A draft of my recent article on benefit corporations, prepared for a symposium at American University- Washington College of Law, is available on SSRN. Entitled Choose Your Own Master: Social Enterprise, Certifications and Benefit Corporation Statutes, the article argues for requiring benefit corporation to prioritize among its stakeholders and for allowing benefit corporations to choose a narrower purpose than “general public benefit.” After the article was posted to SSRN, some of the minor suggestions in the article, such as providing the ability to opt-into directorial liability and restrictions on derivative standing, were accepted in the most recent version of the model benefit corporation legislation. The article will be updated this semester and is scheduled for publication in late 2012 or early 2013.
The current abstract, which will also be updated before publication, reads as follows:
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.