The two most important birthday celebrations that will include Ben and Jerry's ice cream this year are both happening this week - the birthday parties for Ben and Jerry themselves. Jerry Greenfield was born on March 14, 1951, and Ben Cohen was born on March 18, 1951 in the same hospital in Brooklyn, New York.
Together the two gave birth to unusual ice cream flavors with unconventionally memorable names. But more notably, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield gave birth to a unique business model of socially responsible capitalism which continues to be successful on a global business stage today.
The current unconventional Ben and Jerry's combination is the blend of ice cream, politics, and gay rights. Just by changing the packaging of an existing ice cream recipe, an all-American apple pie ice cream has been transformed into a social mouthpiece for legalizing gay marriage in the UK. The UK division of Ben and Jerry's is raising awareness about the gay rights debate in Parliament this month with the "new" ice cream flavor, a Facebook app, and a letter writing campaign to the House of Commons. Once again Ben and Jerry's (the board of directors) is demonstrating its willingness to take a controversial stance if they think it will lead more people to an "Apple-y Ever After" life.
Ben and Jerry (the founders) are no longer involved in the daily operations of Ben and Jerry's (the business). But they are still quite actively pursuing the Ben and Jerry's vision for linked prosperity, sustainable corporate profitability, and social justice. Of course these are the same top-of-mind things that all corporate leaders are thinking about these days, right?
One mission that Ben and Jerry (the activists) are actively supporting lately is Business for Democracy, which actively opposes the Citizens United court ruling. Reversing the Supreme Court's ruling that corporations should have the same rights as people is "one of the battles of our lifetime," according to Ben and Jerry in the YouTube video they made to support the efforts of the Business for Democracy movement.
When they said in that video, "We believe that it's the citizens of a country who should decide who represents them, not corporations..." it may have negatively affected Ben and Jerry's (the corporate founders) approval ratings in the boardrooms of America. Or maybe not. Their support of Occupy Wall Street probably already got their memberships to the Capitalism At All Costs Club revoked. And because that's true, it's all the more reason to admire Ben and Jerry (the rebels with a cause) just a little bit more.
Of all the things that Ben and Jerry (the college dropout and the medical school reject) have accomplished, there was no bigger accomplishment than what happened in the year 2000. That's the year when control of the Ben and Jerry's business went to Unilever (UL), but the integrity of the Ben and Jerry's brand survived and the Ben and Jerry's mission continued to thrive.
At the time of the Unilever takeover, the official statement from Unilever was "Much of the success of the Ben & Jerry's brand is based on its connections to basic human values, and it is our hope and expectation that Ben & Jerry's continues to engage in these critical, global economic and social missions." Surprisingly, twelve years later, it seems that Unilever actually meant that. Selling the Ben and Jerry's business without selling out on the vision for their business is something that Ben and Jerry can be proud of.
It's because the commitment of Ben and Jerry (the flavorful founders) lives on that Ben and Jerry's (the company) is willing to issue a special ice cream flavor to support a human rights issue. It's also why BenAndJerrys (the website) is the only major retail web property with a top level link for Activism. And it's also why Ben and Jerry's (the foundation) still exists and gives nearly $2 million each year to support programs dedicated to creating "progressive social justice."
There's still plenty of things that are undoubtedly on the minds of Ben and Jerry (the birthday boys) as they blow out the candles on their birthday cakes this year (which we can only assume they got from their local Burlington Scoop Shop). Living wages, fair trade, a genetically unaltered food supply, caring dairies, licking global warming... there's still plenty to wish and work for. Oh yeah - and it would be nice if that Greek yogurt thing went well too.
Happy Birthday, Ben and Jerry. Your fans will eat a pint in your honor and thank you for a(nother) good excuse to do it.