Rotterdam

Unilever’s Rotterdam HQ makes sense, but Brexit will have struck too

Dr Carmen Stoian, Lecturer in International Business in the Kent Business School, comments on the decision by Unilever to base its HQ in Rotterdam rather than London.

‘Unilever’s decision to consolidate its operations and to move its headquarters from London to Rotterdam is one of the latest corporate moves that questions the impact of Brexit on the UK economy.

‘The key issue here is that the link between this move and Brexit is more subtle than anti-Brexit campaigners may claim. Indeed, Paul Polman, the company’s CEO, has said that the move was based on ‘technical reasons’. He added: “This is not about Brexit,” and “both countries are attractive from an investment point of view“. From an organisational point of view, the dual-headed structure that Unilever has enjoyed in the past is rather rare and has several limitations. Hence, the consolidation of its headquarters in Rotterdam makes business sense.

‘However, the move is driven by both push and pull factors, amongst which political factors cannot be neglected. Since the British vote in the EU referendum in June 2016, governments, local authorities and business networks in various European countries have worked hard to improve the investment climate in their markets in order to attract multinationals headquartered in London that may be wary of Brexit. Berlin authorities have tried hard to entice tech companies from London to relocate. French authorities have simplified the banking legislation in order to make it easier for multinationals to set up businesses.

‘All in all, the impact of Brexit may be felt in the future not only as a result of what happens in the  UK, but also as a result of the strong determination of governments of EU countries to make their markets more attractive and the new destination for foreign direct investment from multinationals based in the UK.’

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