Osler Lecture: The Dilemmas of Corporate Citizenship in the Private Marketplace and the Public Square
"The Dilemmas of Corporate Citizenship in the Private Marketplace and the Public Square" is the topic of the 11th annual Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP Business Law Forum. This year's speaker will be Professor Kent Greenfield, Professor of Law and Law School Fund Distinguished Scholar at Boston College Law School.
For decades, the ideological left in the United States and elsewhere have called on corporations to take seriously their obligations to the public interest. Some scholars have proposed that these obligations be legally enforced. Some have suggested that the best way for corporations to take their obligations seriously is to bring in representatives of important stakeholders into corporate governance itself. More broadly, many have encouraged corporations to take on the mantle of “corporate citizenship.” Set against these efforts are the views of those who hold that corporations have one supreme obligation, to build wealth for their shareholders. The traditional tension in corporate law, then, has been between corporate citizenship on the one side and shareholder supremacy on the other.
This debate has been flipped on its head since the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court case of Citizens United. There, the Court recognized the constitutional right of corporations to engage in public debate, as if they are citizens. The response has been highly critical, with the cri de coeur of the opponents becoming “corporations are not people.” The worry is that corporations will skew the marketplace of ideas toward business interests. Ironically, some on the ideological left are now championing shareholder supremacy as one of the arguments as to why corporations should not be allowed into the public square.
Is there a way for corporations to be good “corporate citizens” but not have them overstep their bounds in the public square? What is the correct role for corporations to play in the national, public debates of a democracy? Can corporate citizenship be a check on corporate personhood?
Weldon Law Building, Room 105
Thanks to a generous gift from the firm of Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, the Schulich School of Law is able each year to present the Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP Business Law Forum, bringing scholars and business leaders to the law school to stimulate debate and enrich understanding of business law issues.