The plan, announced in March and to be voted on in October, would see Unilever’s UK HQ shut down and all operations transferred to its offices in Rotterdam. However, Unilever needs 75% of shareholder votes to push it through.
Aviva Investors said the move, which would lead to Unilever’s exclusion from the Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) 100 share index, could see UK shareholders rush to sell off their shares.
‘Will not create any value’
David Cumming, chief investment officer, equities, at Aviva Investors, said: “Unilever’s decision appears to be a defensive response to recent governance challenges and, consequently, will not create any value for shareholders.
“Furthermore, a material number of longstanding supportive UK shareholders will become forced sellers due to the resultant removal of this high-quality company from the FT All Share and FTSE 100 indices.”
Lindesell Train, another major shareholder that held a 2.5% stake in Unilever in July, voiced concerns about becoming a forced seller at a time and price not of its choosing.
A Unilever spokesman said the company was confident that it would win the support of its shareholders: “We have engaged extensively with our shareholders and we believe the vast majority are fully supportive of the board's proposal.”
Unilever’s proposed “simplification” of the company would see it focused on three divisions – Beauty & Personal Care, Home Care and Foods & Refreshment.
Its Food & Refreshment division, which is responsible for brands such as Marmite, Flora, Knorr, Hellmann’s, Magnum, Ben & Jerry’s and Lipton, would be based in the Netherlands. It also pledged its 7,300 strong UK workforce would not be affected during the process.
Earlier this year, Clive Black, head of research at city analyst Shore Capital, told Food Manufacture the relocation would be a “body blow to the reputation of London”.