An apparent move by big business to maximise stakeholder value sounds too good to be true
For four decades, the prevailing doctrine in the US has been that corporations should maximise shareholder value – meaning profits and share prices – here and now, come what may, regardless of the consequences to workers, customers, suppliers and communities. So the statement endorsing stakeholder capitalism, signed earlier this month by virtually all the members of the US Business Roundtable, has caused quite a stir. After all, these are the CEOs of the US’s most powerful corporations, telling Americans and the world that business is about more than the bottom line. That is quite an about-face. Or is it?
The free-market ideologue and Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman was influential not only in spreading the doctrine of shareholder primacy, but also in getting it written into US legislation. He went so far as to say: “There is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits.”
Can we trust CEOs' shock conversion to corporate benevolence?