The Benefit Corporation and Corporate Social Responsibility
In the wake of the most recent financial crisis, corporations have been criticized as being self-interested and unmindful of their relationship to society. Indeed, the blame is sometimes placed on the corporate legal form, which can exacerbate the tension between duties to shareholders and interests of stakeholders. In comparison, the Benefit Corporation (BC) is a new legal business entity that is obligated to pursue public benefit in addition to the responsibility to return profits to shareholders. It is legally a for-profit, socially obligated, corporate form of business, with all the traditional corporate characteristics combined with societal responsibilities. Considering the history and perception of shareholder primacy in United States law, it is argued that this new business structure is an ethical step toward empowering socially committed commercial entities. The contribution of this research is to provide a fundamental base of knowledge about the new legal form of business, the BC, upon which further study may rely. First, the legal history of the corporation is briefly reviewed in order to provide context to the relationship of the corporate form to society, including exploration of the premise that shareholder wealth maximization is its best and only purpose. Second, the BC is described in detail, and state statutes are compared. Third, the BC is placed within the context of corporate social responsibility. Finally, opportunities for future research are discussed.