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Unilever defends plan to go Dutch as opposition grows

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Unilever defends plan to go Dutch as opposition grows
FILE PHOTO: Unilever headquarters in Rotterdam, Netherlands August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw/File Photo   -   Copyright  Stringer .(Reuters)
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By Martinne Geller

LONDON (Reuters) – Unilever <ULVR.L> <UNc.AS> executives took to the British press and airwaves on Tuesday to defend their plan to base a new single headquarters in the Netherlands, as opposition to it grows.

Unilever is fending off shareholder criticism about the move in Britain, where it has become entangled in the debate over Brexit and its impact on the economy.

In a coordinated charm offensive, Chairman Marijn Dekkers wrote an op-ed in the Daily Telegraph, while Chief Financial Officer Graeme Pitkethly appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Both stressed that the maker of Dove soap and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream remained committed to Britain, with over 60 percent of its business run from London, and repeated arguments for why the move will benefit the company and its shareholders.

“The benefits we get, which accrue to all shareholders, are the ability to manage our portfolio of brands and businesses more dynamically in many ways,” Pitkethly said.

David Cumming, chief investment officer of equities at Aviva Investors, a top-20 Unilever shareholder, told BBC Radio that it looked like Unilever was moving to the Netherlands for better takeover protection in the wake of last year’s failed $143 billion takeover approach by Kraft Heinz <KHC.O>.

In response, Pitkethly said “the best form of protectionism is great performance”.

The move is due for shareholder votes in late October, and so far, four top-20 shareholders, including Aviva, have voiced concern or disapproval. Together, they control about 5.5 percent of the British entity’s shares, according to Thomson Reuters data.

(Reporting by Martinne Geller; Editing by Kirsten Donovan/Keith Weir)

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