Whose interests are served by the corporate interest?

New shots fired in the ‘shareholders’ vs ‘stakeholders’ war

An international group of corporate law professors has issued a “Modern Corporation Statement on Company Law“, a peculiar two page document which describes itself as a “summary of certain fundamentals of corporate law, applicable in almost all jurisdictions, in an effort to help prevent analytical errors which can have severe and damaging effects on corporations and corporate governance.”

Their 10th and last statement is:

“Contrary to widespread belief, corporate directors generally are not under a legal obligation to maximise profits for their shareholders. This is reflected in the acceptance in nearly all jurisdictions of some version of the business judgment rule, under which disinterested and informed directors have the discretion to act in what they believe to be in the best long term interests of the company as a separate entity, even if this does not entail seeking to maximise short-term shareholder value. Where directors pursue the latter goal, it is usually a product not of legal obligation, but of the pressures imposed on them by financial markets, activist shareholders, the threat of a hostile takeover and/or stock-based compensation schemes.”

This has provoked a strong reply from Prof. Bainbridge on his blog, quoting Chief Justice Leo Strine of the Delaware Supreme Court:

“Despite attempts to muddy the doctrinal waters, a clear-eyed look at the law of corporations in Delaware reveals that, within the limits of their discretion, directors must make stockholder welfare their sole end, and that other interests may be taken into consideration only as a means of promoting stockholder welfare.”

 

 

 

 

Author: Joeri Vananroye

Professor of economic analysis of law (KU Leuven), attorney (Quinz)

2 thoughts on “Whose interests are served by the corporate interest?”

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