Blog: Dean BestNow four Unilever CEOs sound Brexit warning

Dean Best | 16 June 2016

The last three Unilever CEOs have joined present chief executive Paul Polman in writing to the company's staff to warn the group's UK operations would be "negatively impacted" by the country leaving the EU.

Polman's direct predecessor Patrick Cescau and the two chief executives before him - Niall FitzGerald and Sir Michael Perry - said Unilever "owes much of its success over the last quarter of a century" to the single market and the EU's work outside the bloc "to open up markets and drive standards in other parts of the world, including in such important areas as the environment and social protection".

The letter read: "While of course the EU needs continuously to adapt and improve, we believe that is best achieved when the UK has the self-confidence to lead in Europe, as it has done so effectively in the past, for example on issues like the single market and enlargement.

"It is not for us to suggest how people might vote. Many factors need to be considered. We respect that. But in taking this hugely important and irreversible decision, we feel a responsibility to point out that Unilever in the UK, with its thriving operating company, international research centres, factories and global headquarters would, in our considered opinion, be negatively impacted if the UK were to leave the European Union.

"We therefore hope that in the interests of Unilever, the UK, Europe, and indeed the wider global economy, the UK will choose to Remain and thereby continue to play a central role in Unilever’s long-term growth and prosperity."

Speaking to just-food, Unilever said it had received "numerous questions from employees present and past" about the implications on the business should the UK leave the EU.

A spokesperson for Unilever said: "In the event of Brexit - we would still have an operating business in the UK and global facilities like research laboratories here. However, we cannot predict the consequences on the economy and subsequent impact on our operations in the UK. The way we run the company may be fundamentally different if the decision were taken to leave the EU."

Unilever has been among the companies that have featured on leaflets distributed by the official Vote Leave campaign. Using the Unilever logo, the campaign names the consumer goods giant as among the companies that have said "they will stay" should the country plump for Brexit on 23 June.

According to UK news website independent.co.uk, Unilever has written to Conservative MP Boris Johnson, one of those leading the Vote Leave campaign, to insist the use of its logo has misled voters.

Last week, Unilever CEO Paul Polman outlined his stance in an interview with Channel 4 News.

He argued Brexit would hit the country's economy and put jobs in jeopardy.

"If you go out, you will significantly first of all create insecurity that will destroy jobs here and certainly put many other jobs at risk," Polman claimed. "There are 3m people in the UK who make their jobs from trade with Europe. You don't want to put these people at risk. It's one of the reasons you see one of these rare occasions when the majority of the business community, as well as the labour unions and civil society say overwhelmingly it's in our interest to stay."

You can watch Channel 4 News' interview with Polman here.

In recent days, the chairman of UK-based equipment and machinery maker JCB and vacuum cleaner maker Dyson have come out in favour of the country leaving the EU.

The food industry has seen a number of heavy-hitters argue for the UK to remain in the bloc. Here at just-food, we are looking for food and drink industry executives who support Brexit. Please contact us if you are happy to have your position published on our site.

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