Unilever denies Brexit is a factor as it picks Rotterdam as main HQ

Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant, has picked Rotterdam over London as its main base in a move seen as a blow to the government in the wake of the Brexit vote.

The group, which makes a number of well-known consumer brands including Persil, Dove and Marmite, has been based in London and Rotterdam for nearly a century.

The Unilever chief financial officer, Graeme Pitkethly, insisted Brexit “was absolutely not a factor” in the decision, which was announced after a board meeting and a year-long review.

Q&A

What brands does Unilever own?

Unilever produces a host of well-known consumer brands.

Food and drink

• Marmite, Hellman’s, Bertolli, Knorr, Bovril, Pot Noodle, Colman’s, Flora, Stork, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.

• PG Tips, Lyons, Lipton.

• Magnum, Ben & Jerry’s, Carte d’Or, Cornetto, Wall’s, Solero, Viennetta.

Personal hygiene

• Dove, Sure, Lynx, Axe, Impulse, Simple, Pond’s, Vaseline, Brut, Radox.

• Timotei, Toni & Guy, TRESemmé, VO5 and Brylcreem.

Laundry and cleaning

• Persil, Surf, Comfort, Cif, Domestos.

Photograph: Nick Potts/PA

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The group is to simplify its structure into a single legal entity incorporated in the Netherlands. It said its 7,300 employees in the UK and 3,100 in the Netherlands would be unaffected by the changes, which are aimed at making the group a “simpler, more agile and more focused business”.

The company decided to review its dual corporate structure after receiving a £115bn takeover approach from US food giant Kraft Heinz a year ago. The Netherlands offers better protection against hostile corporate takeovers than the UK.

It is restructuring its business into three divisions, two of which – beauty and personal care, and home care – will be headquartered in London. This secures nearly £1bn of annual spending in the UK, including on research and development, company firm said. The third division, foods and refreshments, will continue to be based in Rotterdam.

The company is moving a small number of people from London to Rotterdam, but is keeping its building at Blackfriars in London.

The UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy tweeted: “As the company itself has made clear, its decision to transfer a small number of jobs to a corporate HQ in the Netherlands is part of a long-term restructuring plan of the company and is not connected to the UK’s departure from the EU.”

(@beisgovuk)

The government’s response to today’s announcement from @Unilever on their long-term commitment to the UK. pic.twitter.com/6worCtfwYr

March 15, 2018

There are a number of other factors at play: the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, who used to work for Unilever, has pushed through plans to attract more overseas companies.

Unilever has had two main offices in London and Rotterdam since its creation from the 1929 merger of the British soap maker Lever Brothers and the Dutch margarine producer Margarine Unie.