Unilever Dutch Investors Approve Single London Headquarters
(Bloomberg) -- Shareholders in the Dutch arm of Unilever voted in favor of unifying its headquarters in the U.K., advancing a plan to streamline a cumbersome structure that has complicated major takeovers and disposals.
The vote, announced at an extraordinary general meeting Monday, 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 Chief Executive Officer 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 U.K. stockholders rebelled against the company’s potential exit from the FTSE 100 index.
Unilever shares traded 2% lower in Amsterdam on a day when European stocks were generally lower.
“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 U.K. 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 activity. The company has mounted a strategic review of its tea business after selling 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.
The proposal would breach European Union laws on freedom of establishment and free movement of capital, and would contravene the U.K.-Netherlands tax treaty, Jope said at the meeting.
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