Unilever, the maker of Dove soap and Marmite, is set to choose Rotterdam over London for its main headquarters, according to reports.
The Anglo-Dutch consumer group currently has joint headquarters in London and Rotterdam. Since it fended off a £115bn takeover approach from US food giant Kraft Heinz a year ago, the company has been reviewing its dual corporate structure and which of the two offices would become its main base.
According to reports, Rotterdam has beaten London and an announcement could come as soon as Thursday, in a move that will be seen as a symbolic blow for the UK’s attractiveness to international businesses in the wake of the Brexit vote. Unilever, run by its Dutch chief executive Paul Polman, is expected to announce the decision after a board meeting on Wednesday. The company declined to comment.
For nearly a century, Unilever has been headquartered in London and Rotterdam, following the 1929 merger of the British soap maker Lever Brothers and the Dutch margarine producer Margarine Unie. Since then, the business has grown into a global consumer group that makes a host of well-known brands, including Persil washing powder, Magnum ice-cream and Knorr soup. Unilever employs 7,500 people in the UK and around 3,000 in the Netherlands.
Alongside complications caused by the UK severing links with Brussels, there are a number of other factors that make Rotterdam more attractive than London. The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, who used to work for Unilever, has pushed through plans to attract more overseas companies. He scrapped a 15% tax on dividends for overseas investors in Dutch businesses and plans to lower corporation tax.
Even more importantly for Unilever, the Netherlands offers better protection against hostile corporate takeovers than the UK. The rules allow Netherlands-based firms to combat hostile takeovers with “poison pill” defences, which make a company’s shares prohibitively expensive to predators. This has reportedly been a major factor in the decision.
Though run as one company, the distinct legal entities have different shareholders, separate stock listings and annual meetings, and are subject to different laws and corporate governance requirements. Unilever has said it planned to maintain stock market listings in the Netherlands, UK and US, and continue to apply both UK and Dutch corporate governance codes.