The sweet taste of justice: Ben & Jerry’s campaign for prison reform enters new era

The sweet taste of justice: Ben & Jerry’s campaign for prison reform enters new era

Ben & Jerry’s, known for its quirky ice cream flavor names, has revealed another facet of its now-three-year 'Justice Remix’d' campaign to address prison reform in the US.

The self-proclaimed “aspiring social justice company” is serving up some food for thought with its latest installation, ‘Art for Justice’ – which features work from artists who have firsthand experience with incarceration and since have taken the initiative to improve the criminal justice system – located at its Waterbury, Vermont tour site.

The factory boasts nearly 400,000 annual visitors and is popular among tourists – this coupled with traffic from the Art for Justice Fund affirms a large audience for what Ben & Jerry’s is hoping to expose as “a national shame.”

The US prison system houses 5% of the world population and as much as 25% of its prison population. "Ben & Jerry's is taking action on the issue of criminal justice reform, actively working with NGO partners and in league with a growing number of companies, to learn how we can best make a positive impact," said Ben & Jerry's chief executive officer Matthew McCarthy in a release. "Collectively we call out the tremendous disparity between spending $260m and the fact that those impacted individuals and communities are no better off."

This is one of several efforts that Justice Remix’d has put forth, from posting infographics and facts for their followings on social media to serving ice creams via truck on “People Not Prisons” tours and collaborating with organizations like the ACLU and the Advancement Project National Office.

The company also ended a month-long campaign in St. Louis, Missouri, working with local organizers to shut down the city’s Workhouse jail by implementing the company’s “invest/divest” approach, which calls for “ really focusing on opportunities where we, as a country, can better invest in community in a healthy way and really divest from a broken criminal justice system,” as Jay Curley, global head of Integrated marketing for Ben & Jerry’s told The Drum.

Curley added: “I think we have a really amazing opportunity, just because we are a fun ice cream brand. And I think with that opportunity comes responsibility but I think that’s where we’re at our best.

“We can help... support these movements in ways that a regular nonprofit or politician can’t because we can bring to bear a fun ice cream company and to be honest, the operation and expertise of a for-profit consumer goods company where we can turn the marketing apparatus that we would often use to get people to buy ice cream but to get them to understand and care about the action around the issue," continued Curley.

Ben & Jerry’s has deep roots in activism, championing its campaigns for marriage equality, climate change and voting rights among others, all as a result of its three-part mission that demonstrates a commitment to making quality ice cream, giving a fair return to stakeholders and using the business as a gateway for change.

As seen through Justice Remix’d, initiatives extend beyond coming up with pun-filled flavors, which are merely used to draw attention to the deeper issues. Instead, the company diversifies its marketing approaches through multiple channels, taking advantage of digital and in-person platforms where necessary.

“The power in the opportunity for us is in running programs across our channels,” Curley told The Drum. “If we just went down and did the work just in the city and no one knew about it, we’re not maximizing the impact we can have nationally. But at the same time, if all we’re doing is putting up on social, we’re not having the impact in local communities where we can demonstrate the opportunity.

“When we use our channels ... to connect with our fans to bring them in? That’s our superpower. When we can take the connection we have with our fans through all those different channels and get them to join these movements – that’s where we think that we really can be more than an ice cream company. We can be a facilitator and a doorway to really grow these critical social movements.”

From St. Louis, the campaign will move to Miami where the company will work directly with local organizers to implement better access to mental health services in schools.

Ben & Jerry's is one of Unilever's key brands for carrying a brand purpose, something Alan Jope, the company's chief executive has doubled down on, telling The Drum that he plans to sell off any other brands that the company fails to find a higher purpose for.

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