‘Unileaver’ deny Brexit as reason for HQ going Dutch

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Food giant Unilever has decided to relocate from London to Rotterdam, choosing the Dutch city as the base for its headquarters.

In a statement, the Anglo-Dutch Corporation outlined its intentions to transform its structure into three divisions.

The Foods & Refreshment Division, which manages brands such as Marmite, Flora, Knorr, Hellmann’s, Magnum, Ben & Jerry’s and Lipton, will be based in The Netherlands.

Meanwhile, the company would keep a UK-based presence, basing its Beauty & Personal Care and Home Care Division in London.

All this, Unilever said would secure nearly €1.1bn (£1bn) per year of continued spend in the UK, including a significant commitment to R&D.

“Unilever’s board is fully committed to delivering long-term performance and sustainable value for shareholders,”​ said Marijn Dekkers, chairman of Unilever.

“The board believes the move to three divisions and the simplification of our corporate structure will create a simpler, more agile and more focused company with increased strategic flexibility for value-creating portfolio change.

‘One share, one vote’

Unilever also added that the employment of 7,300 people in the UK and 3,100 people in the Netherlands would be unaffected by the changes.

The decision was not entirely done and dusted as the proposed “simplification”​ was still subject to shareholder approval in both The Netherlands and the UK.

“Our decision to headquarter the Divisions in the UK and the Netherlands underscores our long-term commitment to both countries,” ​Dekkers added.

“The changes announced today also further strengthen Unilever’s corporate governance, creating for the first time in our history a ‘one share, one vote’ principle for all our shareholders.”

In a BBC Radio 4 Today programme interview​ this morning Unilever CEO Paul Polman denied the choice was Brexit-related adding, “The opposite is true, we would not be investing in our two headquarters here for the two divisions in the UK.

“We would not have secured £1bn in spending if that were the case. Both countries are very attractive from an investment point of view, we have a long history here that we are proud of and we’re happy that we can continue to build on that.”

Not Brexit related

Responding to the announcement, the UK government’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy said, “Unilever had today shown its long-term commitment to the UK by choosing to locate it two fastest-growing global business divisions in this country, safeguarding 7,300 jobs and £1bn a year of investment.”

“As the company itself has made clear, its decision to transfer a small number of jobs to a corporate HQ in the Netherlands is a part of a long-term restructuring plan of the company and is not connected to the UK’s departure from the EU.”

Nestlé news

Unilever’s decision closely follows news concerning Nestlé, which along with French state-sponsored investor Bpifrance Financement intend to back Five Season Ventures, a food-tech fund that is moving from London to Paris.

The fund, which counts InnovFin, Fondo Italiano d’Investimento as investors, is planning a Series A funding round. While currently based in London, the fund are looking to move to Paris in the summer.

"France is currently a more friendly ecosystem for venture capital,"​ Niccolo Manzoni, founding partner of Five Seasons Ventures said​, adding that the move was not due to the UK’s exit from the European Union.

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