Britain’s biggest union, Unite has today (Friday 2 June) reiterated its call for urgent assurances from Unilever over its knee-jerk decision to sell-off its spreads and margarine business in response to the failed Kraft-Heinz takeover bid in February.
This follows concerns raised by the Unilever European Works Council (UEWC), which today (2 June) called on Unilever to do all in its power to secure the future of the business and the jobs of over 1,000 workers in Europe directly affected by the decision by finding a responsible buyer.
In April, Unite, which represents thousands of workers at Unilever sites across the country, first raised the issue of predatory, ‘vulture capitalists’ taking over much-loved British brands such as Marmite, Dove and Hellmans, because of the UK’s lax takeover laws, when Unilever announced plans to sell its spreads business on 6 April.
The household goods giant’s decision to off-load this arm of its business, has fuelled uncertainty about the future of 200 jobs at Unilever’s Purfleet factory in Essex, makers of Flora, Bertolli and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.
Repeating the UEWC’s calls, Unite national officer for Unilever Rhys McCarthy said: “We are urging Unilever to think very carefully about the sale of its spreads division, which although neglected by poor past management decisions, makes a healthy profit.
“We are also extremely concerned that private equity firms will leverage vast sums of borrowed money to bid for the business and, if successful, make huge cuts and factory closures in order to make a quick buck to service their debts.
“Unilever must publicly declare that this will not happen and the interests of the workers and the popular brands that they make will not be at risk.
“Once again the potential sale of Unilever’s billion pound spreads business raises the need for government action to tighten mergers and acquisitions laws.
“To protect UK PLC we need urgent changes that stop private equity using billions of pounds of debt to raid and take over British companies and then cut and slash, as workers lose their jobs.”
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Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.