Analysis of OECD Principles of Corporate Governance
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The OECD Principles of Corporate Governance were endorsed by OECD Ministers in 1999 and have since become an international benchmark for policy makers, investors, corporations and other stakeholders worldwide. They have advanced the corporate governance agenda and provided specific guidance for legislative and regulatory initiatives in both OECD and non OECD countries. The Financial Stability Forum has designated the Principles as one of the 12 key standards for sound financial systems. The Principles also provide the basis for an extensive programme of cooperation between OECD and non-OECD countries and underpin the corporate governance component of World Bank/IMF Reports on the Observance of Standards and Codes (ROSC). The Principles have now been thoroughly reviewed to take account of recent developments and experiences in OECD member and non-member countries. Policy makers are now more aware of the contribution good corporate governance makes to financial market stability, investment and economic growth. Companies better understand how good corporate governance contributes to their competitiveness. Investors - especially collective investment institutions and pension funds acting in a fiduciary capacity - realise they have a role to play in ensuring good corporate governance practices, thereby underpinning the value of their investments. In today's economies, interest in corporate governance goes beyond that of shareholders in the performance of individual companies. As companies play a pivotal role in our economies and we rely increasingly on private sector institutions to manage personal savings and secure retirement incomes, good corporate governance is important to broad and growing segments of the population.
The review of the Principles was undertaken by the OECD Steering Group on Corporate Governance under a mandate from OECD Ministers in 2002. The review was supported by a comprehensive survey of how member countries addressed the different corporate governance challenges they faced. It also drew on experiences in economies outside the OECD area where the OECD, in co-operation with the World Bank and other sponsors, organises Regional Corporate Governance Roundtables to support regional reform efforts. The review process benefited from contributions from many parties. Key international institutions participated and extensive consultations were held with the private sector, labour, civil society and representatives from non-OECD countries. The process also benefited greatly from the insights of internationally recognised experts who participated in two high level informal gatherings I convened. Finally, many constructive suggestions were received when a draft of the Principles was made available for public comment on the internet. The Principles are a living instrument offering non-binding standards and good practices as well as guidance on implementation, which can be adapted to the specific circumstances of individual countries and regions. The OECD offers a forum for ongoing dialogue and exchange of experiences among member and non-member countries. To stay abreast of constantly changing circumstances, the OECD will closely follow developments in corporate governance, identifying trends and seeking remedies to new challenges. These Revised Principles will further reinforce OECD's contribution and commitment to collective efforts to strengthen the fabric of corporate governance around the world in the years ahead. This work will not eradicate criminal activity, but such activity will be made more difficult as rules and regulations are adopted in accordance with the Principles. Importantly, our efforts will also help develop a culture of values for professional and ethical behaviour on which well functioning markets depend. Trust and integrity play an essential role in economic life and for the sake of business and future prosperity we have to make sure that they are properly rewarded.
OECD Principles of Corporate Governance
The OECD Principles of Corporate Governance were originally developed in response to a call by the OECD Council Meeting at Ministerial level on 27-28 April 1998, to develop, in conjunction with national governments, other relevant international organisations and the private sector, a set of corporate governance standards and guidelines. Since the Principles were agreed in 1999, they have formed the basis for corporate governance initiatives in both OECD and non-OECD countries alike.
Moreover, they have been adopted as one of the Twelve Key Standards for Sound Financial Systems by the Financial Stability Forum. Accordingly, they form the basis of the corporate governance component of the World Bank/IMF Reports on the Observance of Standards and Codes (ROSC). The OECD Council Meeting at Ministerial Level in 2002 agreed to survey developments in OECD countries and to assess the Principles in light of developments in corporate governance. This task was entrusted to the OECD Steering Group on Corporate Governance, which comprises representatives from OECD countries. In addition, the World Bank, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) were observers to the Group. For the assessment, the Steering Group also invited the Financial Stability Forum, the Basel Committee, and the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) as ad hoc observers.
In its review of the Principles, the Steering Group has undertaken comprehensive consultations and has prepared with the assistance of members the Survey of Developments in OECD Countries. The consultations have included experts from a large number of countries which have participated in the Regional Corporate Governance Roundtables that the OECD organises in Russia, Asia, South East Europe, Latin America and Eurasia with the support of the Global Corporate Governance Forum and others, and in co-operation with the World Bank and other non-OECD countries as well. Moreover, the Steering Group has consulted a wide range of interested parties such as the business sector, investors, professional groups at national and international levels, trade unions, civil society organisations and international standard setting bodies. A draft version of the Principles was put on the OECD website for public comment and resulted in a large number of responses. These have been made public on the OECD web site.
