Il dovere degli amministratori è favorire il beneficio dei soci, secondo il § 172.1 Companies Act del 2006

Secondo la disposizione citata, <A director of a company must act in the way he considers, in good faith, would be most likely to promote the success of the company for the benefit of its members as a whole>.

Il che si determina avendo riguardo al lungo temrine, ai dipendneti etc. (ivi, lettere a-f).

Disposizione assai discussa nella sua portata: in particolare quale è il ruolo degli stakeholders diversi dai soci (soprattutto dei lavoratori)?

Ebbene, la Supreme Court inglese nella sentenza 5 ottobre 2022, BTI 2014 LLC (Appellant) v Sequana SA and others (Respondents), [2022] UKSC 25, dice che <<successo della company>> significa <<successo dei soci>>.

Almeno fino a che la società arriva vicino alla insolvenza, quando l’interesse da realizzare è anche quello dei creditori. Si v. < it is clear that, although the duty is owed to the company, the shareholders are the intended beneficiaries of that duty. To that extent, the common law approach of shareholder primacy is carried forward into the 2006 Act >, § 65

<The considerations listed in paragraphs (a) to (f) are capable of including the
treatment of certain creditors of the company. Creditors are liable to include
employees, suppliers, customers and others with whom the company has business
relationships; and their treatment may well affect the company’s reputation and its
creditworthiness, and have consequences for it in the long term. However, the primary
duty imposed by section 172(1) remains focused on promoting the success of the
company for the benefit of its members>, § 67.

E poi  : < In addition, it seems to me that acceptance that the fiduciary duty of directors to the
company is re-oriented so as to encompass the interests of creditors, when the
company is insolvent or bordering on insolvency, must result in a similar re-orientation
of related duties. The proper purposes for which powers can be exercised, in
accordance with section 171, include advancing the interests of the company, which in
those circumstances must be understood as including the interests of its creditors, as
was held in In re HLC Environmental Projects Ltd [2013] EWHC 2876 (Ch); [2014] BCC
337, para 99. Similarly, the duty under section 174 to exercise reasonable care, skill
and diligence must be directed, in those circumstances, to the interests of the
company as understood in that context, as appears to have been accepted in a number of cases>. § 73

Si tratta di sentenza molto ampia, diffusa da più fomnti : ad es. Irene-marie Esser e  Iain G MacNeil,   Shareholder Primacy and Corporate Purpose, 21 dic. 2022.

Conflitto di interessi negli amministratori di spa: si applica l’art. 1394 cc, anzichè l’art. 2391 cc , quando il conflitto sorge solo in fase esecutiva e disattendendo la delibera del CdA

Interessante precisazione di Cass. sez. 1 n° 24.156 del 3 agosto 2022 , rel. Falabella, circa una vendita imobiliare “di cortesia” alla controllante per prezzo troppo basso:

<< In realtà, ha ricordato la parte ricorrente che, in base a quanto
esposto in citazione, il contratto era annullabile per conflitto di
interessi non solo perché la delibera era stata assunta da un consiglio
di amministrazione «privo di effettiva pluralità», ma anche in quanto
detta delibera era stata «comunque disapplicata nella parte che
autorizzava la vendita ‘ad un prezzo non inferiore al costo di
costruzione sostenuto dalla Girardi ceramiche’ […] di fatto conosciuto
essere sensibilmente superiore a quello in essa indicato».
Discende da ciò che il fallimento ricorrente aveva fatto valere,
con riguardo al tema del prezzo di compravendita, un conflitto di
interessi venuto ad emersione proprio con riguardo al momento
rappresentativo: infatti, la compravendita si perfezionò a un
corrispettivo diverso da quello predeterminato dal consiglio di
amministrazione, sicché non avrebbe potuto domandarsi
l’annullamento della delibera dell’organo gestorio (che costituiva,
invece, la fonte del criterio cui avrebbe dovuto attenersi chi
contrattava in nome e per conto della società poi fallita).

Deve infatti ritenersi che, in base alla richiamata distinzione tra momento
deliberativo e momento rappresentativo, l’annullabilità di cui all’art.
1394 c.c. abbia a configurarsi, in caso di assunzione della delibera,
non solo con riferimento a quelle parti del negozio che siano lasciate
alla discrezionalità dell’amministratore, ma anche, e a maggior
ragione, ove lo stesso amministratore dia vita al conflitto di interessi
disattendendo le indicazioni contenute nella delibera che erano atte ad
escluderlo
>>

 

Scopo delle società, doveri degli amministratori e short-termism: prossima azione regolatoria UE?

