It is difficult to resist the conclusion of the British review that either it confers a broad unpoliceable policy discretion on managers themselves or just gives a broad jurisdiction to the courts. The model needs either practical rehabilitation or a superior performance metric. It is not clear where either might be found. In the resulting British Company Law Reform Bill the enlightened shareholder-value view has prevailed in clause , which defines the essential directoral duty as:.
This clause replaces the discretion of directors to have regard for stakeholder interests with a duty for directors to do this Davies , 5 :. The aim is to make it clear that although shareholder interests are predominant promotion of the success of the company for the benefit of its members , the promotion of shareholder interests does not require riding roughshod over the interests of other groups upon whose activities the business of the company is dependent for its success.
In fact, the promotion of the interests of the shareholders will normally require the interests of other groups of people to be fostered. The interests of non-shareholder groups thus need to be considered by the directors, but, of course, in this shareholder-centred approach, only to the extent that the protection of those other interests promotes the interests of the shareholders.
The reform manages this balancing act by suggesting that the pluralist objectives of maximizing company performance to the benefit of all stakeholders can best be served by professional directors pursuing commercial opportunities within a framework of standards and accountability:. The overall objective should be pluralist in the sense that companies should be run in a way which maximizes overall competitiveness and wealth and welfare for all. But the means which company law deploys for achieving this objective must be to take account of the realities and dynamics which operate in practice in the running of a commercial enterprise.
It should not be done at the expense of turning company directors from business decision-makers into moral, political or economic arbiters, but by harnessing focused, comprehensive, competitive decision-making within robust, objective professional standards and flexible, but pertinent accountability CLR , It is likely that the modern company law proposals will over time facilitate the wider and more conscious adoption by British companies of social and environmental commitments, and the willingness to report fully on them.
In time it is possible that such social and environmental commitments will become part of widespread company and management best practice, in the way that the commitment to quality in the production of goods and services has become universal. Moreover, just as the United Kingdom in the publication of the Cadbury code of corporate governance ultimately influenced a considerable number of other countries to adopt a similar code, it is possible that other countries, particularly that share a common law tradition with the United Kingdom, will begin to review their company law with similar objectives in mind.
Moral liability occurs when corporations violate stakeholder expectations of ethical behaviour in ways that put business value at risk. One reason why the agenda of corporate responsibility is increasingly irresistible is that while legal liability of corporations is deepening, what has been described as an emerging and hardening moral liability is exerting increasing influence.
In this respect the legislative process lags behind what society thinks, values and respects. There is an increasing convergence between these two forms of liability, as corporations come under scrutiny both by the law and—often more immediately and pointedly—by public opinion SustainAbility , 5. The narrow focus of corporate governance exclusively upon the internal control of the firm and simply complying with regulation is no longer tenable.
In the past this has allowed corporations to act in extremely irresponsible ways by externalising social and environmental costs. But increasingly in the future the license to operate will not be given so readily to corporations and other entities. A license to operate will depend on maintaining the highest standards of integrity and practice in corporate behavior.
Corporate governance essentially will involve sustained and responsible monitoring of not just the financial health of the company, but the social and environmental impact of the company. A substantial increase in the range, significance and impact of corporate social and environmental initiatives in recent years suggests the growing materiality of sustainability. Once regarded as a concern of a few philanthropic individuals and companies, corporate social and environmental responsibility appears to be becoming established in many corporations as a critical element of strategic direction, and one of the main drivers of business development, as well as an essential component of risk management.
Corporate social and environmental responsibility CSR seems to be rapidly moving from the margins to the mainstream of corporate activity, with greater recognition of a direct and inescapable relationship between corporate governance, corporate responsibility, and sustainable development. The burgeoning importance of this newly revived movement is demonstrated by the current frequency and scale of activity at every level Calder and Culverwell , At the national level a growing number of governments in Europe, and across the globe, have identified strongly with the call for corporate social and environmental responsibility, even with the evident difficulties in applying the Kyoto Protocol and creating an effective international climate-policy regime.
A large number of leading corporations have signed up for the Global Reporting Initiative and more than 2, international corporations now publish reports on their CSR performance many accessible on www. In the GRI published new guidelines on materiality, stakeholder inclusiveness, sustainability context, and completeness of reporting GRI Finally, there are a proliferating number of consultancies, NGOs and campaign groups offering guidance and actively monitoring CSR activities along the entire length of the global value chain World Bank Questions are often addressed regarding the sincerity of corporate social and environmental initiatives; the legality of company directors engaging in these concerns; equally, the legality of the trustees of investment institutions attending to these interests; and the verifiability of CSR activities and outcomes.