On the basis of the discussions in the Steering Group, the Survey and the comments received during the wide ranging consultations, it was concluded that the 1999 Principles should be revised to take into account new developments and concerns. It was agreed that the revision should be pursued with a view to maintaining a non-binding principles-based approach, which recognises the need to adapt implementation to varying legal economic and cultural circumstances. The revised Principles contained in this document thus build upon a wide range of experience not only in the OECD area but also in non-OECD countries.
The Principles are intended to assist OECD and non-OECD governments in their efforts to evaluate and improve the legal, institutional and regulatory framework for corporate governance in their countries, and to provide guidance and suggestions for stock exchanges, investors, corporations, and other parties that have a role in the process of developing good corporate governance. The Principles focus on publicly traded companies, both financial and non-financial. However, to the extent they are deemed applicable, they might also be a useful tool to improve corporate governance in non-traded companies, for example, privately held and stateowned enterprises. The Principles represent a common basis that OECD member countries consider essential for the development of good governance practices. They are intended to be concise, understandable and accessible to the international community. They are not intended to substitute for government, semi-government or private sector initiatives to develop more detailed "best practice" in corporate governance.
Increasingly, the OECD and its member governments have recognized the synergy between macroeconomic and structural policies in achieving fundamental policy goals. Corporate governance is one key element in improving economic efficiency and growth as well as enhancing investor confidence. Corporate governance involves a set of relationships between a company's management, its board, its shareholders and other stakeholders. Corporate governance also provides the structure through which the objectives of the company are set, and the means of attaining those objectives and monitoring performance are determined. Good corporate governance should provide proper incentives for the board and management to pursue objectives that are in the interests of the company and its shareholders and should facilitate effective monitoring. The presence of an effective corporate governance system, within an individual company and across an economy as a whole, helps to provide a degree of confidence that is necessary for the proper functioning of a market economy. As a result, the cost of capital is lower and firms are encouraged to use resources more efficiently, thereby underpinning growth. Corporate governance is only part of the larger economic context in which firms operate that includes, for example, macroeconomic policies and the degree of competition in product and factor markets. The corporate governance framework also depends on the legal, regulatory, and institutional environment. In addition, factors such as business ethics and corporate awareness of the environmental and societal interests of the communities in which a company operates can also have an impact on its reputation and its long-term success.
While a multiplicity of factors affect the governance and decisionmaking processes of firms, and are important to their long-term success, the Principles focus on governance problems that result from the separation of ownership and control. However, this is not simply an issue of the relationship between shareholders and management, although that is indeed the central element. In some jurisdictions, governance issues also arise from the power of certain controlling shareholders over minority shareholders. In other countries, employees have important legal rights irrespective of their ownership rights. The Principles therefore have to be complementary to a broader approach to the operation of checks and balances. Some of the other issues relevant to a company's decision-making processes, such as environmental, anti-corruption or ethical concerns, are taken into account but are treated more explicitly in a number of other OECD instruments (including the Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Transactions) and the instruments of other international organisations.
Corporate governance is affected by the relationships among participants in the governance system. Controlling shareholders, which may be individuals, family holdings, bloc alliances, or other corporations acting through a holding company or cross shareholdings, can significantly influence corporate behaviour. As owners of equity, institutional investors are increasingly demanding a voice in corporate governance in some markets. Individual shareholders usually do not seek to exercise governance rights but may be highly concerned about obtaining fair treatment from controlling shareholders and management. Creditors play an important role in a number of governance systems and can serve as external monitors over corporate performance. Employees and other stakeholders play an important role in contributing to the long-term success and performance of the corporation, while governments establish the overall institutional and legal framework for corporate governance. The role of each of these participants and their interactions vary widely among OECD countries and among non- OECD countries as well. These relationships are subject, in part, to law and regulation and, in part, to voluntary adaptation and, most importantly, to market forces.
The degree to which corporations observe basic principles of good corporate governance is an increasingly important factor for investment decisions. Of particular relevance is the relation between corporate governance practices and the increasingly international character of investment. International flows of capital enable companies to access financing from a much larger pool of investors. If countries are to reap the full benefits of the global capital market, and if they are to attract long-term "patient" capital, corporate governance arrangements must be credible, well understood across borders and adhere to internationally accepted principles. Even if corporations do not rely primarily on foreign sources of capital, adherence to good corporate governance practices will help improve the confidence of domestic investors, reduce the cost of capital, underpin the good functioning of financial markets, and ultimately induce more stable sources of financing.
