The Dutch Big Four and Germany: AKU, Royal Dutch Shell, Unilever and Philips, 1890-1960.

Dr. Ben Wubs

Aims of the research project

The aim of this multi-case study is to explore the causes and the economic and political consequences of the exceptional huge direct investments of the four largest Dutch multinationals – AKU (now Akzo Nobel), Royal Dutch Shell, Unilever and Philips – in Germany in the 1890-1960 period.

The Dutch Big Four and Germany

In the first half of the twentieth century Dutch direct investments played a prominent role in Germany. In the 1930s Unilever had become the single largest foreign direct investor in Germany, almost as large as all American direct investments together. Nevertheless, AKU, Royal Dutch Shell and Philips had made also extensive investments in Germany at the time. During the 1950s Dutch investments continued to grow luxuriantly. These strong investment relations created necessarily interdependence between the home and host countries of these multinationals.

  • The central questions of this study are:

    • How and why did these four Dutch multinationals could become so big in Germany?
    • What were the political consequences  of the strong presence of the Dutch multinationals in Germany?

This research is based on economic theories which explain the existence and growth of international business. In addition, it uses political theories of interdependence to explain the political consequences of the intensive Dutch-German investments relations.

This study is based on full and unrestricted access to the corporate archives of the four companies which hitherto had been closed largely for independent researchers. It therefore adds unique historical evidence and provides insight into the development of the relationship between business and politics of the Dutch-German dyad in the twentieth century. Moreover, this study enlarges our understanding of the question whether in the twenty first century increasing foreign direct investments – an important aspect of what is often called globalisation – reduce the chances of war or is not related to war initiation at all.

For this programme dr. Wubs was granted an EUR-fellowship.

Dr. Ben Wubs (EUR Fellow ESHCC) has won a research grant for the Special Archives in Moscow. This grant has been awarded by the DHI Moscow (Deutsches Historsisches Institut).

Project output

  • Wubs, Ben, (2009) ‘Niederländische Multinationals in Deutschland:Das Beispiel Unilever, 1890-1960’ in: Hein A.M. Klemann, Friso Wielenga, Deutschland und die Niederlande Deutsch-niederländische Beziehungen im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert (Münster: Waxmann Verlag) p.173-186.
  • Wubs, Ben, (2009), ‘US Multinationals in the Netherlands. Three cases: IBM, Dow Chemical, and Sara Lee’ in: Hans Krabbendam, Cornelis A. van Minnen, Gilles Scott-Smith, Four Centuries of Dutch-American Relations 1609-2009 (Boom in Amsterdam and State University of New York Press in Albany, New York) p.785-796.
  • Wubs, Ben, (2010), ‘Le Combat pour l’Autonomie d’Unilever sous l’Occupation Nazie’, Sabine Effosse, Marc de Ferrière Le Vayer, Hervé Joly and Jean-Pierre Williot Les entreprises de biens de consommation sous l'Occupation (Tours: Presses universitaires François Rabelais) p.303-319.
  • Wubs, Ben, (2010), ‘A Dutch Multinational’s Miracle in Post-war Germany’, in: Economic History Yearbook 2012/1, pp. 15- 41.
  • Wubs, Ben, (2010), ‘Comparing three Dutch international entrepreneurs in the interwar period’, in: Werner Plumpe (ed.), Der Erfolg des Unternehmers in internationale Perspektive (München, forthcoming 2012)

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