Corporate purpose in theory, law and practice - Call for papers

To facilitate a constructive and nuanced debate on the role and relevance of corporate purpose, Daughters of Themis: International Network of Female Business Scholars is organising a full-day virtual conference on 16 April 2021. Through this call for papers, the organisers encourage all interested scholars, members and non-members alike, to submit abstracts for consideration.

The recurring discussion of corporate purpose

What is the purpose of a company? Shareholder primacy thinking has popularised the understanding that there is no need to discuss what a corporation’s purpose is or whether it has a societal responsibility. The contractual nature of the corporation as a ‘nexus of contracts’ is claimed to remove that question from the field. Yet, recurring discussions show that many academics, the corporate world, and civil society – and increasingly also policy-makers – are dissatisfied with this restricted view.

The significance of the current interest in corporate purpose is underlined by the growing evidence of the continuing unsustainable ways of doing business, with increasing pressure on planetary boundaries, resource scarcity, human rights violations, rising inequality and societal instability.

Beyond the shareholder versus stakeholder divide

In the often Anglo-American inspired perspective, there has been a tendency in public discourse to divide the world up into shareholder and stakeholder models. This serves to restrict the debate to a perceived binary choice between shareholders and stakeholders. However, this does not engage with the plurality of approaches in company laws across the world and the rich variety of business approaches. Moreover, the sustainability challenges society faces in the 21st century call for an open-minded re-investigation of the purpose of companies in our societies.

Theory, law and practice

We look forward to discussing corporate purpose across three panels:

  1. Theory: Beyond the shareholder versus stakeholder debate

Much of legal scholarship seems to continue to fall back onto the shareholder versus stakeholder debate. Scholarship with ideas that break through the narrow confines of this debate have remained in the periphery of public discourse. We wish to build collectively towards more nuanced narratives. We welcome contributions that speak to the significance of corporate purpose as well as those that argue against its relevance.

  1. Law: Legislative reforms for sustainable business  

What is the role of corporate purpose in law? Should the law require companies to make explicit what they aim to achieve in service and on behalf of society? How can we provide a regulatory infrastructure for businesses that see their purpose as sustainable value creation, without reinforcing the shareholder primacy drive for business in general? Should law establish an overarching corporate purpose for all business from a societal perspective? Moreover, what is the role of corporate purpose in holding companies to account both internally and externally? We welcome contributions engaging with ideas within the domain of company law, corporate governance or beyond to facilitate the transformation to sustainable business

  1. Practice: Operationalising change

If sustainability is integrated into corporate purpose, how can this be operationalised? We welcome contributions on how we can redefine measures of corporate performance, and how conditions for change can be identified and created. How do we change behavioural patterns and system structures? How do we integrate purpose in Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), management objectives, reporting, audit and assurance?

Process and dates

Interested scholars are invited to submit their abstract of maximum 500 words by 7 February 2021. Please indicate a preference for the panel you feel suits your paper best. Abstracts should be submitted through this online form.

Selected scholars will be contacted by 15 February 2021.

Selected scholars will be asked to submit a draft blog post of maximum 1000 words based on their paper by 15 March 2021. Accepted blog posts will be offered posting in Blogging for Sustainability, to stimulate further discussion.

We plan for a joint publication of selected papers and encourage presenters to submit their paper for consideration in a special edition of the Bond Law Review, an open access, double-blind peer reviewed Australian law journal. The deadline for submission of full-length papers is 31 May 2021.

Organising committee

Kinanya Pijl, Victoria Baumfield, Anne-Christin Mittwoch and Beate Sjåfjell

Published Dec. 18, 2020 12:39 PM - Last modified Feb. 1, 2021 1:25 PM