Key directors and lawyers discuss the future of the corporation

The discussion at the NSW Supreme Court’s Corporate and Commercial Law Conference raised more questions than it answered. Marianna Papadakis writes.

A diverse range of speakers came together in October at the 2019 Corporate and Commercial Law Conference in Sydney to discuss the purpose of a corporation and whether corporations should be held accountable for achieving their defined objectives. The discourse centred on the research of Professor Colin Mayer and the British Academy — Reforming business for the 21st century: a framework for the future of the corporation.

The discussion perhaps raised more questions than it answered, but the speakers agreed on one thing. As the most important institution in our lives, corporations should have a purpose that takes into account all stakeholders. The Conference was co-sponsored by the Supreme Court of New South Wales, Law Society of NSW and Parsons Centre of the University of Sydney Law School.

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Hon Tom Bathurst AC, Chief Justice NSW Supreme Court

In opening the debate, Chief Justice Bathurst proposed three critical questions. What would be the legal consequences of requiring a corporation to state a “purpose”? How would it apply to different types of businesses? How could the proposal affect the underlying assumptions of our capitalist system?

The real targets of the British Academy proposal are the large corporations in telecommunications, finance, energy, mining and infrastructure, which are indispensable to the economy and significantly impact on the population and environment. While there is a strong argument for reforming how some large businesses are conducted, Bathurst questioned what that had to do with the nature of their corporate form and whether it could be better addressed by regulatory reform.

“Any proposed solution based on embedding a notion of…

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