What can the Stakeholder Theory Learn from Enron?
Series/Report no.Revue Éthique et Économique / Ethics and Economics;Volume 2, Numéro 2
Roughly speaking, Enron has done for reflection on corporate governance what AIDS did for research on the immune system. So far, however, virtually all of this reflection on and subsequent reform of governance has come from those with a stake in the success of modern capitalism. This paper identifies a number of governance challenges for critics of capitalism, and in particular for those who urge corporations to voluntarily adopt missions of broader social responsibility and equal treatment for all stakeholder groups. I argue that by generally neglecting the governance relation between shareholders and senior managers, stakeholder theorists have underestimated the way in which shareholder-focused governance can be in the interests of all stakeholder groups. The enemy, if you will, is not capitalists (shareholders), but greedy, corrupt or incompetent managers. A second set of governance challenges for stakeholder theorists concerns their largely untested proposals for governance reforms that would require managers to act in the interests of all stakeholders and not just shareholders; in other words to treat shareholders as just another stakeholder group. I suggest that in such a governance regime it may be almost impossible to hold managers accountable to anyone – just as it was when state-owned enterprises were given “multi-stakeholder” mandates in the 1960s and 1970s.