La Commissione UE ha incaricato Ernst & Young di effettuare uno studio sulla questione del se  l’attività di impresa sia oggi  viziata da short termism (visione e progettualità a breve termine) e, in caso positivo, se ciò sia fonte di conseguenze negative.

La risposta (poco sorprendentemente) è positiva ad entrambe le domande, come emerge dal report finale <<Study on directors’ duties and sustainable corporate governance-Final report>>, 29 luglio 2020.

Short-termism (poi: s.t.) viene individuato e quantificato <<by looking at the evolution of the amount of net corporate funds being used for pay-outs to shareholders (in the form of dividends or shares buybacks) compared with the evolution of the amount used for the creation of value over the life cycle of the firm, namely through investment in infrastructure, workers training, Research and Development (R&D), and investments in sustainability>>, § 3.1.1.1, p. 9.

Le conseguenze negative sarebbero:

  • a livello ambientale: <Literature connects short-termism to unsatisfactory response to environmental issues both at individual55 (i.e. the psychological tendency of individuals to focus on the short-term and consequently neglect sustainability issues) and organisational level56 (i.e. the factors leading firms to prioritise short-term profits at the expense of long-term objectives)>>, p. 22;
  • a livello sociale: <<There is a substantial body of literature (though mainly focusing on the US context) linking shareholder primacy in corporate governance, the “financialisation”85 of the global economy, and increasing social inequalities.86 From a social perspective, short-termism exacerbates inequalities. In a context where share ownership is concentrated in the richest households (such as in the US), achieving higher share prices and larger dividend pay-out – the main objective of corporate executives focused on the short-term – is beneficial to a just small fraction of a country’s population (the share owners) and contributes to deepen the existing socio-economic cleavages>>, p. 26;
  • a livello economico: <<Short-termism has serious adverse economic effects on companies, their shareholders and their stakeholders, and undermines the macroeconomy. As discussed in section 3.2, the strength of the social norm of shareholder primacy in corporate governance theory and practice, combined with growing pressures from institutional and activist investors increasingly focused on the short-term market value of the shares, places intense pressure on corporate boards to prioritise the market valuation of the company and focus on short-term financial performance, driving down all other costs, at the expense of better employee compensation and stronger investments that are important for long-term productivity>, p. 28.

Il ruolo delle imprese è notevole per conseguire i relativi United Nations Sustainable Development Goals  : <as described in the previous sections, corporate short-termism is among the factors that hinder the achievement of environmental, social and economic sustainability. Without companies abandoning the business-as-usual and proactively embracing and promoting the sustainability transition, it will be hard to achieve such ambitious sustainability goals in the near future>, p. 30.

Le cause dello s.h. sarebbero:

