making the best ice cream in the world, but actually putting its money where its mouth is in terms of driving progressive change,” McCarthy said.


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