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Unilever CEO Paul Polman and three predecessors sign joint letter to employees present and past on EU referendum


Average read time: 4 minutes

Over the last 24 years we have each had the honour of leading Unilever, one of the world’s truly great consumer goods companies.

Between us, we have given the company more than a hundred and twenty years of service. In return, it has given us a remarkable perspective on what it takes to succeed in an era of rapidly accelerating globalisation – something we have also gained through our experience of serving in leading roles in other successful international companies.

In many ways, our own backgrounds – as citizens of the UK, Ireland, France and the Netherlands – reflect the Europeanism on which Unilever is founded, and from which it has derived so much of its strength down the years.

Despite our diverse nationalities, we are all very clear on this – the vital importance of the UK to Unilever, and of Unilever to the UK. This is where the Unilever story began, and where – with the company’s Dutch partners – an Anglo-Dutch business was formed that has gone on to become the globally-renowned company we know today.

Europe however remains Unilever’s heartland.

And within Europe, the UK has always been a vital part, punching above its weight in Unilever’s highly interdependent structure with its network of factories, internationally-renowned research centres, training facilities and other key corporate functions, not to mention a global headquarters whose Blackfriars office stands as a powerful symbol of Unilever’s place in the world and its global reach.

Long may that remain.

As we look back, it is clear that the introduction 24 years ago, in 1992, of the Single European Act completely refashioned Europe’s economic landscape.

As, respectively, the leaders of the company throughout that entire period, we have seen first-hand how, at each stage of its development, the Single Market has steadily transformed Unilever’s business, enabling it to reap the extraordinary advantages of European integration, to the benefit of its UK employees and its many other stakeholders.

As Paul has confirmed, those benefits remain just as true today as at every previous stage.

In short, Unilever owes much of its success over the last quarter of a century to the creation of a single European market of 500 million consumers, and – importantly – to the collective weight of the European Union in helping to open up markets and drive standards in other parts of the world, including in such important areas as the environment and social protection. Indeed, the European Union has become a window on the world – crucial to any European-based business, like Unilever, seeking to grow and prosper in a highly globalised marketplace.

While of course the EU needs continuously to adapt and improve, we believe that is best achieved when the UK has the self-confidence to lead in Europe, as it has done so effectively in the past, for example on issues like the single market and enlargement.

It is not for us to suggest how people might vote. Many factors need to be considered. We respect that. But in taking this hugely important and irreversible decision, we feel a responsibility to point out that Unilever in the UK, with its thriving operating company, international research centres, factories and global headquarters would, in our considered opinion, be negatively impacted if the UK were to leave the European Union.

We therefore hope that in the interests of Unilever, the UK, Europe, and indeed the wider global economy, the UK will choose to Remain and thereby continue to play a central role in Unilever’s long-term growth and prosperity.

Paul Polman

(2009 - )

Patrick Cescau

(2004 – 2008)

Niall FitzGerald KBE

(1996 – 2004)

Sir Michael Perry GBE

(1992 – 1996)

About Unilever:

Unilever is one of the world’s leading suppliers of Food, Home and Personal Care products with sales in over 190 countries and reaching 2 billion consumers a day. It has 169,000 employees and generated sales of €53.3 billion in 2015. Over half (58%) of the company’s footprint is in developing and emerging markets. Unilever has more than 400 brands found in homes around the world, including Persil, Dove, Knorr, Domestos, Hellmann’s, Lipton, Wall’s, PG Tips, Ben & Jerry’s, Marmite, Magnum and Lynx.

Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan commits to:

  • Helping more than a billion people take action to improve their health and well-being by 2020.
  • Halving the environmental impact of our products by 2030.
  • Enhancing the livelihoods of millions of people by 2020.

Unilever was ranked number one in its sector in the 2015 Dow Jones Sustainability Index. In the FTSE4Good Index, it achieved the highest environmental score of 5. It led the list of Global Corporate Sustainability Leaders in the 2016 GlobeScan/SustainAbility annual survey for the sixth year running. Unilever was ranked the most sustainable food and beverage company in Oxfam’s Behind the Brands Scorecard in 2016 for the second year.

For more information about Unilever and its brands, please visit For more information on the USLP:

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