The Financial Times believes Rotterdam is in pole position to become the British-Dutch Unilever’s new main office, rather than London. The business paper claims the information comes from political insiders.
Unilever, which owns global brands like Axe, Dove, Ola, Knorr and Lipton to name but a few, currently has two main offices: one in London and one in Rotterdam. The double setup is a remnant from the merger between Dutch Margarine Unie and British Lever Brothers in 1930. It not only has two main offices, but also two legal entities and two stock exchange listings (in London and Amsterdam).
When American Kraft Heinz tabled an unsollicited bid for Unilever, CEO Paul Polman promised to investigate the intricate (and expensive) organizational structure. According to Polman, the double approach also hampers Unilever’s prowess when it wants to acquire other companies. The Financial Times now writes that Unilever would want to keep its main office in Rotterdam, citing a British civil servant involved in the matter. He allegedly said “it would not be a major surprise” if Unilever would prefer the Netherlands to the United Kingdom.
If Unilever were to discard London, that would be a slap to the face of British Prime Minister Theresa May. Because of the Brexit, she lowered corporate taxes to keep as many multinationals in London as possible. Unilever’s London main office employs 1,300 people and the company has 7,500 employees across the United Kingdom.
Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, is a former Unilever employee and he is also throwing everything he has to win this battle. His government cut the dividend tax and Rutte and his team have made it relatively clear that they did that to convince Unilever to pick Rotterdam (and to keep 3,000 people employed).
The company itself had very little to say about the news. “This is apparently what they think in England”, a spokesperson told business paper FD. “The decision will be taken prior to the end of the first quarter, before the end of March.”