Tuesday 11 December 2018

Unilever to quit London in big blow to UK prestige

Unilever’s Rotterdam headquarters – the Dutch office will now become the multinational’s main base of operations
Unilever’s Rotterdam headquarters – the Dutch office will now become the multinational’s main base of operations

Kate Holton and Paul Sandle

UNILEVER, the UK's third-biggest company, will leave Britain after it picked Rotterdam over London for its main headquarters yesterday.

The high-profile move is a blow to Prime Minister Theresa May's government a year before Brexit.

The Anglo-Dutch maker of Dove soap, Lyons Tea, Persil and HB ice cream launched a review of its dual-headed structure in 2017 after fighting off a $143bn takeover from Kraft Heinz, triggering a battle between Britain and the Netherlands.

Under the new plan, Unilever will continue to be listed in London, Amsterdam and New York, and will divide into three divisions, keeping two based in Britain.

That will enable it to retain its 7,300 staff in the United Kingdom.

The company said the decision to end 88 years of two parent-ownership was not linked to Brexit or any form of protectionism, but would simplify its structure and facilitate acquisitions.

Dutch companies also have stronger powers to fight off unwanted takeovers

However, British unions and supporters of EU membership bemoaned what they said was a deterioration in Britain's competitiveness.

"Let me categorically say that this had nothing to do with Brexit," Unilever Chairman Marijn Dekkers told reporters.

"The board takes a 30- to 50-year decision. We think both countries are highly attractive investment climates and we will continue to invest in both countries as a result of this," the Dutchman added.

It is unclear whether Unilever can remain in the FTSE 100 Index of leading UK stocks, a decision which could hit its shares if tracker funds are forced to sell.

Forged by the 1930 merger of Dutch margarine producer Margarine Unie and British soap maker Lever Brothers, Unilever employs nearly 170,000 people around the world to generate turnover of €53.7bn in 2017.

With a market value of £105bn, it competes with the likes of P&G, Kraft, Nestle, Colgate Palmolive, Reckitt Benckiser and independent brands. (Reuters)

Irish Independent

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