Two into one equals reform at Unilever

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The Independent Online

Unilever will take steps this week to unify the two companies that make up the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant.

It will propose to shareholders that the nine members of the supervisory board of the Dutch Unilever become non-executive directors of Unilever plc. These include former Conservative ministers Lord Brittan of Spennithorne and Baroness Chalker of Wallasey as well as former BP chief executive and Labour minister Lord Simon of Highbury.

The move follows last week's vote to reform the structure of the board of the Dutch part of Unilever to fit in with both the new Dutch corporate governance code and current best practice in European companies.

It is planned that all the directors of both boards will be re-elected each year. Unilever is also going to review all its board structures and corporate governance procedures

This will mean that there will be only one group of directors, who will sit on the boards of the UK and Dutch companies.

The changes at Unilever were planned before the reserves scandal that has engulfed another Anglo-Dutch giant, Shell. Some of the problems at Shell have been blamed on its two boards and to tensions between the British and Dutch sides of the company. Shareholders are pressing for reform of the dual board structure, and the Unilever reforms could prove a template for the shake-up of Shell.

The dual structures of Anglo-Dutch companies have created tensions in the past. When publisher Reed International merged with Elsevier of Holland, a turf war led to the ousting of Reed's chief executive, Sir Peter Davies. Corus, the Anglo-Dutch steel giant, was thrown into turmoil last year when the Dutch supervisory board blocked the planned sale of the group's aluminium business.