Choose Your Own Master: Social Enterprise, Certifications and Benefit Corporation Statutes
J. Haskell Murray
Belmont University - College of Business Administration; Belmont University - Massey School of Business
June 15, 2012
2 American University Business Law Review 1 (2012)
In the wake of the most recent financial crisis, interest in social enterprise has increased exponentially. Disillusioned with the perceived shareholder wealth focus of corporate law, entrepreneurs, investors, customers and governments have become more receptive to new paradigms. In the past four years, 17 states have passed one or more of five different types of social enterprise statutes and many additional states are considering similar legislation.
Focusing primarily on the benefit corporation form, this article examines three main issues: (1) whether social enterprise statutes are potentially useful, (2) how social enterprise law can be improved, and (3) whether social enterprises will be sustainable. First, regarding usefulness, this article recognizes the traditional legal framework already provides social entrepreneurs most of the flexibility they seek, but posits that the social enterprise statutes may better combat perceptions of a shareholder wealth maximization norm arising from existing for-profit corporation law (especially in Delaware). As a potential alternative to social enterprise statutes, the article suggests that states like Delaware could simply amend their existing corporate codes to expressly allow for a societal or environmental-focused objective in a corporation’s charter. Second, regarding improvements to social enterprise law, the article suggests: (i) statutorily requiring social entrepreneurs to choose their own primary master; (ii) recognizing modified versions of traditional corporate law concepts; (iii) lowering transaction and uncertainty costs; and (iv) eliminating certain mandatory rules. Third, regarding sustainability, the article concludes that intensive social enterprise branding efforts should be left to the private sector organizations like B Lab; and social investors, perhaps using new vehicles such as crowdfunding and social impact bonds, must fill the funding gap left by hesitant traditional investors.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 53
Keywords: social enterprise, benefit corporation, B corp, B Lab, corporate governance, fiduciary duties, care, loyalty, takeover defenses, eBay, Ben & Jerry's, greenwashing, Delaware, constituency statutes, SROI, GIIRS, SASB
JEL Classification: K10, K22, M13, M14, G34
Date posted: June 16, 2012 ; Last revised: April 26, 2013