  • Directors’ duties and company’s interest: <In all jurisdictions, the core duty of the board is to protect and promote the interests of the company. Numerous multijurisdictional studies underline how the prevalence of shareholder primacy in companies hinders their long-term contribution to sustainability and influences the interpretation of the concept of “company’s interest”. This has been increasingly understood as the maximisation of shareholder value in the short term. This social norm has been thought to be a legal provision, even if no jurisdictions prescribe this>, p. 32
  • Pressure from investors: <As far as investors are concerned, the growing importance of institutional investors correlates with a shortening of investor engagement in companies, in terms of shorter tenue of shares and increased frequency of portfolio turnovers, as described by economic data and findings surmised from the literature review. These developments, combined with the increased role played by activist investors – like activist hedge funds – having an explicit short-term orientation, determined an overall dynamic in which investors with a short-term focus exert pressure on boards to focus on short-term shareholder value maximisation and distribution, rather than on long-term value creation>, p. 33;
  • Sustainability strategy, sustainability targets and estimation of sustainability risks and impacts: <Embedding sustainability aspects in business strategy, or setting a sustainability strategy,124 as well as setting measurable targets, seems to be a key step for companies to reduce sustainability-related risks and negative impacts, maximise opportunities, and move their business beyond short-term focus and create value in the long term. However, as shown by the legal review, with a few exceptions, national regulatory frameworks do not enshrine an obligation for companies to adopt and disclose a sustainability strategy. This implies that the adoption of a sustainability strategy, including the identification of science-based ESG targets and their alignment with “global” goals (e.g. the SDGs), is in most cases left to the voluntary initiative and discretion of the companies thus generating a fragmented picture>, p. 34;
  • Board remuneration: <<The current structure of executive pay is also identified in part of the literature as a key driver behind short-termism. A substantial strand of literature argues that share-based remuneration of executives reinforces, rather than works against, the capital market pressure for maximisation of  returns to shareholders in the short term. Share-based remuneration schemes create incentives for executives to focus on shareholder value maximisation and manage corporate resource in a way aimed to increase share price, benefiting themselves and the shareholders, at the expense of investments that are necessary for the long-term sustainability of the company>, p. 36;
  • Board composition: <As highlighted by the findings of the literature review,  board composition is key to promote a shift towards greater business sustainability and long-term focus. A diversified board with a wide range of relevant skills and experience is important to challenge the business-as-usual, avoid group think, and raise questions in terms of the long-term sustainability and value creation. Data from the literature suggest that in most companies the board lacks competence and expertise in sustainability matters and is still largely dominated by men. Concerning sustainability expertise, although there is lack of granular data, the literature indicates that companies where the board includes at least one member with ESG, ethics or sustainability experience, or where there is a board-level committee or advisory body with ESG-related responsibilities, are a minority>, p. 36;
  • stakeholder involvement: <As highlighted by the literature, the prominence of shareholder primacy in corporate governance and the pressure it generates to pursue short-term profit maximisation leads board members not to take sufficient account of the long-term interests of stakeholders other than shareholders (such as employees, creditors, suppliers, customers and the society at large as well as the environment).     This can have negative consequences on the long-term success of a company, as it might undermine its social license to operate. As a matter of regulatory frameworks, it is argued in the literature that, to some extent, a duty for directors to take the interests of all stakeholders into account is recognised, in some form or another, in all EU jurisdictions.>, p. 37. Un maggior coinvolgimento degli stakeholders <can help companies to counterbalance pressure from financial markets and short-term investors and give “voice” – if not representation – to subjects with a strong interest in the long-term sustainability of the company>, p. 37;
  • l’enforcement, alquanto problematico: <As a consequence, enforcement of the company’s claims against its directors faces two major problems: conflict of interest (obvious in the case of one-tier board structure, where the board brings the company’s claim against its own member), and collective action (in case of derivative actions, the shareholders who bring the legal action bear all costs, while benefits from the claimant’s efforts accrue also to passive shareholders). As reported in the literature, due to these obstacles, enforcement levels are currently low in all Member States.   In the current context, stakeholders of the company (other than shareholders) lack legal standing to enforce directors’ duty of care, even when they have a legitimate interest in the long-term sustainability of the company. This means that stakeholders such as employees, local communities, etc. lack enforcement mechanisms to effectively ensure the protection of their legitimate interests in corporate activities, and therefore to exercise substantial influence over the board and board members and keep them accountable>, p. 38.

Ciò visto, è necessaria un’azione a livello europeo per i motivi spiegati a p. 44 segg.

Seguono possibili soluzioni, dalla più morbida a quella più rigida (a livello legislativo): § 4.4. segg., p 50 ss

Non mancano critiche : v. il dibattito aperto su questo Report dall’Oxford Business Law Blog e qui i post ad es. di Roe-Fried-Spamann-Wang, EC Corporate Governance Initiative Series: ‘The European Commission’s Sustainable Corporate Governance Report: A Critique’ del 20.10.2020 oppure Richter-Ohnemus-Thomsen, EC Corporate Governance Initiative Series: ‘A Response From the Copenhagen Business School’ del 26.10.2020.

Corporate governance e sostenibilità: dice la sua Blackrock

Circa il tema in oggetto, sempre più importante, Blackrock (poi: B.), uno dei maggiori investitori al mondo (se non il maggiore in assoluto), ha fatto uscire il Report sui propri progetti Our approach to  sustainability-BlackRock Investment Stewardship, n° 343750-EN-JUL2020 (informazioni aggiornate a luglio 2020, si legge).

Riguarda non solo l’emergenza ambientale, ma anche altri aspetti della sostenibilità. Il succo è che B. si attiverà per promuoverla, pungolando il management delle società partecipate, ritenendo che la sostenibilità socioambientale sia anche portatrice di profitti.

