Ben & Jerry's Foundation President Steered Funds to His Own Charity

Chairman of the Board of Ben and Jerry’s Homemade Inc. Jeff Furman speaks during a news conference at the National Press Club December 12, 2011, in Washington, D.C. / Getty Images
July 1, 2022

The Ben & Jerry’s Foundation steered more than $100,000 to a charity run by its own president, in the second case of a sitting board member’s nonprofit group benefiting from the foundation’s grants.

Social Ventures Inc., a charity run by Ben & Jerry’s board member Jeff Furman, raked in around $118,000 from the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation between 2016 and 2020, according to financial disclosure records.

During this time, Furman served as president of the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation from 2018 to 2020 and as treasurer in 2016 and 2017. He was also a member of Ben & Jerry’s corporate board and in-house counsel for more than 30 years, according to the foundation’s website.

The funding raises questions about the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation’s financial activities days after the ice cream maker’s high-profile effort to boycott Israel fell apart. The grants are also prompting concerns from ethics watchdogs who say they pose a conflict of interest and could violate laws against self-dealing.

The National Legal and Policy Center, an ethics watchdog group that has been tracking the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation’s spending, told the Washington Free Beacon the funding poses a conflict of interest.

"Unilever should understand they’re dealing with a radical progressive board with apparently huge conflicts of interest with corporate funds that are magically being steered to personal pet projects and nonprofits of board members," said Tom Anderson, the director of the National Legal and Policy Center’s Government Integrity Project.

Federal law prohibits self-dealing, which the IRS defines as the "transfer to, or use by or for the benefit of, a disqualified person of the income or assets of a private foundation." A disqualified person includes "any person who was in a position to exercise substantial influence over the affairs of the applicable tax-exempt organization" during the five years prior to the transaction, according to the IRS.

Social Ventures Inc. says it works to provide "social justice for disadvantaged people," according to its tax discourse records. The Ben & Jerry’s grants made up a substantial portion of Social Ventures’ funding, accounting for one quarter of its revenue in 2020.

Last year, the National Legal and Policy Center filed a complaint with the IRS over the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation’s grants to a different nonprofit group run by another director at the foundation, Anuradha Mittal.

Mittal has been a trustee on the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation board since 2012 and also serves on the independent company board. During this time, the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation gave $195,000 to the Oakland Institute, an anti-Israel nonprofit group run by Mittal that has published columns in support of Hezbollah and Hamas.

Mittal and Furman appear to have a close working relationship. Furman serves on the board of Mittal’s Oakland Institute, and he recruited her to the board of Ben & Jerry’s, according to the New York Post.

Mittal is a leading force behind Ben & Jerry’s decision to halt sales in Israel last July, which anti-Israel activists sought to use as a springboard to pressure other companies to cut economic ties with the Jewish state.

She has posted on Twitter in support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, praised singer Shakira for canceling a performance in Israel, and defended Rep. Ilhan Omar's (D., Minn.) claim that pro-Israel members of Congress have an "allegiance" to a foreign government.

"Criticism of AIPAC is not anti-Semitic & calling for Congress not to have allegiances to foreign countries (Israel) is not anti-Semitic," Mittal wrote in March 2019, "but targeting the first black Muslim member of Congress with false accusations of antiSemitism IS Islamophobic!"

Unilever, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s, rejected the ice cream brand’s boycott attempt on Wednesday and said it would resume sales in Israel through a third-party vendor.

"Unilever rejects completely and repudiates unequivocally any form of discrimination or intolerance. Anti-Semitism has no place in any society," Unilever said. "We have never expressed any support for the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement and have no intention of changing that position."

Ben & Jerry’s did not respond to a request for comment.