Corporate governance? : an ethical evaluation of the Second King report in the light of Peter Ulrich's integrative economic ethics

Höver, K. Hendrik W. (2004-04)

Thesis (MTh)--Stellenbosch University, 2004

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This assignment is an ethical evaluation of the Second King Report on Corporate Governance. I focus on the relationships between the shareowners, the management and all stakeholders other than shareowners. The instrument used to assess the report is the concept of Integrative Economic Ethics shaped by Peter Ulrich. The Second King Report argues that a company should meet besides its economic needs as well as social and environmental objectives. Therefore, the company has to take responsibility for creating 'sustainable' value in all these three areas. Stakeholders have to be approached inclusively and pro-actively. These are new primary business imperatives due to the increasing social power of companies. However, the report is based upon a one dimensional approach in which the economic bottom line is decisive, and social and environmental interests are only considered if they serve the sustainability of business success. Likewise the inclusive stakeholder approach is a shortcoming, because stakeholder interests are not regarded as legitimate claims within a moral discourse in which all those citizens partake that are affected or involved by the company's activities. Not legitimacy but the stakeholders' relevance for the 'shareowner value' is the determining argument. Conflicting moral claims are not solved by good reasons, but are decided on a priori in favour of the company's overriding goal, which is to make profit. Profit orientation of a company, however, is not an empirical 'fact' but a normative choice, which is for or against specific interest groups and as such has to be legitimised in a moral discourse. Since the report does not subordinate profit orientation under the primacy of ethics, its whole corporate ethical concept is shaped by 'functionalism' even to the extent, that 'ethics' itself is viewed as an economic 'factor'. Yet, this contradicts the controversial and un-objective nature of ethics. In conclusion the report's entire argument is based upon pure strategic economic grounds and, thus, cannot be considered as ethical at all. Shifting the social and environmental corporate responsibility to the market system is based upon unfounded belief in the 'metaphysics of the market'. This, however, does not lie in the enlightened self-interest of a corporate citizen, as the market is merely ruled by power and counter-power - which is only beneficial for those specific societal groups with the sufficient monetary power to stay competitive. On the contrary, the equality of all citizens in a deliberative democracy must be safeguarded. The liberal idea of a just and well-ordered society implies the understanding of the company as a corporate citizen. As such its corporate ethics has to entail not only securing a company's integrity through business principles, but also a socio-political co-responsibility which obliges the company to shape the framework of market competition to enable life-conducive value creation. The general public of free and mature citizens is the locus where all claims, including corporate ones, have to be morally justified.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie werkstuk evalueer die tweede King Report on Corporate Governance for South Africa, wat op die verhouding tussen die aandeelhouers (shareowners), die bestuur (management), en aIle deelhebbers (stakeholders) buiten die aandeelhouers fokus. Die Integrative Economic Ethics-konsep, ontwikkel deur Peter Ulrich, is die instrument wat gebruik is om die verslag te beoordeel. Die tweede King-verslag vereis dat 'n maatskappy nie aIleen aan sy ekonomiese behoeftes voldoen nie, maar ook dat hy sy sosiale en omgewingsmikpunte haal. Daarom moet die maatskappy verantwoordelikheid neem om volhoubare waarde in elk van hierdie drie areas te skep. Deelhebbers moet inklusief en proaktief genader word. Hierdie is nuwe prirnere sake-imperatiewe, as gevolg van die toenemende sosiale mag van maatskappye. Die verslag is egter op 'n eendimensionele benadering gegrond, naamlik dat ekonomiese kwessies beslissend is (economic bottom line) en sosiale en omgewingsbelange slegs in ag geneem word wanneer hulle volhoubare sakesukses bevorder. Die 'inklusiewe deelhebber benadering' (inclusives stakeholder approach) skiet eweneens te kort, aangesien deelhebbers se belange nie erken word as regmatige eise binne 'n morele diskoers waaraan alle burgers deelneem wat geraak word deur, of betrokke is by, die maatskappy se aktiwiteite nie. Die deurslaggewende argument is nie regmatigheid nie, maar eerder die relevansie van die deelhebber se waarde vir die aandeelhouer. Strydige morele eise word nie deur goeie redenasie opgelos nie - daar word eerder a priori ten gunste van die maatskappy se oorheersende doel besluit, wat is om wins te maak. Winsorientasie van 'n maatskappy is egter nie 'n empiriese feit nie, maar 'n normatiewe keuse, wat vir of teen gegewe belangegroepe is, en as sodanig in 'n morele diskoers geregverdig moet word. Aangesien die verslag nie bereid is om winsorientasie ondergeskik aan etiese voorrang te stel nie, word die hele korporatiewe etiese konsep gevorm deur "funksionalisrne", selfs tot die mate dat etiek self as 'n ekonomiese faktor gesien word. Tog is dit strydig met die kontroversiele en nieobjektiewe aard van etiek. Ten slotte is die verslag se hele argument gebaseer op 'n suiwer strategies-ekonomiese grondslag, en kan dit dus glad nie as eties beskou word rue. Die keuse om sosiaal- en orngewingsgerigte korporatiewe verantwoordelikheid na die markstelsel te oor te skuif, is gebaseer op 'n ongegronde geloof in die "rnetafisika van die mark" (metaphysics of the market). Dit is egter nie in die ingeligte selfbelang van 'n korporatiewe burger nie, siende dat die mark deur mag en teen mag regeer word - wat slegs voordelig is vir die spesifieke groepe in die gemeenskap wat genoegsame rnonitere mag het om te kompeteer. In teenstelling daarmee, moet die gelykheid van alle burgers in 'n oorleggende demokrasie beskerm word. Die liberale konsep van 'n juiste en goedgeordende gemeenskap impliseer 'n begrip van 'n maatskappy as 'n korporatiewe burger. Korporatiewe etiek as sulks moet nie alleen 'n maatskappy se integriteit deur maatskappybeginsels verseker nie, maar ook 'n sosio-politiese medeverantwoordelikheid meebring, wat die maatskappy verplig om die raamwerk van markmededinging te vorm om sodoende lewensbevorderlike waardeskepping moontlik te maak. Die algemene publiek van vrye en volwasse burgers is die lokus waar alle eise, insluitend korporatiewe eise, moreel geregverdig moet word.

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