Il punto è invero discusso, ma -nel lungo termine-  probabilmente è così (è solo questione di durata temporale della prospettiva di investimento adottata). Il vero punto giuridico è: alla luce del fatto che  la catastrofe ambientale, cui stiamo andando incontro, è assai probabile se non certa, la sostenibilità può essere perseguita anche se pregiudica nell’immediato i profitti, nel caso -frequentissimo, se non totaltiario- che il contratto di “ingaggio” del management e quello sociale nulla dicano in proposito? O magari anche se questi documenti contrattuali per ipotesi si esprimessero contro la sostenibilità, invocando una prospettiva di corto periodo?

Vediamo alcuni passi di queste dichiraizoni pubblicate da B..

sezione 1 sul clima:

<In our direct dialogue with company leadership, we seek to understand how a company’s strategy, operations and long-term performance would be affected by the transition to a low-carbon economy and other climate risks. Broadly, we aim to ensure that companies are effectively managing the risks and opportunities presented by climate change and that their strategies and operations are aligned with the transition to a low-carbon economy – and specifically, the Paris Agreement’s scenario of limiting warming to two degrees Celsius or less, which is laid out in the ‘Metrics and Targets’ pillar of the TCFD framework. Such engagement can help inform the approach taken by corporate leadership as they advance their sustainability practices and disclosure>, p. 7

Il processo “persuasivo” sarà graduale: <Our approach employs a natural escalation process. If we are not satisfied with a company’s disclosures, we typically put it ‘on watch’ and give the company 12 to 18 months to meet our expectations. (The complexity of many sustainability issues may necessitate detailed reviews of operations by the company if it is to make substantive disclosures that inform investors.) If a company has still failed to make progress after this timeframe, voting action against management typically follows.>, p. 8.

B. spiega il votare contro il management e l’appoggiare proposte dei soci: <When we vote against a company, we do so with a singular purpose: maximizing long-term value for shareholders. There are two main categories of our voting actions: holding directors accountable and supporting shareholder proposals. Both can be valuable tools in the stewardship toolkit. Shareholder proposals, while often non-binding and less common outside of the U.S., can garner significant attention and send a strong public signal of disapproval. Our approach typically employs votes against directors more frequently since they are a globally applicable signal of concern; additionally, significant votes against directors register strongly with both the individual director and the full board, and, importantly, failure to win a substantial majority frequently results in a director stepping down before the next annual meeting.>, p. 9

Quanto alle proposte degli azionisti, dice così: <Voting on shareholder proposals offers another way to express targeted disapproval of a company’s policies or practices. BIS may support shareholder proposals that address issues material to a company’s business model, which need to be remedied urgently and that, once remedied, would help build long-term value. We may support proposals seeking enhanced disclosure if the information requested would be useful to us as an investor and if management has not already substantively provided it. To gain our support, the requests made in a shareholder proposal should be reasonable and achievable in the time frame specified. In some cases, shareholder proposals address issues that may not be material to the company’s business operations or risk or suggest changes that are not reasonably achievable within the specified timeframe. In such instances, we generally decline to support the proposals but may vote against directors where we agree that the proposal highlights a failure (such as insufficient climate  risk disclosure).>, p. 9-10.

sezione2 : Promoting transparency on climate and broader sustainability risks:

Prosegue B dicendo che spingerà le società <to use the TCFD framework and SASB standards as the basis for their sustainability reporting. Both are practitioner-led and continue to evolve in response to feedback from stakeholders on the materiality of certain sustainability issues, on what information is most relevant to investment decision-making and on the need for globally applicable, industry-specific reporting standards. BlackRock contributes to improving market practices, as an original member of the TCFD Board and a member of the Investor Advisory Group of the SASB. We also expect that emerging regulatory standards, particularly the European Union’s Non-Financial Reporting Directive, will provide the granular, comparable metrics and targets that investors are seeking.>, p. 18.

