Unilever’s Rotterdam move ‘nothing to do with Brexit’

Consumer goods group will keep two of its three main businesses in UK, says CEO

Laura Hunt stacking packs of washing powder made by Unilever in Supervalu in Blackrock, Co Dublin. Unilever, Britain’s third-biggest company, will scrap its London corporate headquarters and make Rotterdam its sole legal home. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Laura Hunt stacking packs of washing powder made by Unilever in Supervalu in Blackrock, Co Dublin. Unilever, Britain’s third-biggest company, will scrap its London corporate headquarters and make Rotterdam its sole legal home. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch group, said on Thursday that Brexit played no part in its decision to choose Rotterdam over London for its single legal base, as it sought to minimise any political fallout from its biggest structural change in 89 years.

Paul Polman, chief executive and a critic of Brexit, said of the year-long review: “I can categorically say that it has nothing to do with Brexit.” Both the UK and the Netherlands were “highly attractive investment planets”.

Two of the consumer goods group’s three main businesses would remain in the UK, with the “proof of the pudding” being that it would ensure £1 billion of continued investment in the country, he said.

Mr Polman is well aware of the political sensitivities of the decision. In November, he told the Financial Times that he was pushing for the announcement to be delayed beyond the end of 2017 because of “the emotions of the moment”.

Food division

Last year the company centralised its food division in the Netherlands, moving 140 jobs from the UK in the process. Unilever said roughly 50 jobs would be cut among the 100 positions in the two main HQs. It employs 7,300 people in the UK and 3,100 in the Netherlands.

Theresa May is adamant that Unilever’s choice of Rotterdam is unrelated to Brexit and felt vindicated by Mr Polman’s comments. “He could not have been clearer,” said one ally of the UK prime minister.

But Rebecca Long-Bailey, shadow business secretary, said: “This is another blow for the prime minister . . . businesses are quickly losing confidence in this Conservative government.”

Unilever, Britain’s third-biggest company, has one management team but two parent companies, with headquarters in both Rotterdam and London, and two separately listed entities: a UK plc and a Dutch NV.

The group behind the quintessentially British Marmite spread, as well as Dove soap, and Magnum and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, said it had chosen the Netherlands because the Dutch NV is bigger than the plc, representing 55 per cent of the group’s overall share capital, and because more trading is done in its shares than in the London-listed stock.

– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018