After 90 years in London, one of the largest companies in the UK, Unilever has announced the company will move its headquarters to the Netherlands in a bid to become ‘more agile’.
Unilever dual-headed structure existed since 1930, when Dutch margarine firm Unie merged with British soap maker Lever Brothers.
Since then, Unilever has operated with two parent companies – a British PLC headquartered in London and a Dutch NV based in Rotterdam.
Although run as one company, the distinct legal entities have different shareholders, separate stock listings and annual meetings and are subject to different laws and corporate governance requirements.
The company announced it was reviewing its dual-headed corporate structure in the aftermath of it fending off an attempted $143bn takeover from Kraft Heinz.
The company said that the decision to move its headquarters reflects the fact that the shares currently listed in the Netherlands account for approximately 55% of the group’s combined ordinary share capital and also trade with greater liquidity than the ones listed in London.
Unilever also announced that the beauty and personal and home care divisions will be headquartered in London, while foods and refreshment will continue to be based in Rotterdam.
The first two divisions will be brought to UK from the US and Singapore ‘and related to that, there will be transfers of jobs as well’.
Unilever chairman Marijn Dekkers said: “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”.
The company employs 7,300 people in the UK and 3,100 in the Netherlands and reassures that no jobs will be lost by the move.
Unilever, which is one of the largest companies in the UK’s FTSE 100 share index is not expected to remain in the blue-chip index after the move.
The shares will continue to be listed in London as well as Amsterdam and New York.
While the move puts pressure on Theresa May to land a Brexit deal which helps London, Unilever claims the decision was ‘not about Brexit’.
A government spokesperson said: “Unilever has today shown its long-term commitment to the UK by choosing to locate its two fastest-growing global business divisions in this country.
“As the company itself has made clear, its decision to transfer a small number of jobs to a corporate HQ in the Netherlands is part of a long-term restructuring of the company and is not connected to the UK’s departure from the EU.”
Anti-Brexit campaigners described the move as a ‘major blow’ to the UK government as it prepares for the next year’s exit from the European Union.
The chief executive of the Best for Britain group, Eloise Todd, said it showed “what business really feels” about the UK’s departure from the EU.
She added: “The government are saying to anyone who will listen this is not to do with Brexit, but anyone with any sense knows it’s a factor.”
“The company has had an HQ in the UK for over 90 years, and all that history and legacy has gone down the plughole.”
Rajesh Agrawal, deputy mayor for business, said: “Unilever’s decision is disappointing for the capital. It brings into sharp focus the need for the Government to secure a Brexit deal that secures London as Europe’s leading business centre.”
Agrawal argued that Britain should stay in the single market and the customs union to avoid such moves.