More than a year ago, in June 2020, Eric Wiebes had to swallow. Unilever, one of the icons of the Dutch business community, has announced its intention to establish its head office in London.
The decision came two years after the soup and soap manufacturer had to reverse a choice for Rotterdam because the company’s British shareholders did not see any potential in what they called ‘Rotterdoom’.
And that after the government had done everything possible to have Unilever choose the Netherlands. It was even prepared to abolish a tax that would lose the treasury by 2 billion euros on an annual basis.
But to no avail: British shareholders feared Unilever would be kicked out of the FTSE100 index, and they saw little point in typical Dutch legislation curtailing shareholder rights.
So exit Unilever. But the move has not yet had a huge impact on employment and the local and regional economy, as it turns out. RTL Z asked Unilever about the development of the workforce and the number of branches in the Netherlands and the municipality of Rotterdam about the economic consequences for the municipality and the region.
“No job has moved from Rotterdam to London,” Unilever says. “At the end of October 2021, 2,700 people were working for Unilever in the Netherlands, spread over 5 locations. Exactly a year earlier, that was 2,400.”
The company has offices on Weena and Hofplein in Rotterdam and a Food Innovation Center in Wageningen. Also included are people who work in the factories of Ben & Jerry’s in Hellendoorn and De Vegetarische Slager in Breda.
Unilever further expanded its workforce in the Netherlands through the acquisition of Paula’s Choice, a manufacturer of skin care products.
It has a European head office in Amersfoort where ‘about 100 people’ work. “So there is an increase in the number of employees from 300 at the existing sites and 100 at a new one,” the company calculates.
In Rotterdam they have also noticed little of the relocation of Unilever’s head office, says a spokesperson for the municipality. “Unilever is still one of the largest employers in the city center. It has never closed an office. Its registered office has been moved to London. The direct impact on the local economy is marginal.”
No less sandwich sold
For example, because 150 more people work at Weena 455 than a year ago, there is ‘no effect on the surrounding catering industry’. Due to the relocation of Unilever’s head office, the company is no longer selling a sandwich.
Nor is it the case that fewer expats affiliated with Unilever are staying in Rotterdam. “That amount has remained stable.” In any case, the soup in Rotterdam is not eaten as hot as it might have been served in The Hague.