My article, Radical Shareholder Primacy, written for a symposium on the history of corporate social responsibility, seeks to make sense of the surprising disagreement within the corporate law academy on the foundational legal question of corporate purpose: does the law require shareholder primacy or not? I argue that disagreement on this question is due to an unappreciated ambiguity in the shareholder primacy idea. I identify two models of shareholder primacy, the “radical” and the “traditional.” Radical shareholder primacy makes strong claims about both shareholder governance rights, conceiving of management as the shareholders’ agent, and also about corporate purpose, insisting that corporate law mandates shareholder wealth maximization. Because there is no legal basis for either of these claims, those who deny that shareholder primacy is the law are correct at least as to this model. However, the traditional version of shareholder primacy accords to shareholders a special place in the corporation’s governance structure vis-à-vis the corporation’s nonshareholder stakeholders, for example, with respect to voting rights and the right to bring derivative suits. Beyond this privileged position in the horizontal dimension, there is no maximization mandate and corporate law does very little to provide shareholders with the tools necessary to exercise governance powers; there is no primacy in the vertical dimension or on the question of corporate purpose. Nevertheless, this conception of shareholder primacy—modest as it is—is enshrined in corporate law. Those who deny that shareholder primacy is the law need to acknowledge this fact, but once it is understood that traditional shareholder primacy has little in common with the radical version there is no reason to be reluctant to do so.
Archive for the ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ Category
In our paper, Employee Satisfaction, Labor Market Flexibility, and Stock Returns Around The World, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN at, we study the relationship between employee satisfaction and abnormal stock returns around the world, using lists of the “Best Companies to Work For” in 14 countries.
Theory provides conflicting predictions as to whether employee satisfaction is beneficial or harmful to firm value. On the one hand, employee welfare can be a valuable tool for recruitment, retention, and motivation. For the typical 20th-century firm, the bulk of its value stemmed from its physical capital. In contrast, most modern firms’ key assets are their workers. Employee-friendly policies can attract high-quality workers to a firm and ensure that they remain within the firm, to form a source of sustainable competitive advantage.
I recently posted my forthcoming book chapter, From Institutional Theories to Private Pensions (in Company Law and CSR: New Legal and Economic Challenges, Ivan Tchotourian ed., Bruylant 2014) on SSRN.
Corporate governance is sometimes described by political scientists as a three-player game between capital, management, and labor. Yet, in most contemporary debates about corporate governance among lawyers and economists, especially in the English-speaking world, the agency problem and conflicts of interest between shareholders and management seem to be single conflict of interest to which much attention is paid. In this chapter, which builds on previously published law review articles, I attempt to put this observation into a larger historical context, arguing that the nearly exclusive focus on the concern of shareholders is historically and geographically contingent. Differences between conflicts of interest in different corporate governance systems have long been recognized in the scholarly literature. Most obviously, it is well known that the majority-minority agency problem is more salient than the one between shareholders and managers in countries where concentrated ownership is more common. However, it is also worthwhile to look at other conflicts in the tripartite structure of corporate governance that may be equally relevant, at least under certain circumstances. Most importantly, the interests of employees are often relegated either to employment law, or are interpreted as an aspect of corporate social responsibility and thus dismissed as an issue promoted by “sandals-wearing activists” that are effectively only a distributive concern.
Despite the fact that corporations and interest groups spent about $30 billion lobbying policy makers over the last decade (Center for Responsive Politics, 2012), there is a lack of robust empirical evidence on whether firms’ lobbying expenditures create value for their shareholders. Moreover, while the public perception of the lobbying process is that it involves unethical behavior that may bias rather than inform politicians, this is difficult to show since unethical practices are not typically observable. In our recent ECGI working paper, The Corporate Value of (Corrupt) Lobbying, we identify events that exogenously affect the ability of firms to lobby, and find that firms that lobby more experience a significant decrease in market value around these events. Investigating the channels by which lobbying may add value, we find evidence suggesting that the value partly arises from potentially unethical arrangements between firms and politicians.
