, Volume 109, Issue 1, pp 97-107
Date: 24 Jul 2012

Stakeholder Duties: On the Moral Responsibility of Corporate Investors

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Stakeholder theory usually focuses on the moral responsibility of corporations towards their stakeholders. This article takes the reverse perspective to shed light on the moral responsibility of stakeholders—specifically, investors or ‘financiers’. It explicates a distinction between two types of financiers, creditors and shareholders. Many intuitively judge that shareholders have greater or more extensive moral responsibility for the actions of the corporations they invest in than do bondholders and other creditors. Examining the merits of possible arguments for or against treating owners and creditors differently elucidates which arguments can support the moral duties of investors generally, and different duties for different groups of investors specifically. The paper considers three possible lines of arguments, rooting investors’ responsibility, respectively, in how they enable corporate conduct, how they benefit from it, and to what extent they are complicit in it. The paper argues that a notion of complicity is the only tenable ground for holding investors liable; sketches an account of complicity based on the recent philosophical literature on collective intention and collective action; and concludes that shareholders but not creditors can generally be seen as complicit on this account.