Corporate Governance at Unilever

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Case Details:

Case Code : CGOX012
Case Length : 15 Pages
Period : 2004
Pub Date : 2004
Teaching Note :Not Available
Organization : Unilever
Industry : FMCG
Countries : UK

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This case study was compiled from published sources, and is intended to be used as a basis for class discussion. It is not intended to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of a management situation. Nor is it a primary information source.

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Unilever has always aspired to high standards of corporate governance and, in the light of the latest developments in Europe and the USA, we are keeping our arrangements under active review.

- Niall FitzGerald, CEO, Unilever PLC1


In 2002, with sales of $50.7 billion, Unilever was one of the largest packaged consumer goods companies in the world. It had over 700 brands in its portfolio. Headquartered at London and Rotterdam, Unilever operated in over 150 countries around the world.

It was owned by the Netherlands-based Unilever NV (NV) and UK-based Unilever PLC (PLC). Since 1930 when the Unilever Group was formed, NV and PLC together with their group companies had operated, and worked as a single entity. They had the same directors, adopted the same accounting principles, and were linked by Equalization agreements, which regulated the mutual rights of the two sets of shareholders.

Background Note

In 1885, William Hesketh Lever and his brother formed Lever Brothers. They introduced Sunlight, the world's first packaged, branded laundry soap. Sunlight was a success in Britain, and within 15 years Lever Brothers were selling the soap worldwide. Between 1906 and 1915 the company grew through acquisitions.

Needing vegetable oil to make soap, the company established plantations and trading companies around the world. During World War I, Lever began using its vegetable oil to make margarine and also started acquiring fish shops, canned foods, meet and ice cream businesses.

Rival Dutch butter makers, Jurgens and Van den Berghs were pioneers in margarine production. In 1927, they created the Margarine Union, a cartel that owned the European market.

The Margarine Union and Lever Brothers merged in 1930, but for tax reasons formed two separate entities as Unilever PLC in London and Unilever NV in Rotterdam, the Netherlands...

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