July 4 is a big deal in America. People here don’t merely celebrate the day that thirteen former British colonies broke away from Britain back in 1776. Americans, I discovered when I moved here, spend July 4 revelling in being American. No matter when it was that you or your ancestors moved over here, July 4 is an occasion to rejoice that they did.
So, it is hard to overstate how offensive it was for Ben & Jerry’s, the ice cream vendor, to mark the day with a tweet claiming that “the US exists on stolen Indigenous land”, which should be “returned”.
What possessed Ben & Jerry’s, part of the global Unilever conglomerate, to say something quite so gratuitously offensive?
Ben & Jerry’s are not only guilty of bad history (Indigenous American tribes were busy “stealing” from other indigenous Americans long before the Mayflower showed up). They are guilty of hypocrisy.
While attacking America for existing on “stolen land”, their parent company, Unilever, sells ice cream to Putin’s Russia, a country that is actually engaged in stealing bits of Ukraine.
Unilever says it is still operating in Russia because “for companies like Unilever, which have a significant physical presence in the country, exiting is not straightforward” and because “were we to abandon our business and brands in the country, they would be appropriated – and then operated – by the Russian state”.
And both the ice-cream company and its eponymous founder Ben Cohen have such a dislike of free Western society that they have been guilty of blaming Putin’s opponents for his murderous, atrocity-laden war, rather than him. “You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war,” the company’s social-media mouthpieces tweeted as the crisis intensified early last year, no doubt causing students of Vegetius and George Washington to roll their eyes.
“We call on President Biden to de-escalate tensions and work for peace rather than prepare for war,” the virtue-signalling corporate spokespersons went on.
“Sending thousands more US troops to Europe in response to Russia’s threats against Ukraine only fans the flame of war.”
Cohen for his part has helped pay for a full-page ad in the New York Times which blamed Putin’s invasion on “deliberate provocations” by the US and Nato. He has also funded a “journalism” prize that praised its winner for exposing “Washington’s true objectives in the Ukraine war, such as urging regime change in Russia.”
It’s not just Ben & Jerry’s. Earlier this year, Bud Light, one of America’s top beer brands, decided it was time to distance the brand from its “frat guy” customers and embrace transgender “inclusivity”. Before that, Disney, a leading family entertainment business, made a big deal of backing a radical stance on social issues.
As Vivek Ramaswamy, a potential future Vice President of the United States, has been energetically pointing out, many of America’s leading fund managers impose explicitly “woke” agenda on the businesses they invest in. And of course, we have seen plenty of evidence of “woke” finance in the UK this week when it emerged that Coutts Bank closed the account of Nigel Farage, a leading Brexiteer and climate change sceptic, because he did not have the right “values”.
What we once called “political correctness” has long been evident on American university campuses. But until relatively recently, that’s where it stayed. Now these ideas are moving mainstream.
When a big corporation indulges in “woke” signalling, it’s easy to assume that they know what they are doing. When Bud Light decided to embrace transgenderism, I imagined it was all part of a cunning marketing plan by clever MBAs to sell more beer.
But “woke” ideas seep into boardrooms and marketing departments that are otherwise bereft of intelligent insights. Look at some of the consequences.
Bud Light’s marketing campaign offended their core customer base, and sales fell by about a third. Disney’s share price fell significantly. Far from protecting Coutts’ reputation, the bank’s decision to close Farage’s account has been a huge blow to its image.
It is time for consumers to start boycotting Unilever brands the way they have stopped buying Bud. There are plenty of less obnoxious alternatives to Ben & Jerry’s.
“Woke” people adopted that term to describe themselves because they see themselves as having “woken up” to the unjust ways of the world. They believe that they have a heightened sense of social injustice that others lack.
From this comes a sense of moral superiority which causes intelligent and highly educated people to make remarkably stupid decisions.
If being “woke” is bad business, why does it keep happening? We are seeing the consequences of two decades of having “woke” HR departments across corporate America.
For years, big firms have been recruiting and promoting people on the basis of diversity and inclusion – or even their commitment to combating climate change. An organization that recruits and promotes people on the basis of anything other than competence at their actual job risks becoming incompetent. A lot of fairly mediocre people have been overpromoted to the point where their mediocrity is starting to stand out.
We are starting to see a long overdue correction: and it would be a good thing if Ben & Jerry’s took the same kind of hit that Bud Light did.
Douglas Carswell is the President & CEO of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.
This article was originally featured in The Telegraph.