Unilever to become officially British but Rotterdam office won’t close

Unilever (Photo: M.Minderhoud/Wikimedia Commons)Unilever (Photo: M.Minderhoud/Wikimedia Commons)

Unilever's headquarters will be established in London, making the company officially British. The company currently has two head offices, one in London and one in Rotterdam. The Rotterdam office will stay open, but will no longer be a head office. The Dutch government is disappointed, but not surprised by this decision, NOS reports.

Unilever is currently a company under both British and Dutch law. But once its head office is located in London alone, it will be British on paper. The food group decided to switch to only one head office in order to create a simpler company that is better equipped for future success, Unilever said. The company stressed that nothing will change in Unilever's presence in the Netherlands and that no jobs will be lost. The company will also continue to be listed on the Amsterdam stock exchange.

Unilever initially planned to establish its sole head office in Rotterdam, but scrapped that decision in October 2018 under pressure from British shareholders in particular. A year and a half later, Unilever now decided that its headquarters will be in London. According to CEO Alan Jope, there was no other option than choosing London over Rotterdam. "We tried that two years ago and then had to withdraw it. The best solution was to do the opposite now," Jope said to NOS. 

Unilever informed the Dutch government about this decision in mid-May. The government regrets the decision, but is not surprised by it, Minister Eric Wiebes of Economic Affairs said in a letter to parliament. He stressed that this step will have no consequences for Unilever activities and employment in the Netherlands."Given the developments in recent years, this proposal comes at no surprise," Wiebes wrote. "Unilever has long indicated that it wants to simplify the structure of the company. We as cabinet entered into discussions with Unilever with the aim of preserving as many activities and employment of the company as possible for our country."

The company said it will continue to staff around 2,500 people in the Netherlands and maintain its existing contracts in the country, including Dutch manufacturing and supply. It will also continue to invest in Dutch operations, and will work with the government to “encourage R&D and innovation in plant-based foods, sustainability, food systems resilience and nutrition,” Unilever Chairman Nils Andersen and CEO Alan Jope wrote in a letter to Ministers Wiebes and Wopke Hoekstra. Last year the group opened a new research center on the campus of Wageningen University & Research, investing 85 million euros into the center. 

Unilever said it would likely move many of its procurement roles to the Rotterdam office, which will serve as a European headquarter for its supply chain. It also committed to incorporating their food and beverage division in the Netherlands if it is ever spun as a new company, the multinational stated in the letter. That new company would also be listed on a Dutch stock exchange, presumably Euronext Amsterdam.