Re-drawing the Boundaries of the Corporate Person and Democratizing Global Markets

This post comes out of the early career workshop ‘Law and Political Economy in Europe’which took place at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, at the University of Oxford, on the 7th of October 2019. For all the posts this series, click here.

Laura Dominique Knöpfel –

PoliticsineuropeThe French corporate law professor Jean-Philippe Robé does not grow tired of reiterating that legal scholars (but also political scientists and economists) constantly conflate the economic organisation of a business – the firm – with its legal organisation – the corporation. But, he states, “(l)’enterprise n’existe pas en tant que telle en droit”, the enterprise, the economic organization of a business, does not exist as such in law. What exists in law is the legal fiction of the corporate person, and not the entire economic organization necessary for the business. His astute observation has gained importance as our study of global capitalism turns to the importance of global value chains (GVCs). The concept of the GVC grasps the entire “life cycle” of a product ranging from its design, production, trade and consumption to its disposal and recycling. In a GVC, a lead corporation has the capacity to steer and govern the economic processes. To do so, it must exert a certain degree of control in the equity-based or contract-based relations that link various corporations into a GVC. The emerging global connections, in the words of anthropologist Anna Tsing, are “made up of uneven and awkward links”. At peripheries of GVCs, global capitalism manifests in “unequal encounters” of the global and the particular. In “fragmented but linked economic niches”, nature is turned into a commodity and humans into labour power.

Harms along GVCs have recently found their way into courts in European home state jurisdictions of lead corporations. However, law’s fabrication of the corporate person as an entity with clearly defined boundaries separating it from the societal environment, including GVCs, has prevented a just attribution of civil liability. The conception of the corporation as a separate corporate person interrupts the linkages the GVC creates between the unequal encounters at corporate frontiers and the lead corporation. Related thereto, is the exclusion of affected local communities from decision-making structures within GVCs.

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Measuring the Sustainable Corporation

This post comes out of the early career workshop ‘Law and Political Economy in Europe’which took place at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, at the University of Oxford, on the 7th of October 2019. For all the posts this series, click here.

Federico Fornasari –

PoliticsineuropeThe impending climate crisis, the widespread social tensions and the burgeoning level of wealth and income inequalities have led to diffused discontent, both in the “global north and south” with the current neoliberal order. The role that the financialized corporation plays into this picture has taken a center stage in this discussion. The keyword of the debate has been “sustainability”: the exact meaning of the term remains fuzzy, whilst the legal strategies to enhance it are debated. One of the fundamental ingredients of sustainability is the disclosure of environmental, social and governance (henceforth, ESG) factors.

From a law and political economy perspective, we might ask: what is the role that corporate law and financial market regulation can play in transitioning to a greener economy and a fairer society? And specifically, can (and how to design) ESG factors disclosure to promote such a transition? Finally, how do specific conceptions of the corporation and its boundaries resurface through the designing of ESG indicators?

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Law and Political Economy in Europe: Transnationalizing the Discourse

The following set of posts comes out of the early career workshop ‘Law and Political Economy in Europe’, which took place at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, at the University of Oxford, on the 7th of October 2019. For all the posts this series, click here.

Ioannis Kampourakis –

Politicsineurope.jpgThe normative vision of Law and Political Economy (LPE) and its commitment to a more egalitarian and democratic society is shaped by its fundamental presuppositions. Contrary to a liberal understanding of markets as natural and neutral – that is, as prepolitical and apolitical – LPE builds on the realist project to expose the function performed by the law in the production and distribution of wealth. Approaching the market as a product of legal ordering means not only that juridical relations are constituent of social relations of production, but also that law structures the bargaining power of the groups competing over the distribution of the output of the production process. In this direction, law’s permissions, alongside its prohibitions, have distributive importance – law is never absent from the question of distribution; there is no moment of apolitical, neutral exchange between market participants. The emphasis on law’s constitutive role in the economy entails an implicit assumption that the law can also generate social transformation. If it is legal rules that establish a regime of socio-economic inequality and hierarchy, legal rules could also undo it.

From these starting points, LPE develops as a methodology, rather than as an exclusive set of research topics. Considering the ever-presence of the law in questions of distribution means that every area of legal research and analysis will eventually have underlying distributive and power-structuring effects. While this is more obvious in certain fields than others, all legal structures have an unavoidable political economy aspect, manifested through the binary of prohibition/permission and its social consequences.

Nevertheless, LPE has so far remained framed by the priorities and theoretical inquiries of U.S. legal scholarship. The workshop at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, at the University of Oxford aspired to contribute to the transnationalization of the discourse by assessing its relevance for Europe.

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