Shareholders in Unilever NV have voted 99% in favour of plans to move the company’s headquarters to London and to become a completely British company.
The company currently has a dual structure, but said in June that unification will create ‘a simpler company with greater strategic flexibility, that is better positioned for future success’.
The June decision came 18 months after Unilever dropped plans to consolidate its headquarter operations in Rotterdam following pressure from several large investors in the UK.
At the time, the decision had considerable political impact, particularly the Dutch government’s decision to scrap the tax on dividends which was seen as a sweetener to keep the company in the Netherlands. The dividend tax plan was eventually put on ice.
Since it was founded in 1930, the Anglo-Dutch soups-to-soaps giant has maintained two separate headquarters – in London and in Rotterdam – as well as dual bourse listings and dual fiscal entities. But Unilever has always operated as a single business with a single board of directors.
Unilever’s shareholders in Britain will vote on the move in October 12 in London.
There is one potential pitfall to overcome. Draft legislation drawn up by left-wing green party GroenLinks would introduce an exit premium which large companies leaving the Netherlands would have pay to the tax office as compensation for tax income that would be lost by the move.
In a note to shareholders in August, Unilever says such a payment would add up to €11bn and that if the legislation is passed in its present form, a move to Britain would then no longer be ‘in the best interests of Unilever, its shareholders and other stakeholders.’
However, the company also says the legality of such legislation may conflict with international treaties and Dutch-British tax arrangements.