3 October, 2018

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Ethical investment campaign group ShareAction on Wednesday joined the voices raising concerns about Unilever’s plan to relocate its HQ to the Netherlands.

The group said “institutional investors are right to be speaking up” ahead of a vote this month by shareholders in Marmite maker Unilever’s Dutch and UK entities.

The FTSE-100 firm wants to move its legal headquarters to Rotterdam and switch from two classes of shares to one, to simplify its corporate structure.

Some shareholders are worried that exiting the blue chip index will mean the stock is less likely to be included in UK managers’ portfolios. Several large shareholders have objected to the move, and trade body Pimfa, which represents financial advisers, has raised concerns.

Shareholder Royal London Asset Management hit out at Unilever’s plans today. The fund manager’s head of sustainable investments, Mike Fox, said: “Should the motion succeed, we would be forced to sell our holdings in Unilever across a number of our funds, something we do not believe would be in the interests of our clients.”

ShareAction is also concerned that retail investors could be barred from having a say because they hold shares through third parties.

“Those third parties famously do not go through the trouble of facilitating voting due to administrative burden,” a spokesman said.

A spokesman for Unilever said: “We would encourage all shareholders to vote on our simplification proposals, which we believe bring clear benefits for Unilever and its shareholders by giving the company greater strategic flexibility and further strengthening our governance.”