Sustainable development has been a hot item in a large number of economic disciplines for many years now. However, in corporate governance analysis, the sustainability discussion just started.
Petschow, Rosenau and Weizsäcker (2005) and Benn and Dunphy (2007) are good examples as they explicitly explore the relationship between governance and sustainability. In Petschow et al. (2005), a range of authors analyze this phenomenon at state, company or civil society level. It is concluded that there is no blueprint to follow with which to reach sustainability in governance. The current road, however, is a sometimes conflict-oriented but always a learning-oriented process. Of course, the future of capitalism is at stake (see the Financial Times, May & June 2009, in which authors like Amartya Sen, Paul Kennedy, Robert Shiller and others shed lights on the current crisis in terms of lessons learnt). In that view, it is primarily the financial and political systems that are to blame, together with the financial sector itself and the lack of cooperation between nations. Corporate governance in the real economic sectors is not yet really an issue, although sustainable development does not use a top-down approach, but requires the inclusion of all players and is thus closely connected to governance structures.
In this article, it is argued that sustainable governance is based on a network approach to social relations of the company, in which normative choices are made by management as derived from rational expectations of future social developments. Boutilier argues that there is a need for a systematic approach in stakeholder politics. Contrary to the leftist/postmodern critique of capitalism, Boutilier argues that stakeholder politics aligns with the global governance perspective that views the private sector’s future success as intertwined with the success of the civil and public sectors. In that respect, globalization has locked the private, the civil and the public sectors into an unprecedented interdependence at all levels of governance. There is a need for a system that converts good intentions into good results. However, no one has yet given managers a systematic framework to help them collaborate with stakeholders towards achieving shared sustainable development goals. Sustainable development may offer a solution between the traditional tense between short term (financial) consequential ethics versus a more virtue ethical approach of leadership. In a post materialist world where governments are losing their control of the social process, we are seeing the ascent of the global civil sector. Benn and Dunphy (2007) describe the limits of the existing models on corporate governance, and attempts are made to redesign governance for sustainability. This article contributes to that discussion.
The next section starts with a short description of the traditional English and American markets of corporate control together with their assumptions and some important results of these theories. In the section “The Shareholder Paradigm and Its Developments”, we proceed with the resulting shareholder paradigm and its ethical implications and developments. In the section “Sustainable Corporate Governance”, we normatively develop the concept of sustainable governance that is theoretically based on a stakeholder approach to the economic process. The article ends with a conclusion on the relationship between ethics, sustainability and corporate governance.
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