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A Shift Away from Corporate Political Activism? Not for Unilever’s Alan Jope

October 10 was “World Day Against the Death Penalty.”

Almost always tracking with causes – ones associated mostly with those on the political Left – is an effort to pressure/shame/harass businesses and their leaders to sign on in support, to give the impression there is big money and power behind their sentiments.

In recent months and years such actions have successfully elicited sign-ons from CEOs of many major corporations, for their objections to the recent Georgia election integrity and pro-life laws, as well as attacks on various states that wanted to protect private entities against forcible accommodation of LGBTs and transgenderism.

The initiative this month also included a rally cry from “more than 130 business leaders” who expressed opposition to the death penalty. But noticeably absent from the list – which makes clear the signees are doing so only in their personal capacities – are representatives of familiar corporations, with just a few exceptions. Whereas you could routinely count on the likes of companies like Starbucks, Levi Strauss, Apple and Google to participate, only a couple weighed in against the death penalty.

One was Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Another was reliable participant Marc Benioff, Salesforce’s Chairman and CEO.

And unsurprisingly, the very progressive co-founders of Ben & Jerry’s — Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield — lent their names. But so did the head of their parent company, Unilever. CEO Alan Jope signed on to the declaration that sounded more like an anti-racist position than a principled opposition against killing people who commit horrendous crimes:

We can no longer stay silent on issues of inequality, and no issue is more intricately tied to racial and socio-economical biases that permeate justice systems than the death penalty. In many countries, ethnic minorities and the poor are still more likely to be prosecuted, sentenced to death, and ultimately executed. The abolition of capital punishment is a critical step in the movement toward racial and social equality.

Unilever in recent months has conflicted with subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s oversight board – which operates independently and authoritatively under an acquisition agreement 21 years ago in order to protect the ice cream maker’s Leftist political activism – over the latter’s decision to halt sales of its products in Israel’s “occupied territories.” Ever since, Unilever has attempted to distance itself from the B&J’s board decision, claiming it has no control over the subsidiary, but assuring customers its products will remain available in the Jewish nation.

Considering the disagreement, you might think that Unilever would avoid the perception of joining hips with Ben & Jerry’s for yet another controversial cause. After all – considering the heinousness of most crimes that lead to death sentences – an ultimate, final punishment is reasonable in the eyes of many advocates for justice.

As just one example, Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas in 2019 co-wrote (with his state’s attorney general Leslie Rutledge) about the case of Daniel Lewis Lee, whose execution proceeded after former President Trump restarted the federal death penalty. In 1996, Lee and a cohort lied in wait after breaking into the home of a young couple and their eight-year-old daughter, duct-taping their hands and torturing them with stun guns until they passed out.

“Then they duct-taped their heads in plastic garbage bags, suffocating them to death,” Cotton and Rutledge explained in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “After murdering the Mueller family in cold blood, they tied rocks to their corpses and dumped them in a bayou. Lee later joked that he had put the Muellers ‘on a liquid diet.’”

So as is obvious to anyone with common sense – much less the CEO of a major multinational corporation – good people can have good reasons to disagree, even strongly, on a major policy issue. That’s why it’s wise not to stake out a position out on a political topic with which (likely) a large percentage of customers, shareholders and employees disagree, while at the same time demonizing them, as the death penalty opponents in this case did.

Considering that so few major corporate leaders signed on to the anti-death penalty statement, maybe many of them are learning “wokeism” is counter-productive.

Clearly, Alan Jope isn’t one of them.

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Tags: Alan Jope, Ben and Jerry's, death penalty, Unilever, woke corporations