Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 154, Issue 4, pp 1003–1018 | Cite as

Can Corporations Be Held to the Public Interest, or Even to the Law?

  • David Ciepley
Original Paper


This article addresses our failing ability to hold business corporations to the public interest, or even to bare legality. It defends, in brief compass, the reasonableness of the expectation that corporations provide public benefits as consideration for their public privileges. But as succeeding sections recount, the traditional instrument for holding corporations to the public interest has gradually been undermined; and our standard, punitive tools for holding them even to bare legality, suffer from inherent limitations and fail adequately to deter corporate misconduct. A more adequate approach would be to supplement the current punitive regime with reform of corporate governance in directions that would decrease the temptation of managers to engage in misconduct in the first place. Several possibilities are considered, with the most promise found in allowing corporations to be owned by Danish-style “industrial foundations.” Among its advantages, the reform is realizable and would reduce incentives to corporate misconduct without compromising on performance. Industrial foundations also customarily direct a portion of corporate profits to charity, in effect reinstating the norm that for-profit corporations provide public benefits.


Corporation Punishment Governance 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Research Involving Human and Animal Participants

There were no human participants in this study, nor were animals involved. For this type of study, formal consent is not required.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.DenverUSA

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