Participation in Corporate Governance

222 Pages Posted: 15 Apr 2015 Last revised: 16 Aug 2016

See all articles by Ewan McGaughey

Ewan McGaughey

School of Law, King's College, London; Centre for Business Research, University of Cambridge; University of California, Berkeley - Berkeley Center on Comparative Equality & Anti-Discrimination Law

Date Written: November 4, 2014


Over the last thirty years there has been a remarkable functional convergence in the way companies are run. Behind directors, asset managers and banks usually participate the most in setting the ultimate direction of corporations, as they have assumed the role of stewardship over shareholder voting rights. At the same time, an increasing number of people’s livelihoods and old age now depend on the stock market, but these ultimate contributors to equity have barely any voice. Why has there been such a separation of contribution and participation?

Two positive theses explain this convergence in corporate governance, one political, one economic. The first positive thesis is that laws which guarantee participation rights in investment chains (either for shareholders against directors, or for the ultimate contributors against institutional shareholders) were driven by a progressive democratic movement, but very incompletely compared to its social ideals. The second positive thesis is that when there have been no specific rights in law, the relative bargaining power of different groups determined the patterns of participation, whether the outcomes were reasonable or entirely arbitrary. In practice, the separation has grown between those who contribute to equity capital and those who participate in governance. These theses are preferable to existing narratives in political literature, and law and economics, which entail predictions of different forms of rational interest-driven institutional evolution. On the contrary, participation in corporate governance is largely unprincipled. The evidence is found in the historical development of participation rights in the UK, Germany and the US.

Does the separation of contribution and participation matter? One normative thesis is derived from the historical evidence. It proposes that the separation of contribution and participation is a pressing concern, precisely because participation in corporate governance, as it stands, manifests no coherent principles. Asset managers and banks have gathered shareholder voting rights through no better reason than their peculiar market position as investment intermediaries. They have significant conflicts of interest when they exercise voting rights with other people’s money. They are able to use votes like any other self-perpetuating interest group would, because they are not effectively accountable to their natural beneficiaries: the ultimate investors. To ensure that the successes of modern corporate law are not unravelled, corporate governance should protect the principle of a symmetry between contribution and participation. This will mean that in the future, corporate governance becomes more economically efficient, sustainable, and just.

Note: Doctoral Thesis, Department of Law, London School of Economics

Keywords: Corporate governance, institutional investors, directors, shareholders, ultimate beneficiaries, United Kingdom, Germany, United States, negligence, conflicts of interest, economic productivity, social justice

JEL Classification: B10, B15, K00, K22, K31, M14, G30, G31, G32, M52, L00, L14, L16, L22

Suggested Citation

McGaughey, Ewan, Participation in Corporate Governance (November 4, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

Ewan McGaughey (Contact Author)

School of Law, King's College, London; Centre for Business Research, University of Cambridge ( email )

Somerset House East Wing
London, WC2R 2LS
United Kingdom


University of California, Berkeley - Berkeley Center on Comparative Equality & Anti-Discrimination Law

Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

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