Choose Your Own Master: Social Enterprise, Certifications, and Benefit Corporation Statutes
53 Pages Posted: 19 Apr 2018 Last revised: 12 Jul 2018
Date Written: 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, nineteen states have passed at least one 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 the social enterprise movement will be sustainable. First, regarding usefulness, this Article recognizes that 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, this 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 existing 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 or modifying certain mandatory rules. Third, regarding sustainability, this Article concludes that the most intensive social enterprise branding efforts should be left to the private sector organizations like B Lab; and social investors, perhaps using new vehicles like crowdfunding and Social Impact Bonds, must fill the funding gap left by hesitant traditional investors.
Keywords: financial crisis, social enterprise statutes, Social Impact Bonds, investment, corporation, delaware
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