Sat, Oct 06, 2018 - Page 10 News List

Unilever halts plan to quit London HQ

SHAREHOLDER REVOLT:The consumer products firm’s chairman hinted that the board still supported a move to the Netherlands, which has tried to attract it with tax incentives

AFP, THE HAGUE, Netherlands

Anglo-Dutch consumer giant Unilever, maker of iconic products like Marmite, yesterday ditched its post-Brexit plan to move its main headquarters from London to Rotterdam after a revolt by shareholders.

The group, which also makes famous brands like PG Tips tea, Persil washing powder and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, said it was withdrawing a proposal that would have seen its corporate base move to the Netherlands.

“The Unilever board has today decided to withdraw its proposal to simplify Unilever’s dual-headed legal structure,” the company said in a statement.

The group had originally unveiled the planned switch in March in a symbolic decision that was largely interpreted by analysts as a blow to post-Brexit Britain.

However, Unilever had in recent weeks faced mounting opposition from key shareholders, including Royal London, Columbia Threadneedle, Legal & General Investment Management, Aviva Investors, Lindsell Train, M&G Investments and Brewin Dolphin.

A Unilever spokeswoman confirmed the company would no longer seek to relocate away from the British capital. “In developing the proposal, the board was guided by the opportunity to unlock value for our shareholders by creating a stronger, simpler and more competitive Unilever that is better positioned for long-term success,” the statement added.

“We have had an extensive period of engagement with shareholders and have received widespread support for the principle behind simplification,” it said. “However, we recognise that the proposal has not received support from a significant group of shareholders and therefore consider it appropriate to withdraw.”

Unilever has always insisted the move to Rotterdam was not related to Brexit and said that its 7,300 workers in Britain and 3,100 in the Netherlands would not be affected.

However, the row over the looming move had started to drag on the company’s performance with Unilever in July revealing a drop in sales in the first half of this year.

Unilever is also home to well-known products like Knorr soup, Magnum ice cream and Dove beauty products.

Chairman Marijn Dekkers left the door open for a move in the future, saying that the board continued to believe simplifying Unilever’s structure remains in the firm’s best interests.

“Unilever has built a long track record of consistent and competitive performance,” Dekkers said.

“The board continues to believe that simplifying our dual-headed structure would, over time, provide opportunities to further accelerate value creation and serve the best long-term interests of Unilever,” Dekkers said. “The board will now consider its next steps and will continue to engage with our shareholders.”

The decision followed a failed hostile bid by US rival Kraft Heinz last year, which analysts said played a key role in Unilever’s decision, as the Netherlands has stronger rules to protect companies against takeovers.

The announcement will come as a slap to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose government has been angling for post-Brexit business from Britain.

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