Custard’s Last Stand

Ben & Jerry’s recent announcement is the latest example of companies seeking to align values and business strategy by staking out positions on social issues, a trend accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and last summer’s social action in the wake of George’s Floyd’s murder.

The Vermont-based ice cream company’s decision to stop selling its products in the occupied Palestinian Territories led to reactions ranging from praise to criticism.

Taking a stand on a hot-button geopolitical or human rights issue that matters to your company can be a powerful expression of your brand’s values, but consider the following questions:

  • What’s motivating your company to take a stand, and what do you hope to achieve as a result? Are you responding to employee concerns? Reinforcing brand values? Reflecting customer sentiment? Chasing headlines and the news cycle?
  • Have you done your homework? Make sure your position is well-researched and defensible. Understand the implications for your business operations—both positive and negative—and prepare to act accordingly. 
  • Are you being transparent? Whatever your rationale, ensure decisionmakers articulate it clearly to stakeholders—and to the public. Make the effort to achieve internal consensus, which will bolster your position when attacks invariably emerge.
  • Are you prepared for backlash? Expect some vocal detractors—especially around polarizing issues. Anticipate accusations of moral relativism and hypocrisy. While hiring a former ambassador into your c-suite may be excessive, comprehensive policies and consistent standards governing commercial operations in controversial geographies will help your leadership navigate complex international issues.
  • Can you defend your position? If you have a rigorous process in place to review such high-stakes, values-based decision-making, you’ll be prepared to weather the storm. Preemptively line up influencers, rebuttal messaging and favorable media opportunities to make your case and counteract negative press. At the same time, create a process for ongoing evaluation in case circumstances change.