|4725 - Stock price maximisation drives corporate irresponsibility||13/06/2005 - 09:13:28|
|Stock price maximisation ‘drives’ corporate irresponsibility|
Corporate responsibility campaigners should concentrate on the root incentives and disincentives for ethical corporate behaviour, according to a leading US legal expert and author
Opening the second day of Ethical Corporation’s Europe conference in London last week, Lawrence Mitchell, a law professor at George Washington University of Law, said the causes of corporate malfeasance lay managers’ roles as short-term “profit maximisers”.
Only by insulating managers from the worst influences of the market would they be able to work for the long-term, thus minimising consequences for the environment, society and a company’s workers, Mitchell said.
Encapsulating the main points of his 2001 book “Corporate Irresponsibility: America's Newest Export”, Mitchell argued that it is individuals, rather than corporations, who are responsible for a company’s activities.
One problem, he said, is that managers are removed from the consequences of their actions. “Decisions are typically executed far from the people who make those decisions,” he said.
“This problem of remoteness, or what philosophers might call ‘severed autonomy’, is not easily solved, and certainly not by corporate codes of conduct, and not by hectoring lectures on moral responsibility.”
While Mitchell said the CSR movement had delivered some improvement to corporate behaviour, it has not addressed its underlying causes.
“The common pursuit of CSR goals by NGOs, through corporate codes of conduct, corporate statements of principles and purposes, institutional investment corporate governance initiatives, and the like, are not going to change corporate behaviour in any meaningful way,” he said.
Mitchell said managers’ primary goal today is to maximise shareholder returns. “Sometime in the 1980s the role of the corporation shifted from social purposes to maximising shareholder profit and to maximise short-term stock price,” he said.
Modern managers are forced into socially detrimental short-term decisions because of the need to meet quarterly earnings targets, he said. The threat of lawyers bringing suits “at the first sign of a decline in stock price”, and the structure of executive compensation (most Fortune 100 executives receive more than half their pay in the form of stock), pushes executives to externalise every possible cost from their businesses.
“Individuals within corporations still maintain the right to behave as they please, to account to their own ethical values to management. The church-going, law-abiding chief executive who loves children and animals and cares for the well-being of the world may well bring those values into the executive boardroom. But he does so increasingly at his peril,” Mitchell said.
“The constraints of the role focus him on profit maximisation and at the same time the role provides him with a ready-made excuse to ignore ethical considerations.”
“What results is a corporate bulldozer that flattens every obstacle in its way to increase the stock price,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said the solution was to “give managers a greater deal of insulation from the stock market than they currently have.”
Among his recommendations, Mitchell suggested that:
• Boards of directors should be elected for a reasonably long-term. Mitchell suggests that shareholders be permitted to vote only every five years, rather than annually.
• Taxes should be applied on short-term share trading and tax-forgiveness encouraged with regard to long-term investing. Corporate tax regimes should be designed to meet financial needs of particular industries.
• Companies should treat investments in staff as corporate assets rather than expenses. He said this would disincentivise lay-offs as a means of boosting profits.
Professor Mitchell concluded by saying that his recommendations “would restore managers’ ability to take into account considerations that might be costly in the short-term but beneficial to corporations and the world in which it operates in the long-term.”Source: Ethical Corp
Original Location: http://www.insnet.org/ins_headlines.rxml?cust2
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