No Human is Illegal

A Frosty Exchange: Government Policy Vs Brand Purpose

12/08/2020
— Gillian Daines 

Governments are responsible for policing their borders, while ice cream brands are typically responsible for… everything fun. But that didn’t stop the Unilever-owned brand Ben & Jerry’s from joining the discussion, sparking a very public debate with UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel. The frosty exchange comes on the back of the Home Secretary’s vocal position on small boats making illegal crossings of The Channel between the UK and France, and the UK Government’s proposed severe clamp-down on such activity. 

The argument has played out in real-time on social media, with members of the public, government ministers, journalists and commentators joining the furoreOpinions have ranged from the morality of the UK government’s policy, to whether it’s even a consumer brand’s place to come out against the action of the Home Secretary and government policy. 

But is a brand standing firm on issues of rightsethics or morality really such a surprise? We now expect brands to take a position on sustainability or climate change when it comes to their business model, and brands have voiced their stance around social justice and racial tensions, so why not forced migration and asylum seeking?  

It’s vitally important for brands to call out what they perceive as wrong behaviour, and we know from our Brands in Motion research that 74% of consumers expect brands to take a stand on important issues just like this, at global and local levels. In this case the UK Government could have grasped the opportunity to respond maturely with facts and insight, engage in the debate and move the discussion forward, but they didn’t, and instead fanned the flames. 

Brands need to live up to their purpose, internally and externally, and Ben and Jerry’s have got a long-standing reputation of purposeful action. They speak up on issues like this regularly and authentically, from subjects ranging from climate change policy to gun control. Their ‘Cone Together’ scheme has been running for 40 years, with the stated mission of “advancing equity, opportunity and justice for marginalised communities all over the globe.” They’ve campaigned and lobbied for greater international cooperation, the protection of human rights and dignity, and a more human approach since before it was cool, before they were acquired by Unilever in the year 2000Purposeful? Definitely. Purpose-washing? Definitely not. 

If media figures, policy officials or the consuming public want to call out Ben & Jerry’s for other practices, flaws in their production process, or concerns with their business model, they should be able to and the brand should be in a position to acknowledge and address them. Having flaws shouldn’t diminish a brands capacity to speak out. 

Brands have to be increasingly accountable for their actions, and when it comes to changing the world for the better they have an important role to play. Businesses need to show that they live by their brand purpose – as Ben & Jerry’s  have been doing for decades – and as far as their own customers are concerned, Ben & Jerry’s will be the clear winners here. They've drawn attention to the issue and got the media talking. I think they'll be laughing into their cones this evening...