In May 2021 Ethical Consumer viewed the Unilever subsidiary list in its latest Annual Report (dated 2020) and its family tree on the D&B Hoovers corporate database. This showed that the company had a number of subsidiaries in countries which, at the time of writing, Ethical Consumer considered to be tax havens.
Of these subsidiaries a number were holding or finance companies considered high risk company types for the likely use of tax avoidance strategies. These included the following:
UNUS Holding B.V. in The Netherlands
Unilever Overseas Holdings AG in Switzerland
Unilever Ireland (Holdings) Limited in Ireland
Rizofoor B.V. in Netherlands
Helmsman Capital AG in Switzerland
Unilever Finance International B.V. in the Netherlands
Ethical Consumer looked for country-by-country financial information or reporting (CBCR), a clear public tax statement confirming that it was this company’s policy not to engage in tax avoidance activity or to use tax havens for tax avoidance purposes, and a narrative explanation for what each group entity located in a tax haven is for, and how it is not being used for purposes of tax minimisation.
The Unilever website contained a significant section on tax. It stated "We use the OECD definition of tax havens and as at 31 December 2020 we had 4 companies in the Unilever Group located in countries identified as tax havens: two in Panama, one in Jersey, one in the Isle of Man." It provided narrative explanations for the Panama, Jersey and Isle of Man companies. It stated "During 2018, Unilever completed an acquisition and, as part of that acquisition, acquired eight companies based in the British Virgin Islands. Unilever has now unwound this structure and these legal entities have been liquidated in line with our global tax principles."
The Unilever website featured a document titled 'Top 30 Tax Paid by Country 2019', which listed whether each country listed was home to the following operations: factory, sales, R&D, Head Office. However, Ethical Consumer considered it necessary for adequate country by country reporting to state the company name, place of incorporation, and several other criteria which were not featured in the document. It stated, "(2020 country level corporate tax paid will be published in April 2021)" but this was not found.
As a result of having two or more high risk subsidiaries in countries considered by Ethical Consumer to be tax havens and inadequate country by country reporting, Unilever received Ethical Consumer's worst rating for likely use of tax avoidance strategies and a whole mark under Tax Conduct.