It is important to clarify the continuing and emerging legal and commercial basis for corporations to pursue corporate social and environmental responsibility; the ongoing legal and material support for institutional trustees to prioritize socially and environmentally responsible investments; to examine developments in verification on corporate reporting of CSR performance; and to consider some illustrations of current best practice.
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David Vogel in a review conducted for the Brookings Institute, The Market for Virtue: The Potential and Limits of Corporate Social Responsibility , contends there are many reasons why companies may choose to behave more responsibly in the absence of legal requirements to do so, including strategic, defensive, altruistic or public-spirited motivations. However despite pressure from consumers for responsibly-made products, the influence of socially-responsible investors, and the insistent call for companies to be accountable to a broader community of stakeholders, there are important limits to the market for virtue:.
CSR is best understood as a niche rather than a generic strategy: it makes sense for some firms in some areas under some circumstances. Many of the proponents of corporate social responsibility mistakenly assume that because some companies are behaving more responsibly in some areas, some firms can be expected to behave more responsibly in more areas. This assumption is misinformed. There is a place in the market economy for responsible firms. But there is also a large place for their less responsible competitors … Precisely because CSR is voluntary and market-driven, companies will engage in CSR only to the extent that it makes business sense for them to do so.
Civil regulation has proven capable of forcing some companies to internalize some of the negative externalities associated with some of their economic activities. But CSR can reduce only some market failures , 3—4. Vogel concludes that CSR has a multidimensional nature, and that companies, like individuals, do not always exhibit consistent moral or social behaviour, and may behave better in some countries than others depending on the social and environmental policies existing there.
Since the origins of capitalism, there have always been more or less responsible firms, and it is heartening that executives in many highly visible firms may be becoming more responsive if only as a result of external stakeholder pressures. However the reality is that the amounts wasted on losses due to financial fraud, the very substantial—and some would argue unwarranted—increases in executive compensation in corporations, and the huge losses in the global financial crisis, in recent years far exceed any resources companies have devoted to CSR.
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In a similar vein Deborah Doane who is Chair of the Corporate Responsibility Coalition in the United Kingdom, is sceptical regarding optimism about the power of market mechanisms to deliver social and environmental change, referring to the key myths informing the CSR movement as follows:. It may well be the case that further legislative and regulatory intervention will be required to ensure all corporations fully respond to the growing public demand that they recognize their wider social and environmental responsibilities.
However, it is useful to examine how far CSR objectives can be achieved within existing law and regulation. If there is substantial evidence of leading corporations demonstrating that it is possible to voluntarily commit to social and environmental performance and to achieve commercial success—perhaps because of, rather than in spite of, ethical commitments—then it will be more straightforward to press for the legislative changes necessary to deal with corporations that refuse to acknowledge their wider responsibilities, as well as find appropriate legislative support for companies that wish to develop further their CSR commitments.
Reviewing the efforts to develop CSR following the World Summit on Sustainable Development, a survey by the Royal Institute for International Affairs of stakeholders from governments, businesses and civil society groups identified a range of significant weaknesses in current approaches to promoting CSR which governments should seek to address:. The rapidly developing interest in CSR and sustainabilty has resulted in a plethora of definitions and interpretations of the two concepts from international agencies, consultancies and practitioners Calder and Culverwell ; McKague and Cragg A first difficulty is that the most commonly employed acronym, CSR, refers to corporate social responsibility, though in most interpretations it is meant to include environmental responsibility also.
The use of the simpler term corporate responsibility and acronym CR is not in widespread use, though it would more readily embrace all corporate responsibilities. Corporate sustainability is a critical issue because of the economic scale and significance of these entities and their growing impact on the economy, society and environment. More confusingly still, in some definitions sustainability is included within CSR, while in others CSR is subsumed under sustainability.
One source of this confusion is that often different levels of analysis are being addressed. At the highest level the sustainability of the planet is at issue, and at lower levels the sustainability of economies and societies, industries and organisations.
Once the primary in some cases sole concern was to produce goods and services that might generate the profits to achieve the financial sustainability of the corporation everything else was written off as externalities. The license to operate can no longer be readily assumed for any corporation, and in an increasing number of contexts needs to be earned with verifiable evidence of the social and environmental responsibility of the corporation. Definitions of CSR and sustainability range from the basic to the most demanding, from a specific reference to a number of necessary activities to demonstrate responsibility, to a general call for a comprehensive, integrated and committed pursuit of social and environmental sustainability.
The following representative range of definitions of CSR is in ascending order from the least to the most demanding:. Sustainability as a whole planet, environment, species is an altogether more ambitious project with more expansive definitions than CSR. Corporations have a vital role to play in this also, beginning with a modest recognition of their necessary subordination to the interests of maintaining a balanced ecosystem.
