Unilever has left London, but it hasn't gone

The Anglo-Dutch giant is now just a Dutch giant, but the UK retains the bulk of corporate jobs.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 15 Mar 2018

It could be Rotterdam, or anywhere, Liverpool or... no wait, it’s Rotterdam. After months of debate, Unilever has chosen the Dutch city as its sole global headquarters, over London.

The consumer goods behemoth has had a dual structure ever since the merger of Lever Brothers and Margarine Unie in 1929, with Unilever Plc in London and Unilever NV in Rotterdam.

Now there will be a single legal entity in Holland, with three divisions. Beauty & Personal Care and Home Care will be based in London, while Food & Refreshment will be based in Rotterdam.

The changes, which the company calls ‘Building the Unilever of the Future’, won’t involve moving jobs - the UK will continue to have 7,300 and Holland 3,100. It also won't affect the stock’s triple listing in London, Amsterdam and New York.

Why go to so much trouble then?

Unilever CEO Paul Polman decided to abandon the dual listing after US food giant Kraft crashed the party last year in an ill-advised bid for the company (in corporate ethos terms, Kraft’s backer 3G Capital is more or less the Anti-Unilever).

It is hoped that creating a ‘simpler, more agile and more focused business’ will placate any unruly shareholders – indeed, Unilever said it picked the Netherlands because that’s where the bulk of the company’s shares are traded.

Is it a blow for London?

Not really. The move isn't Brexit based and won't meaningfully affect London’s status as a corporate hub - remember, the bulk of Unilever's HQ-level jobs will be retained in the UK, and the same share of profits will be returned to British shareholders.

Nonetheless, it is a political blow to Theresa May. Britain has 'lost' its most admired company, even if it hasn't exactly gone. This means that the UK now has only 24 of the world’s top 500 companies, down from 30 in 2015. Not a happy trend. 

Image credit: ABimages/Shutterstock

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