The U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) continue to deploy DPAs and NPAs aggressively. This past year left no doubt that such resolutions are a vital part of the federal corporate law enforcement arsenal, affording the U.S. government an avenue both to punish and reform corporations accused of wrongdoing. In early December, for example, U.S. Assistant Attorney General for DOJ’s Criminal Division, Leslie Caldwell, highlighted the importance of negotiated resolutions that allowed DOJ to “impose reforms, impose compliance controls, and impose all sorts of behavioral change.” She concluded: “In the United States system at least [settlement] is a more powerful tool than actually going to trial.” DOJ and the SEC have used negotiated resolutions, including DPAs and NPAs, to require companies to implement an effective compliance program. In 2014 we witnessed a number of notable developments in negotiated resolutions that demonstrate that the traditional hallmarks of DPAs and NPAs, including post-settlement compliance and reporting obligations, are here to stay.
Posts Tagged ‘UK’
In our paper, Public Pressure and Corporate Tax Behavior, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we examine whether public scrutiny related to firms’ tax avoidance activities has a significant effect on their tax avoidance behavior. In contrast to U.S. regulations that only require disclosure of significant subsidiaries, the U.K.’s Companies Act of 2006 (“Companies Act”) requires firms to disclose the name and location of all subsidiaries, regardless of size or materiality. Although the U.K. law went into effect in 2006, in 2010, ActionAid International, a global non-profit dedicated to ending poverty worldwide, discovered that approximately half of the firms in the FTSE 100 were not disclosing the name and location of all subsidiaries. ActionAid’s finding was prima facie evidence that the Companies House was not enforcing the subsidiaries disclosure requirement. More importantly, the fact that some firms chose not to comply with the law suggests that the cost of disclosing detailed information on subsidiaries was greater than the benefit of a more complete information environment for the non-compliant firms.
Academic literature has typically analyzed corporate governance from an agency perspective, sometimes referred to as separation of ownership and control between investors and managers. This reflects the view in the US, UK and many other Anglo-Saxon countries, where the law clearly specifies that shareholders are the owners of the firm and managers have a fiduciary duty to act in their interests. However, firms’ objectives vary across other countries, and often deviate significantly from the paradigm of shareholder value maximization. A salient example is Germany, where the system of co-determination requires large firms to have an equal number of seats for employees and shareholders in the supervisory board in order to pursue the interests of all parties (see Rieckers and Spindler, 2004, and Schmidt, 2004). Similarly, stakeholders’ interests are pursued through direct or indirect representation of employees in companies’ boards in countries like Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Luxembourg and France (Wymeersch, 1998, and Ginglinger, Megginson, and Waxin, 2009), or through other arrangements and social norms in countries like China and Japan (Wang and Huang, 2006, Dore, 2000, Jackson and Miyajima, 2007, and Milhaupt 2001).
Corporate governance remains a hot topic worldwide this year, but for different reasons in different regions. In the United States, this year could be characterised as largely “business as usual”; rather than planning and implementing new post-financial crisis corporate governance reforms, companies have operated under those new (and now, not so new) reforms. We have witnessed the growing and changing influence of large institutional investors, and different attempts by companies to respond to those investors as well as to pressure by activist shareholders. We have also continued to monitor the results of say-on-pay votes and believe that shareholder litigation related to executive compensation continues to warrant particular attention.
On June 25, 2014, the UK Government published the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill  which, among other things, proposes that all UK companies (other than publicly traded companies reporting under the Disclosure and Transparency Rules (DTR5)) be required to maintain a register of people who have significant control over the company. The Bill is part of the UK Government’s initiative to implement the G8 Action Plan to prevent the misuse of companies and legal arrangements agreed at the Lough Erne G8 Summit in June 2013, which we discussed in our client alert entitled “Through the Looking Glass: The Disclosure of Ultimate Ownership and the G8 Action Plan” (June 20, 2013).  In broad terms, the G8 Action Plan is designed to ensure the integrity of beneficial ownership and basic company information and the timely access to that information by law enforcement and tax authorities.