Sustainability is defined as:. However challenging the prospects, there are growing indications of large corporations taking their social and environmental responsibilities more seriously, and of these issues becoming more critical in the business agenda. KPMG since has conducted an international survey of corporate responsibility every three years which has revealed the developing prevalence of this commitment.
Surveying the largest companies in a sample of advanced industrial OECD countries with the addition of the Global companies from , KPMG finds a steadily rising trend in companies issuing separate corporate-responsibility annual reports. In addition some companies have integrated their corporate responsibility report with their main financial report. Publication of corporate responsibility reports as part of the annual financial reports of companies sometimes implies the issue is regarded as of greater salience, and companies often progress from separate to integrated CSR and financial reports.
Large corporations are taking their social and environmental responsibilities more seriously, and these issues are becoming more critical in the business agenda. More importantly, the substance of company reports is changing, from purely environmental reporting up until , to sustainability reporting social, environmental and economic , which has become the mainstream approach of the G companies and is becoming so among the national companies.
In a further international survey of corporate executives and 65 executives of institutional investors on the importance of corporate responsibility CR the Economist Intelligence Unit EIU discovered a similar growth in interest:. The biggest percentage change between now and five years ago was among European executives. The survey of professional investors reveals a sharper trend. Now, not a single investor said it was not a consideration EIU , 5. As with the gap noticed earlier between consumer consciousness and behavior, it is likely there will be a mighty gulf between the expressed concerns of executives for corporate responsibility and their actual behavior in different circumstances and in the exigencies of difficult situations; however, simply expressing concerns is an advance over stony- faced refusals to even acknowledge responsibilities that may have occurred in the past.
Though some of the expressed concern may be part of the discourse of political correctness, there do appear to be grounds for a significant shifting of opinion among executives, as the EIU comments:. Until recently, board members often regarded corporate responsibility as a piece of rhetoric intended to placate environmentalists and human rights campaigners. But now, companies are beginning to regard corporate responsibility as a normal facet of business and are thinking about ways to develop internal structures and processes that will emphasize it more heavily.
In the not-too-distant future, companies that are not focusing on corporate responsibility may come to be seen as outliers. As companies focus on non-financial performance, an important yardstick of corporate responsibility, the measurement of intangibles, such as customer satisfaction and employee morale, are likely to become less vague and more credible EIU , 3.
One of the surprising results of the EIU survey was that after more than a decade of the exhortation of the primacy in all circumstances of shareholder value, the executives surveyed still possessed a balanced appreciation of the relative importance of key stakeholders to the company, identifying customers, employees and shareholders in that order.
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The EIU compiled some of the contextual highlights for these changes in executive views in the emerging evidence that corporate social and environmental responsibility is moving substantially from the margins to the mainstream of economic activity:. The manifesto includes five universally-accepted principles and values: the principle of humanity; the basic values of non-violence and respect for life; the basic values of justice and humanity; the basis values of honesty and tolerance; and the basic values of mutual esteem and partnership.
This is intended as an ethical complement to the UN Global Compact, with the manifesto providing a framework for ethical values to meet the moral dilemmas confronting boards and directors of multinational corporations, in the way in which the Compact is designed to address market and institutional failures Hemphill and Lillevik , The Global Economic Ethic Manifesto is a self-regulatory moral framework. It includes five principles and values: humanity; non-violence and respect for life; justice and humanity; honesty and tolerance; and mutual esteem and partnership.
At the confluence of these multiple emerging initiatives and trends towards greater corporate social and environmental responsibility there is emerging a dynamic stakeholder model for driving enlightened shareholder value. At many leading corporations the pieces of what is admittedly a very large and demanding puzzle are beginning to come together. The wider commitments to building engaged and inclusive relationships with employees, economic partners, the community and the environment become a means of achieving enlightened shareholder value through access to a lower cost of capital, enhanced reputation, minimised risks and new business opportunities.
The impact of the adoption of corporate commitments to wider forms of social and environmental engagement and reporting will be determined essentially by initiatives of leading companies and, in turn, this will be influenced by the insistent pressures companies encounter from the market, investors and stakeholders, and the perceived commercial benefit of assuming a broader accountability. However, the role of the law and of accounting standards in establishing a framework of accountability and management discipline is a significant factor.
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The effective integration of corporate social and environmental responsibilities could potentially release greater value for both shareholders and wider stakeholders: moving beyond compliance, to creating new value through new products and services that meet societal needs; and collaborating to solve the complex and demanding social and environmental problems that threaten to grow beyond our control. This would provide a more vital context in which people would have greater opportunity to exercise moral values and ethical commitments. It is possible that confronting the dilemmas of social, economic and ecological survival which governments, business and communities face, will force the rethinking of corporate objectives, structures, and activities that is necessary.
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