Reports suggesting the company was shifting its global headquarters to Rotterdam first surfaced on Sky News 10 October 2017. However, in September 2018 it emerged that a major shareholder had opposed the move. The business then scrapped plans to relocate its UK HQ to Rotterdam.
Then, in an announcement issued on 11 June, Unilever stated: "Unilever today announced plans to unify its group legal structure under a single parent company, Unilever PLC, creating a simpler company with greater strategic flexibility, that is better positioned for future success."
The fast moving consumer goods giant said the decision was the result of an 18-month review and was driven by the need for strategic flexibility over issues such as acquisitions or demergers. "Such flexibility is even more important as we anticipate the increasingly dynamic business environment that the COVID-19 pandemic will create," it stated.
Review of Unilever's tea business
"The ongoing strategic review of Unilever’s tea business has further demonstrated that the dual-headed legal structure can create disadvantages for the group. For example, a demerger of the tea business is one potential outcome of the review and, as was previously the case with the disposal of the company’s spreads business, this would be significantly more challenging under the current legal structure than under a single parent structure."
There would be no change to operations, locations, activities, staffing levels, manufacture or supply of Unilever products in either the UK or The Netherlands as a result of unification, Unilever stressed. It said its commitment to the Netherlands would not change as a result of the proposal. "For example, the headquarters of Unilever’s Foods & Refreshment Division, which was created in 2018, and is around 40% of Unilever by turnover, will continue to be based in Rotterdam, along with the €85m Research & Development centre in Wageningen, which opened in 2019."
Unilever chairman Nils Andersen said: “Unilever’s board believes that unifying the company’s legal structure will create greater strategic flexibility, remove complexity and further improve governance. We remain committed to The Netherlands and the UK and there will be no change to Unilever’s footprint in either country as a result of the proposed change to Unilever’s legal parent structure. We are confident that unification will help Unilever deliver its vision of driving superior long-term performance through its multiple stakeholder business model.”