There is no single model of good corporate governance. However, work carried out in both OECD and non-OECD countries and within the Organisation has identified some common elements that underlie good corporate governance. The Principles build on these common elements and are formulated to embrace the different models that exist. For example, they do not advocate any particular board structure and the term "board" as used in this document is meant to embrace the different national models of board structures found in OECD and non-OECD countries. In the typical two tier system, found in some countries, "board" as used in the Principles refers to the "supervisory board" while "key executives" refers to the "management board". In systems where the unitary board is overseen by an internal auditor's body, the principles applicable to the board are also, mutatis mutandis, applicable. The terms "corporation" and "company" are used interchangeably in the text.
The Principles are non-binding and do not aim at detailed prescriptions for national legislation. Rather, they seek to identify objectives and suggest various means for achieving them. Their purpose is to serve as a reference point. They can be used by policy makers as they examine and develop the legal and regulatory frameworks for corporate governance that reflect their own economic, social, legal and cultural circumstances, and by market participants as they develop their own practices.
The Principles are evolutionary in nature and should be reviewed in light of significant changes in circumstances. To remain competitive in a changing world, corporations must innovate and adapt their corporate governance practices so that they can meet new demands and grasp new opportunities. Similarly, governments have an important responsibility for shaping an effective regulatory framework that provides for sufficient flexibility to allow markets to function effectively and to respond to expectations of shareholders and other stakeholders. It is up to governments and market participants to decide how to apply these Principles in developing their own frameworks for corporate governance, taking into account the costs and benefits of regulation.
The following document is divided into two parts. The Principles presented in the first part of the document cover the following areas: I) Ensuring the basis for an effective corporate governance framework; II) The rights of shareholders and key ownership functions; III) The equitable treatment of shareholders; IV) The role of stakeholders; V) Disclosure and transparency; and VI) The responsibilities of the board. Each of the sections is headed by a single Principle that appears in bold italics and is followed by a number of supporting sub-principles. In the second part of the document, the Principles are supplemented by annotations that contain commentary on the Principles and are intended to help readers understand their rationale. The annotations may also contain descriptions of dominant trends and offer alternative implementation methods and examples that may be useful in making the Principles operational.
- Shareholders should be furnished with sufficient and timely information concerning the date, location and agenda of general meetings, as well as full and timely information regarding the issues to be decided at the meeting.
- Shareholders should have the opportunity to ask questions to the board, including questions relating to the annual external audit, to place items on the agenda of general meetings, and to propose resolutions, subject to reasonable limitations.
- Effective shareholder participation in key corporate governance decisions, such as the nomination and election of board members, should be facilitated. Shareholders should be able to make their views known on the remuneration policy for board members and key executives. The equity component of compensation schemes for board members and employees should be subject to shareholder approval.
Ensuring the Basis for an Effective Corporate Governance Framework
The corporate governance framework should promote transparent and efficient markets, be consistent with the rule of law and clearly articulate the division of responsibilities among different supervisory, regulatory and enforcement authorities.
To ensure an effective corporate governance framework, it is necessary that an appropriate and effective legal, regulatory and institutional foundation is established upon which all market participants can rely in establishing their private contractual relations. This corporate governance framework typically comprises elements of legislation, regulation, selfregulatory arrangements, voluntary commitments and business practices that are the result of a country's specific circumstances, history and tradition. The desirable mix between legislation, regulation, self-regulation, voluntary standards, etc. in this area will therefore vary from country to country. As new experiences accrue and business circumstances change, the content and structure of this framework might need to be adjusted. Countries seeking to implement the Principles should monitor their corporate governance framework, including regulatory and listing requirements and business practices, with the objective of maintaining and strengthening its contribution to market integrity and economic performance. As part of this, it is important to take into account the interactions and complementarity between different elements of the corporate governance framework and its overall ability to promote ethical, responsible and transparent corporate governance practices. Such analysis should be viewed as an important tool in the process of developing an effective corporate governance framework. To this end, effective and continuous consultation with the public is an essential element that is widely regarded as good practice. Moreover, in developing a corporate governance framework in each jurisdiction, national legislators and regulators should duly consider the need for, and the results from, effective international dialogue and cooperation. If these conditions are met, the governance system is more likely to avoid over-regulation, support the exercise of entrepreneurship and limit the risks of damaging conflicts of interest in both the private sector and in public institutions.
The corporate governance framework should be developed with a view to its impact on overall economic performance, market integrity and the incentives it creates for market participants and the promotion of transparent and efficient markets.
