The COVID-19-Crisis and Company Law - Towards Virtual Shareholder Meetings
University of Luxembourg Faculty of Law, Economics & Finance WPS 2020-007
44 Pages Posted: 17 Apr 2020 Last revised: 15 Jun 2020
Date Written: June 15, 2020
Legislation responding to COVID-19 allows us to examine how, and to what effect, the corporate governance framework can be amended in times of crisis. Almost all leading industrialized nations have already enacted crisis legislation in the field of company law. Here, given the difficulties or indeed the impossibility of conducting in-person meetings currently, the overall trajectory of company law reforms has been to allow for digitalization.
We note five fields in which legislators have been particularly active. First, the extension of filing periods for annual and quarterly reports to reflect the practical difficulties regarding the collection of numbers and the auditing of financial statements. Second, company law requires shareholders to take decisions in meetings – and these meetings were for the most part in-person gatherings. However, since the gathering of individuals in one location is now at odds with the measures being implemented to contain the virus, legislators have generally allowed for virtualonly meetings, online-only proxy voting and voting-by-mail, and granted relief to various formalities aimed at protecting shareholders (including fixed meeting and notice periods). Third, provisions requiring physical attendance of board members, including provisions on signing corporate documents, have been temporarily lifted for board matters. Fourth, parliaments have enacted changes to allow for more flexible and speedy capital measures, including the disbursement of dividends and the recapitalization of firms, having accepted that the crisis impairs a company’s equity. Fifth and finally, some countries have implemented temporary changes to insolvency law to delay companies’ petitioning for insolvency as a result of the liquidity shock prompted by the imposition of overnight lockdowns.
This working paper seeks to (1) document the respective crisis legislation; (2) assist countries looking for solutions to respond rapidly and efficiently to the crisis; (3) exchange experiences of crisis measures; and (4) spur academic discussion on the extent to which the crisis legislation can function as a blueprint for general corporate governance reform.
Countries considered in full or in part include Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The update as of June 15, 2020, provides an extensive overview of U.S. states legislation as well as some sample reports from virtual shareholder meetings across countries.
Readers are encouraged to highlight any inaccuracies on the part of the authors in their presentation of the respective laws, and to bring further crisis-related legislation not considered in this working draft to the attention of the authors. Moreover, readers are invited to indicate where there is room for improvement therein, and/or to signal the need for policy reform.
Keywords: Company Law, Corporate Governance, Virtual Shareholder Meetings, Shareholder Rights, COVID-19, Crisis
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