The union said it was “deeply concerned and disappointed” in Unilever’s decision, and wants urgent job assurances from the manufacturer.
The union said Unilever’s Spreads business was still profitable, and Unilever was only looking to sell to prevent another takeover attempt. Workers in Essex were now fearing for their jobs, the union claimed, after Unilever revealed the results of its structural review, which was published last week (April 7).
“We are deeply concerned and disappointed that Unilever feels the need to appease the speculators in the City of London, by selling its Spreads division, after the recent failed Kraft Heinz takeover bid,” said Unite national officer Rhys McCarthy.
‘A state of deep anxiety for the future’
“Unilever makes products much loved by UK consumers, and the market for its spreads, including household brands such as Flora, Bertolli and I Can’t Believe it’s not Butter, is still strong and profitable. The decision to off load its Spreads business has left nearly 200 workers at the Purfleet factory in Essex in a state of deep anxiety for their futures.”
The government must strengthen the UK takeover regulations to stop British brands being sold off to the top bidder, the union said. A public interest test should be used for big takeovers, which considered the interests of stakeholders, it added.
Unilever also said last month that a tougher UK takeover code was needed.
No-one was available at Unilever to respond to the union’s claims, when approached by FoodManufacture.co.uk.
The union’s comments came after Unilever revealed plans to sell off or demerge its Spreads division, as a result of a structural review. It would combine its Foods and Refreshment activities into one organisation based in the Netherlands.
Failed £115bn takeover bid
The review came after a failed £115bn ($143bn) takeover bid by US firm Kraft Heinz in February. Following the bid, Unilever wanted to improve shareholder returns, and its decision to target a 20% underlying operating margin, before restructuring by 2020.
Unilever ceo Paul Polman said last week: “After a long history in Unilever, we have decided that the future of the Spreads business now lies outside of the Group. We will support our business with a higher level of leverage, while retaining the benefits of a strong credit rating.
“We feel confident that the changes we are announcing today will accelerate the transformation of Unilever and the delivery of sustainable shareholder value over the long term.”