The corporate form of organisation of economic activity is a powerful force for growth. The regulatory and legal environment within which corporations operate is therefore of key importance to overall economic outcomes. Policy makers have a responsibility to put in place a framework that is flexible enough to meet the needs of corporations operating in widely different circumstances, facilitating their development of new opportunities to create value and to determine the most efficient deployment of resources. To achieve this goal, policy makers should remain focussed on ultimate economic outcomes and when considering policy options, they will need to undertake an analysis of the impact on key variables that affect the functioning of markets, such as incentive structures, the efficiency of self-regulatory systems and dealing with systemic conflicts of interest. Transparent and efficient markets serve to discipline market participants and to promote accountability.
The legal and regulatory requirements that affect corporate governance practices in a jurisdiction should be consistent with the rule of law, transparent and enforceable.
If new laws and regulations are needed, such as to deal with clear cases of market imperfections, they should be designed in a way that makes them possible to implement and enforce in an efficient and even handed manner covering all parties. Consultation by government and other regulatory authorities with corporations, their representative organisations and other stakeholders, is an effective way of doing this. Mechanisms should also be established for parties to protect their rights. In order to avoid over-regulation, unenforceable laws, and unintended consequences that may impede or distort business dynamics, policy measures should be designed with a view to their overall costs and benefits. Such assessments should take into account the need for effective enforcement, including the ability of authorities to deter dishonest behaviour and to impose effective sanctions for violations. Corporate governance objectives are also formulated in voluntary codes and standards that do not have the status of law or regulation. While such codes play an important role in improving corporate governance arrangements, they might leave shareholders and other stakeholders with uncertainty concerning their status and implementation. When codes and principles are used as a national standard or as an explicit substitute for legal or regulatory provisions, market credibility requires that their status in terms of coverage, implementation, compliance and sanctions is clearly specified.
The division of responsibilities among different authorities in a jurisdiction should be clearly articulated and ensure that the public interest is served.
Corporate governance requirements and practices are typically influenced by an array of legal domains, such as company law, securities regulation, accounting and auditing standards, insolvency law, contract law, labour law and tax law. Under these circumstances, there is a risk that the variety of legal influences may cause unintentional overlaps and even conflicts, which may frustrate the ability to pursue key corporate governance objectives. It is important that policy-makers are aware of this risk and take measures to limit it. Effective enforcement also requires that the allocation of responsibilities for supervision, implementation and enforcement among different authorities is clearly defined so that the competencies of complementary bodies and agencies are respected and used most effectively. Overlapping and perhaps contradictory regulations between national jurisdictions is also an issue that should be monitored so that no regulatory vacuum is allowed to develop (i.e. issues slipping through in which no authority has explicit responsibility) and to minimise the cost of compliance with multiple systems by corporations. When regulatory responsibilities or oversight are delegated to non-public bodies, it is desirable to explicitly assess why, and under what circumstances, such delegation is desirable. It is also essential that the governance structure of any such delegated institution be transparent and encompass the public interest.
Supervisory, regulatory and enforcement authorities should have the authority, integrity and resources to fulfil their duties in a professional and objective manner. Moreover, their rulings should be timely, transparent and fully explained.
Regulatory responsibilities should be vested with bodies that can pursue their functions without conflicts of interest and that are subject to judicial review. As the number of public companies, corporate events and the volume of disclosures increase, the resources of supervisory, regulatory and enforcement authorities may come under strain. As a result, in order to follow developments, they will have a significant demand for fully qualified staff to provide effective oversight and investigative capacity which will need to be appropriately funded. The ability to attract staff on competitive terms will enhance the quality and independence of supervision and enforcement.
The Rights of Shareholders and Key Ownership Functions
The corporate governance framework should protect and facilitate the exercise of shareholders' rights.
Equity investors have certain property rights. For example, an equity share in a publicly traded company can be bought, sold, or transferred. An equity share also entitles the investor to participate in the profits of the corporation, with liability limited to the amount of the investment. In addition, ownership of an equity share provides a right to information about the corporation and a right to influence the corporation, primarily by participation in general shareholder meetings and by voting. As a practical matter, however, the corporation cannot be managed by shareholder referendum. The shareholding body is made up of individuals and institutions whose interests, goals, investment horizons and capabilities vary. Moreover, the corporation's management must be able to take business decisions rapidly. In light of these realities and the complexity of managing the corporation's affairs in fast moving and ever changing markets, shareholders are not expected to assume responsibility for managing corporate activities. The responsibility for corporate strategy and operations is typically placed in the hands of the board and a management team that is selected, motivated and, when necessary, replaced by the board. Shareholders' rights to influence the corporation centre on certain fundamental issues, such as the election of board members, or other means of influencing the composition of the board, amendments to the company's organic documents, approval of extraordinary transactions, and other basic issues as specified in company law and internal company statutes. This Section can be seen as a statement of the most basic rights of shareholders, which are recognised by law in virtually all OECD countries. Additional rights such as the approval or election of auditors, direct nomination of board members, the ability to pledge shares, the approval of distributions of profits, etc., can be found in various jurisdictions.