As the debate continues over whether and how to punish companies for unlawful conduct, U.S. federal prosecutors continue to rely significantly on Non-Prosecution Agreements (“NPAs”) and Deferred Prosecution Agreements (“DPAs”) (collectively, “agreements”). Such agreements have emerged as a flexible alternative to prosecutorial declination, on the one hand, and trials or guilty pleas, on the other. Companies and prosecutors alike rely on NPAs and DPAs to resolve allegations of corporate misconduct while mitigating the collateral consequences that guilty pleas or verdicts can inflict on companies, employees, communities, or the economy. NPAs and DPAs allow prosecutors, without obtaining a criminal conviction, to ensure that corporate wrongdoers receive punishment, including often eye-popping financial penalties, deep reforms to corporate culture through compliance requirements, and independent monitoring or self-reporting arrangements. Although the trend has been robust for more than a decade, Attorney General Eric Holder’s statements in connection with recent prosecutions of financial institutions underscore the dynamic environment in which NPAs and DPAs have evolved.
In our paper, Does Mandatory Shareholder Voting Prevent Bad Corporate Acquisitions?, which was recently made publicly available as an ECGI and Rock Center Working Paper on SSRN, we examine how much power shareholders should delegate to the board of directors. In practice, there is broad consensus that fundamental changes to the basic corporate contract or decisions that might have large material consequences for shareholder wealth must be taken via an extraordinary shareholder resolution (Rock, Davies, Kanda and Kraakman 2009). Large corporate acquisitions are a notable exception. In the United Kingdom, deals larger than 25% in relative size are subject to a mandatory shareholder vote; in most of continental Europe there is no vote, while in Delaware voting is largely discretionary.
Corporations rely on dividends, share repurchases, or a combination of both payout methods to return earnings to their shareholders. Over the last decade, the importance of the dominating payout method—dividends—seems to be somewhat eroded at UK firms, with an increasing number of firms combining share repurchases with dividends. What explains the surge in the use of combined share repurchases and dividends in the UK? Is there a link between firm’s payout decision and executive remuneration?
Significant new rules to strengthen the UK premium listing regime have come into force today (The Listing Rules (Listing Regime Enhancements) Instrument 2014). The rules have been the subject of two rounds of consultation by the UK Financial Conduct Authority (“FCA”) and are designed in particular to improve the governance of premium listed companies with a controlling shareholder. Feedback on the responses received has also been published today by the FCA (PS14/8: Response to CP13/15—Enhancing the effectiveness of the Listing Regime).
We summarise the main elements of the new regime below, which are largely as proposed by the FCA in its previous consultation document (see our Client Memorandum dated November 7, 2013). Companies contemplating a premium listing will need to consider the new rules as part of their IPO process and, over the coming months, existing premium listed companies with controlling shareholders will need to implement a number of new measures to comply with the new rules.
In the paper, Lift not the Painted Veil! To Whom are Directors’ Duties Really Owed?, which we recently posted on SSRN, we identify a fundamental contradiction in the law of fiduciary duty of corporate directors across jurisdictions, namely the tension between the uniformity of directors’ duties and the heterogeneity of directors themselves. The traditional characterization of the board as a homogeneous, often largely self-perpetuating body is far from universally true internationally, and it tends to be increasingly less true even in the United States. Directors are often formally or informally selected by specific shareholders (such as a venture capitalist or an important shareholder) or other stakeholders of the corporation (such as creditors or employees), or they are elected to represent specific types of shareholders (e.g. minority investors). The law thus sometimes facilitates the nomination of what has been called “constituency” directors, or even requires their appointment (e.g. employee directors in some European systems). However, even in systems that require the appointment of such directors, legal rules tend nevertheless to treat directors as a homogeneous group that is expected to pursue a uniform goal. We explore this tension and ask why a director representing a specific shareholder cannot advance this shareholder’s interests on the board?