A large majority of companies are looking beyond the interests of just shareholders, but relatively few have so far created a formal approach to stakeholder capitalism amid growing interest in the concept, according to new research.
In a study conducted by Corporate Secretary and sister publication IR Magazine, 75 percent of respondents globally say their company seeks information on the needs of stakeholders – groups that can include employees, customers, suppliers and local communities – other than shareholders. According to the survey, this is the case among 86 percent of respondents at mid-caps, followed by 77 percent of those at mega-cap companies, 75 percent of those at large caps and 66 percent of those at small caps.
The most common method used to seek information on the needs of stakeholders other than shareholders is company outreach to stakeholder associations/organizations, mentioned by 75 percent of respondents. This is followed in frequency by market research (cited by 51 percent of respondents), impact assessments (50 percent), social media and the internet (43 percent) and holding open meetings (24 percent).
Size of company has an influence here: 88 percent of respondents at mega-caps say their company conducts outreach to stakeholder groups, compared with 76 percent of those at large caps, 71 percent of those at small caps and 63 percent of those at mid-caps.
Larger companies, which have more resources, are more likely to conduct impact assessments, the survey finds: 62 percent and 65 percent of respondents at large-cap and mega-cap companies, respectively, report doing so. Just a third of those at small caps and 42 percent of those mid-caps say the same.
More than three quarters (76 percent) of respondents at mega-cap companies say their firm uses social media or the internet to look into the needs of non-shareholder stakeholders. This compares with around a third or less of respondents at smaller companies.
The special report is based on a survey conducted primarily among governance professionals such as general counsel, corporate secretaries and their teams. A total of 153 respondents took part in an online survey conducted between December 2021 and February 2022.
Their responses cover topics such as how corporate boards assign oversight of and discuss stakeholder capitalism issues, investor questions about those issues and whether companies link executive compensation to corporate purpose. Click here to access the full results of the research.
Into the spotlight
Stakeholder capitalism took a major step into the corporate spotlight in 2019 when 181 CEOs of major US companies signed the Business Roundtable’s Statement on the purpose of a corporation. In doing so they called for companies to pay attention to the interests of not only shareholders but also other groups – reversing the previous doctrine of shareholder supremacy.
Since 2019, a heightened focus on issues such as protecting employee safety during a pandemic, racial equity, the climate crisis and supply-chain problems have boosted discussions about stakeholder capitalism and its potential influence on companies.
The new study indicates that stakeholder capitalism has gained strong traction in terms of board discussions, research into stakeholder groups and directors’ engagement with non-shareholders. But it also finds that there has been less change in terms of strategy. Just 21 percent of respondents say their company has a defined strategy for addressing stakeholder capitalism. More than half (58 percent) say their company does not, although it should be noted that a significant number (21 percent) say they do not know whether their company has such a strategy.
More than a quarter (27 percent) of those at mega-caps say their firm has a defined stakeholder capitalism strategy, compared with 23 percent of those at mid-caps, 19 percent of those at small-cap companies and 18 percent of those at large caps.
Many companies are increasingly linking executive compensation to a growing range of factors, including ESG metrics. Globally, more than half (51 percent) of respondents in the new study say executive compensation is linked to corporate purpose at their company. Sixty-one percent of those at small-cap companies say executive compensation is linked to corporate purpose. This compares with 59 percent, 45 percent and 36 percent among those at mega-cap, mid-cap and large-cap companies, respectively.