Doing Good While Being Good : A study of the relationship between Corporate Social Responsibility and the Swedish Companies Act

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Juridiska institutionen

Abstract: This thesis investigates the current interrelationship between the provisions contained in the Swedish Company Act (2005:551) and activities related to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) pursued by companies listed at Nasdaq Stockholm. The focal point of this thesis could be argued to be of particular relevance in this day and age, as companies listed at Nasdaq Stockholm continue to perform at the top of the league in global sustainability performance measurements, and Swedish and European legislators have intensified their efforts to encourage businesses to operate in a way that does not incur unacceptable social costs to society. Thus, most companies, particularly those with a vested interest in the private consumer market, seem to recognise the importance of fostering long-term relationships with a wide sphere of stakeholders. The purpose of the thesis has been to contribute to the steadily increasing body of legal research that discusses to what extent Swedish companies, without breaching corporate law, could involve themselves in CSR investments. Since I, initially, conclude that Swedish publicly listed companies seem to increasingly invest in activities related to CSR, the thesis also discusses whether the relevant provisions of the SCA need to change to better adapt to companies’ involvement in CSR activities. In brief, I argue, that current business research on CSR coupled with the aforementioned relevant provisions of the SCA allow boards and managing directors to pursue practically any CSR investments, and that shareholders are mostly restricted to rely on relatively blunt ex post actions against a board and/or managing director that has pursued an ill-considered CSR investment, including the obvious choices of voting to replace the board or selling their shares. And since current business research has not consistently proven the positive impact of CSR policies on the financial performance of businesses there are reasons to suspect that the law practically, due to the shielding force of the business judgment rationale and the legislator’s wish to protect most transactions, cannot be effectively applied to stop CSR investments, even if these are nothing but costs for the business. On the other hand, the findings of the thesis also suggest that the occurrence of such unwise CSR investments is not necessarily a proliferating problem, since many companies listed at Nasdaq Stockholm nowadays have powerful and short-sighted institutional owners. The situation might therefore very well be the opposite and that executives struggle to manage for the long-term, as the logic of the market tell them to do otherwise. 

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