The desirability of corporations engaging in “socially responsible” behavior has long been hotly debated among economists, lawyers, and business experts. Two general views on corporate social responsibility (CSR) prevail in the literature. The CSR “value-enhancing view” argues that socially responsible firms, such as firms that promote efforts to help protect the environment, promote social equality, improve community relationships, can and often do adhere to value-maximizing corporate governance practices. Indeed, well-governed firms are more likely to be socially responsible. In short, CSR can be consistent with shareholder wealth maximization as well as achieving broader societal goals. The opposite view on CSR begins with Milton Friedman’s (1970) well-known claim that “the only social responsibility of corporations is to make money”. Extending this view, several researchers argue that CSR is often simply a manifestation of managerial agency problems inside the firm (Benabou and Tirole, 2010; Cheng, Hong, and Shue, 2013; Masulis and Reza, 2014) and hence problematic (“agency view”). That is to say, socially responsible firms tend to suffer from agency problems which enable managers to engage in CSR that benefits themselves at the expense of shareholders (Krueger, 2013). Furthermore, managers engaged in time-consuming CSR activities may lose focus on their core managerial responsibilities (Jensen, 2001). Overall, according to the agency view, CSR is generally not in the interests of shareholders.
On August 1, 2013, amendments to the Delaware General Corporation Law (DGCL) became effective, allowing entities to incorporate as a public benefit corporation, a new corporate form that requires managers to produce a public benefit and balance shareholders’ financial interests with the best interests of stakeholders materially affected by the corporation’s conduct.
In my paper, Delaware Public Benefit Corporations 90 Days Out: Who’s Opting in?, I present empirical research on the companies that adopted the Delaware public benefit corporation form within the first three months of the effective date of the amended DGCL.
Drawing on insights from the literatures on street-level bureaucracy and on regulatory and audit design, our paper, Monitoring the Monitors: How Social Factors Influence Supply Chain Auditors, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, theorizes and tests the factors that shape the practices of private supply chain auditors. We find that audits are conducted most stringently by auditors who are experienced and highly trained, and by audit teams that include female auditors. By contrast, auditors that have ongoing relationships with audited factories, and all-male audit teams conduct more lax audits, identifying and citing fewer violations. These findings make five key contributions and suggest strategies for designing audit regimes to more effectively detect and prevent corporate wrongdoing.
While corporate charitable contributions are frequent and often substantial, there is no clear evidence in the literature on whether these expenditures have positive effects on firm revenues or performance or on shareholder wealth. In our paper, Agency Problems of Corporate Philanthropy, which was recently accepted at the Review of Financial Studies, we use contributions of American Fortune 500 firms during 1997-2006 and find in a variety of tests that corporate donations advance CEO interests and suggest that misuses of corporate resources that reduce firm value.
Linguists suggest that obligatory future-time-reference (FTR) in a language reduces the psychological importance of the future. Applying this to a corporate context, we theorize in this paper that companies with strong-FTR languages as their official/working language would be less future orientated and hence perform worse in future-oriented activities such as corporate social responsibility (CSR)—firms’ environmental, social, and governance engagement—compared to those in weak-FTR language environments.
Board oversight has long been viewed as an effective mechanism to direct and monitor corporate management. For example, in the wake of accounting scandals last decade, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 requires all publicly traded companies in the United States to have an audit committee comprised of independent directors, charged with establishing procedures for handling complaints regarding accounting or auditing matters and for the confidential submission by employees of concerns surrounding alleged fraud.
While sustainability has been a concern of corporations and investors for years, there has been little research focused on how boards oversee a company’s sustainability efforts. Sustainable and responsible investors also have seen board oversight as an effective way to encourage corporations to accelerate such efforts; they began filing shareholder proposals requesting board oversight of various sustainability issues in the 1970s, and both the numbers of resolutions and the support those resolutions have received have grown exponentially since. It is worth noting that one such model proposal, formulated by The Center for Political Accountability (CPA) and requesting board oversight of political spending in addition to key disclosure features, accounts for the vast majority of sustainability shareholder resolutions on board oversight and resulted in political spending being a top subtopic of board oversight duties.