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March 16, 2018

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Unilever sites HQ in Netherlands on Brexit

ANGLO-DUTCH consumer giant Unilever yesterday named The Netherlands over London to host its headquarters, dealing a blow to Britain’s efforts to keep multinational companies onside following Brexit.

Unilever, whose famous brands include yeast extract Marmite, PG Tips tea and Persil washing powder, announced in a statement that it “intends to simplify from two legal entities, NV and PLC, into a single legal entity incorporated in The Netherlands.”

The news represents a blow to British Prime Minister Theresa May, analysts say, as her Conservative administration battles to secure a Brexit trade deal with Brussels.

Unilever’s decision comes after a swathe of big-hitting financial institutions, including British bank HSBC, Swiss peer UBS and US giants JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley, have already confirmed plans to move some London activities to Paris and elsewhere.

Many large international companies insist however that they will retain their London presence as a platform for post-Brexit growth in Europe.

Unilever was founded in 1930 after the Dutch margarine producer Margarien Unie merged with British soapmaker Lever Brothers.

Until now, it has maintained a dual-headed structure since then, with listings on the London, Amsterdam and New York stock exchanges.

Unilever said yesterday that the headquarters of its beauty and home care divisions would be located in London, while its food and refreshment division will remain in Rotterdam.

The move will have no impact on its 7,300 employees in Britain and 3,100 in the Netherlands, the company said.

While analysts saw the decision as a consequence of Britain’s plans to leave the European Union in March 2019, the government said Brexit had nothing to do with it.

“Unilever has today shown its long-term commitment to the UK by choosing to locate its two fastest-growing global business divisions in this country, safeguarding 7,300 jobs and 1 billion pounds (US$1.4 billion) a year of investment,” a government spokesman said.

“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 of the company and is not connected to the UK’s departure from the EU.”

However Jos Versteeg, an analyst at the Amsterdam-based InsingerGilissen private bank said he believed Unilever’s choice indeed had to do with Brexit.

“I think they chose in favor of a Dutch entity because of Brexit and that its better to be in Europe,” he said. “It’s a hard blow for Britain to see Unilever’s headquarters disappear.”


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