It’s a shame that Unilever pulled its shareholder meeting about simplifying its structure, for had it gone ahead, it would have exposed a smouldering issue that’s been lurking under the radar for far too long. It’s something that’s been highlighted several times by Investors Chronicle – the voice that small shareholders have in public-listed companies.
Unilever’s Simplification Scheme needed a 117-page document to cover all the legal implications. Buried on page 43 was a line explaining that the UK High Court required the UK Scheme to “be approved by a majority in number of those PLC Shareholders who are present and vote, either in person or by proxy, at the PLC Court Meeting and who represent 75 per cent or more in value of the PLC Shares voted by such PLC Shareholders”. (And yes, if you had to read that twice, you were not alone.) It suggests that each shareholder would have had one vote. Pass this hurdle and then the Extraordinary General Meeting would have taken place requiring a 75 per cent majority based on the more familiar one-share/one-vote poll.