Unilever’s Dutch investors approve single London HQ

LONDON • Shareholders in the Dutch arm of Unilever NV voted in favour of unifying its headquarters (HQ) in the UK, advancing a plan to streamline a cumbersome structure that has complicated major takeovers and disposals.

The vote, announced at an EGM yesterday, is a key step toward ending the Dove soap owner’s dual nationality. It will be followed by another ballot next month, polling shareholders in the British arm.

More than 99% of the Dutch arm’s investors approved the plan, Unilever said.

Approval from both sides would hand a win to CEO Alan Jope after the company withdrew a proposal to unify its business in the Netherlands under his predecessor, Paul Polman, in 2018. That reversal came after UK stockholders rebelled against the company’s potential exit from the FTSE 100 index.

Unilever shares traded 1.1% lower yesterday morning in Amsterdam, about half the decline of the Dutch benchmark stock index.

“The board firmly believes this proposal will deliver a stronger, simpler company,” chairman Nils Andersen said at the meeting.

The owner of Knorr stock cubes and Axe shower gel has maintained dual bases since the 1930 merger of Margarine Unie of the Netherlands and UK soapmaker Lever Brothers. It began moving to unwind that structure after an unsolicited takeover approach from Kraft Heinz Co in 2017.

The move to a single headquarters has prompted speculation that Unilever would step up merger-and-acquisition (M&A) activity. The company has mounted a strategic review of its tea business after sell- ing its spreads unit and acquiring consumer health brands in South

Asia from GlaxoSmithKline plc. Unilever’s streamlining plan still faces another potential hurdle in the form of a so-called departure tax proposed by the Dutch Opposition Green Party. The company has said the plan would make a move to London prohibitively expensive, but the legislation is in the early stages. — Bloomberg