La sostenibilità, poi, va oltre la questione climatica, involvendo altri profili tra cui la qualità dei rapporti interpersonali: <It is our investment conviction, grounded in research, that companies with sustainable business practices can deliver better long-term, risk-adjusted returns. Companies with clear purpose that build strong relationships with their employees, suppliers, and other stakeholders are more likely to meet their strategic objectives, while poor relationships can reduce productivity, harm product and service quality, and even jeopardize a company’s social license to operate. For this reason, we have long made human capital management one of our engagement priorities. Our broad approach to human capital management touches upon eight of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – including decent work and economic growth, gender equality, reduced inequalities, and good health and well-being. Well-supported employees, who align with the company’s purpose, are more likely to be engaged and play a central role in creating sustainable long-term value. As such, our approach focuses on the board’s effectiveness in overseeing how a company meets the expectations of its workforce.>, p. 21.

Riscaldamento globale, stabilità finanziaria e prezzi azionari : report del Fondo Monetario Internazionale

Il Fondo Monetario Internazionale (IMF) ha fatto uscire in aprile 2020 un interessante Global Financial Stability Report: Markets in the Time of COVID-19.

Qui interessa riferire del chapter 5  Climate Change: Physical Risk and Equity Prices .

Qui si leggono considerazioni interessanti sul fatto sia che le imprese e gli analisti hanno tenuto in scarsa considerazione i rischi da cambiamentoclimatico, sia che invece dovrebbero farlo (o avrebbero dovuto farlo). Ci sono anche indicazioni metodologiche allo scopo.

Il climate change può influire sulla stabilità finanziaria in due modi:

<<First, a climatic hazard can turn into a disaster if it happens in an area where the exposure is large and vulnerability is high. Such a disaster affects households, nonfinancial firms, and the government sector through the loss of physical and human capital, thereby causing economic disruptions that can possibly be significant. Financial sector firms are exposed to these shocks through their underwriting activity (insurers), lending activity (mostly banks), and the portfolio holdings of affected securities (all financial firms). Financial institutions could also be exposed to operational risk (such as in cases in which their structures, systems, and personnel are directly affected by an event) or to liquidity risk (such as if a disaster triggers sizable withdrawal of customer deposits). Insurers play a special role in absorbing shocks. The provision of insurance concentrates the impact of the shock on the insurance sector and reduces the impact on other economic agents.3 Governments also generally play an important cushioning role by providing some forms of insurance, as well as relief and support in the aftermath of a disaster. The strain on government balance sheets after a disaster could potentially have financial stability implications given the strong sovereign-bank nexus in many economies.

Second, investors form beliefs about physical risk—the result of a combination of climatic hazards, exposures, and vulnerabilities—as well as insurance coverage (and risk sharing more broadly, including through the government) at various time horizons in the future. Standard asset pricing theory suggests that investors should demand a premium for holding assets exposed to a future increase in physical risk induced by climate change. In other words, these assets should have a lower price compared with assets with similar characteristics but not exposed to this change in physical risk. However, because the nature of the risk is long term, and depends on complex interactions between climate variables and socioeconomic developments that are difficult to model, markets may not price future physical risk correctly, potentially leading to capital misallocation and economic inefficiency. Perhaps more important from a financial stability perspective, a sudden shift in investors’ perception of this future risk could lead to a drop in asset values, generating a ripple effect on investor portfolios and financial institutions’ balance sheets>>, p. 86/7

I risultati dell’indagine son così riassunti:

<< Climate change is a source of financial risk for investors that could lead to adverse consequences for financial stability. However, over the past several decades, the reactions of aggregate equity prices, bank equity prices, and insurance equity prices to large climatic disasters have generally been modest, in particular in economies with high rates of insurance penetration and sovereign financial strength. Pricing future climate risks is extremely challenging, given the large uncertainties around climate science projections and the economic cost of predicted hazards. However,  current economy-level equity valuations as of 2019 are generally not statistically significantly associated with the currently available proxies of future changes in physical risk. Furthermore, equity investors do not seem to have paid full attention to temperature, which could suggest that they do not pay full attention to climate change either. The analysis implies that, in the current baseline scenario, in which climate change mitigation policies are projected to remain weak globally, domestic financial stability will be best protected if governments preserve or enhance their financial strength, reduce barriers to non–life insurance penetration while ensuring adequate capital in the insurance sector, and encourage adaptation. Soberingly, preserving or enhancing financial strength appears challenging as public debt ratios continue to increase (see Chapter 1). In addition, better measurement and increased disclosure of exposure and vulnerability to climatic hazards would help reduce investors’ informational challenges and facilitate risk pricing>>, p. 88.

Si v. infine il § Equity Pricing of Future Climate Change Physical Risk sui metodi di pricing, p. 93 ss