Since Sunday, Unilever has legally become an entirely British company. This puts an end to years of wrangling between the Netherlands and the United Kingdom over the multinational’s seat.
Unilever had a bi-national identity since 1929, with headquarters in London and Rotterdam. This double structure was a remnant of the merger of the Dutch Margarine Unie and the British soap group Lever Brothers.
The first plans to simplify the structure in order to cut costs date from 2018. Initially, Unilever was to come to the Netherlands. The Dutch government led by Mark Rutte even wanted to abolish dividend tax for it.
However, a group of investors was not in favour of moving to the Netherlands. They feared that Unilever would lose its prestigious listing in the FTSE-100 index on the London Stock Exchange. Indirectly, this could lead to a fall in the share price, as more investors would sell their shares.
Meanwhile, there was growing opposition in Dutch political circles to the abolition of the dividend tax. When it turned out that this abolition did not materialise in the end, Unilever’s British shareholders also began to oppose. After all, they would still have to pay dividend tax if they acquired Dutch shares. At the end of 2018, the plans to move to the Netherlands were definitively put away.
In June of this year top executive Alan Jope announced that Unilever would opt for an all-British structure. This led to a great deal of dissatisfaction in political circles in the Netherlands, not least because it meant that the country would lose some EUR 200 million euro a year in withholding tax. The opposition party GroenLinks even submitted a bill to impose an 11 billion euro moving fine on the multinational. According to newspaper De Tijd, however, the law comes too late to stop the move. It means that Unilever is formally a British company since Sunday.