Unilever - expects to be backed by shareholders in HQ unification vote

Unilever - expects to be backed by shareholders in HQ unification vote

Alan Jope, the CEO of Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant Unilever, is expecting to gain shareholder approval for plans to unify its headquarters in London.

But Jope said if a law enacting an "exit tax" in the Netherlands is passed it could mean a rethink.

Since Unilever's formation in 1930, the company has been owned through two separately listed companies, a Dutch NV and a UK plc. The company now plans to create one class of shares. 

Jope, speaking yesterday (9 September) at a virtual conference hosted by Barclays, said the company's board is "absolutely committed" to its proposal, announced in June, and is expecting "strong shareholder support."

But the Knorr and Magnum maker's plan to unify its legal structure under a single entity headquartered in London has faced some opposition in the Netherlands, including a legal threat.

However, Jope suggested yesterday the law proposed in that country by the opposition Green Left party, which would result in an EUR11bn (US$12.96bn) tax bill to the Dutch government, is illegal.

But he reiterated earlier statements that if the law does get enacted its unification plans would change.

News agency Reuters quoted him as saying: "If there's a high probability that exit would be associated with an EUR11bn tax bill, obviously that wouldn't be in shareholders' interest.

"But personally, I think logic and common sense will prevail."

A shareholder vote on the unification for Unilever NV investors is set for 21 September. Meetings for Unilever plc shareholders will take place on 12 October. Unilever said its unification is expected to be completed over the weekend of 21-22 November, meaning the expected last day of trading in Unilever NV shares would be 20 November.

Unilever has previously said the unification move will give it "strategic flexibility for portfolio evolution", which may include acquisitions or "de-mergers".