Ben & Jerry's breaks new corporate ground - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Ben & Jerry's breaks new corporate ground

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

Since the first scoop, Ben & Jerry's ice cream has had a mission of social responsibility.

Twelve years ago all that was in question when it was acquired by Dutch conglomerate Unilever, over objections from its hippie founders and ice cream lovers. Shareholders sued, demanding the sale go through and maximizing their returns.

"One of the key things was to preserve its identity, values and it's values led mission," said Ben & Jerry's CEO, Jostein Solheim.

Now about to celebrate 34 years, Ben & Jerry's has proven once again that it's remaining true to its grass roots mission -- becoming the first corporate subsidiary to become a benefit, or 'B' corporation.

"Running a business is challenging but running a business that's doing the right thing for the community is down right hard," Solheim said.

A B corporation is a new designation given by the third party -- B-Lab -- legally allowing Ben & Jerry's, and the more than 630 other certified businesses in 11 states, to consider social good as well as shareholder's when making business decisions. It's much like a fair trade stamp.
"It's a very rigorous process," Solheim said.

Ben & Jerry's has to be more transparent than ever. Every facet of the business in scrutinized, including it's pay scale. On the B-Lab website are factoids -- like the lowest paid hourly worker there receives 46 percent above the living wage -- are for anyone to see.  

"It's important symbolically," said Robert Letovsky, a St. Michael's College business professor. Becoming a B corporation is a stamp of social enterprise approval. But Saint Michael's professor Robert Letovsky says the data around how it will effect shareholders is mixed. "Hypothetically I could see a large shareholder unhappy with their returns saying, the organic cauliflower ice cream didn't sell and it came out of my pocket, so we'll see,"  he said. "At some point some shareholder might say, wait a minute, I didn't buy into those values."

Ben and Jerry's thinks becoming a B corporation can only help sales -- and shareholders. "We will prove, prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the superior model is the B corporation model -- the model that benefits the shareholders and the community -- that's why we're excited about it," Solheim said.

"If you have this Good House Keeping seal, whether it's fair trade certified wood, or now this, it gives the consumer assurance that they're not just talking the talk, they're walking the walk," Letovsky said.

Another cherry on top for Ben & Jerry's as it reinforces its feel-good image.

Click here for a full list of all the B Corporation companies.

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