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How Ben & Jerry’s has swirled social justice into its innovative business

The venerable ice-cream maker has gone beyond words to support justice and equality, and that’s why it’s one of Fast Company’s most innovative companies.

How Ben & Jerry’s has swirled social justice into its innovative business
[Photos: courtesy of Ben & Jerry’s]
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Last June, Ben & Jerry’s tweeted out, “The murder of George Floyd was the result of inhumane police brutality that is perpetuated by a culture of white supremacy.” Amid a flurry of empty corporate scurrying to get out any sort of Black Lives Matter public statement, it was by far the strongest language by a brand on the issue.

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The ice cream maker’s actions weren’t limited to a tweet though. It was a reflection of a long commitment to social and racial justice. One that’s only continued after its bold public statement. Since then, the company has released a limited flavor called Justice Remix’d, to raise awareness and funds for criminal justice reform, and used marketing content to spread that message. Justice Remix’d is also the banner under which Ben & Jerry’s works with activists to create change. Last July, the company succeeded with its partner Close the Workhouse Coalition to shutter a dilapidated jail in St. Louis, Missouri, that had been used to house people who couldn’t afford bail.

In September, the company launched the Who We Are podcast with Vox to discuss the legal discrimination, segregation, and violence that Black people have faced in America. Ben & Jerry’s also released a new permanent flavor to its lineup in December—Colin Kaepernick’s Change the Whirled—which will benefit the former NFL quarterback and activist’s Know Your Rights Camp.

Ben & Jerry’s head of global activism strategy Chris Miller says that the company’s model of corporate activism is constantly evolving, and this past year provided key lessons on where it’s headed.

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“We’ve come to understand that we can and must do more than work on one issue,” says Miller, noting how the issues of voting rights and racism are directly related. “We must look for the points of intersectionality, and we must commit ourselves to an ongoing body of work focused on deconstructing the systems and structures that perpetuate racism in America. Our work is evolving away from single-issue campaigns to a broader body of work.”

In February 2021, Ben & Jerry’s CEO Matthew McCarthy wrote in Fast Company that corporate America should be supporting H.R. 40 and starting the process of reparations for Black Americans.

“Unfortunately, over the last five or six years, mainstream establishment voices have been unwilling to stand up in the face of those who have sought to undermine our democracy, use race and racism to divide our people, disparage science, and undermine public health,” says Miller. “We feel compelled to use the privilege and power that we have as an ice cream company to support the allies and co-conspirators who are leading the fight for justice.”

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity.

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