Top shareholders in Marmite maker Unilever have hinted that they may object to a possible relocation of the company’s headquarters from London.
Directors of the Anglo-Dutch group are expected to vote in the coming weeks on where Unilever should maintain its base, after the company promised last year to simplify its corporate structure in the wake of Kraft Heinz’s failed £115bn hostile bid.
But key investors have said that ditching Unilever’s joint London head office for Rotterdam could be part of an underhand plan to make the company less attractive to foreign buyers, the Sunday Times first reported today.
Holland’s legal system is often perceived to be less facilitative of hostile foreign takeovers of companies, as US firm PPG found last year when it attempted to buy Dutch Dulux manufacturer AkzoNobel.
A company can, for example, create a legal entity called a “stichting” which has the right to veto any proposed hostile takeover.
But shareholders have said that a relocation to take advantage of this system would not necessarily be in investors’ best interests.
Last week it was revealed that UK officials were in talks with Unilever to convince the consumer goods giant to remain in London.
The company did promise last year to main a stock market listing in London as well as Amsterdam, after shareholders threatened a revolt otherwise, but delayed making a decision on the location of the headquarters due to “political turbulence”.
Currently, Unilever operates under a dual-headed legal structure, with incorporated firms in both the UK and Holland which must each be treated as separate companies with separate annual general meetings.
As part of the Kraft Heinz-prompted shake-up last year, Unilever also announced a £4.3bn share buyback, a dividend hike and the £6bn sale of its spreads business.