Basic shareholder rights should include the right to: 1) secure methods of ownership registration; 2) convey or transfer shares; 3) obtain relevant and material information on the corporation on a timely and regular basis; 4) participate and vote in general shareholder meetings; 5) elect and remove members of the board; and 6) share in the profits of the corporation.
Shareholders should have the right to participate in, and to be sufficiently informed on, decisions concerning fundamental corporate changes such as: 1) amendments to the statutes, or articles of incorporation or similar governing documents of the company; 2) the authorisation of additional shares; and 3) extraordinary transactions, including the transfer of all or substantially all assets, that in effect result in the sale of the company.
The ability of companies to form partnerships and related companies and to transfer operational assets, cash flow rights and other rights and obligations to them is important for business flexibility and for delegating accountability in complex organisations. It also allows a company to divest itself of operational assets and to become only a holding company. However, without appropriate checks and balances such possibilities may also be abused.
Shareholders should have the opportunity to participate effectively and vote in general shareholder meetings and should be informed of the rules, including voting procedures, that govern general shareholder meetings:
- Shareholders should be furnished with sufficient and timely information concerning the date, location and agenda of general meetings, as well as full and timely information regarding the issues to be decided at the meeting.
- Shareholders should have the opportunity to ask questions to the board, including questions relating to the annual external audit, to place items on the agenda of general meetings, and to propose esolutions, subject to reasonable limitations.
In order to encourage shareholder participation in general meetings, some companies have improved the ability of shareholders to place items on the agenda by simplifying the process of filing amendments and resolutions.Improvements have also been made in order to make it easier for shareholders to submit questions in advance of the general meeting and to obtain replies from management and board members. Shareholders should also be able to ask questions relating to the external audit report. Companies are justified in assuring that abuses of such opportunities do not occur. It is reasonable, for example, to require that in order for shareholder resolutions to be placed on the agenda, they need to be supported by shareholders holding a specified market value or percentage of shares or voting rights. This threshold should be determined taking into account the degree of ownership concentration, in order to ensure that minority shareholders are not effectively prevented from putting any items on the agenda. Shareholder resolutions that are approved and fall within the competence of the shareholders' meeting should be addressed by the board.
Effective shareholder participation in key corporate governance decisions, such as the nomination and election of board members, should be facilitated. Shareholders should be able to make their views known on the remuneration policy for board members and key executives. The equity component of compensation schemes for board members and employees should be subject to shareholder approval.
To elect the members of the board is a basic shareholder right. For the election process to be effective, shareholders should be able to participate in the nomination of board members and vote on individual nominees or on different lists of them. To this end, shareholders have access in a number of countries to the company's proxy materials which are sent to shareholders, although sometimes subject to conditions to prevent abuse. With respect to nomination of candidates, boards in many companies have established nomination committees to ensure proper compliance with established nomination procedures and to facilitate and coordinate the search for a balanced and qualified board. It is increasingly regarded as good practice in many countries for independent board members to have a key role on this committee. To further improve the selection process, the Principles also call for full disclosure of the experience and background of candidates for the board and the nomination process, which will allow an informed assessment of the abilities and suitability of each candidate. The Principles call for the disclosure of remuneration policy by the board. In particular, it is important for shareholders to know the specific link between remuneration and company performance when they assess the capability of the board and the qualities they should seek in nominees for the board. Although board and executive contracts are not an appropriate subject for approval by the general meeting of shareholders, there should be a means by which they can express their views. Several countries have introduced an advisory vote which conveys the strength and tone of shareholder sentiment to the board without endangering employment contracts. In the case of equity-based schemes, their potential to dilute shareholders' capital and to powerfully determine managerial incentives means that they should be approved by shareholders, either for individuals or for the policy of the scheme as a whole. In an increasing number of jurisdictions, any material changes to existing schemes must also be approved.
Shareholders should be able to vote in person or in absentia, and equal effect should be given to votes whether cast in person or in absentia.
The Principles recommend that voting by proxy be generally accepted. Indeed, it is important to the promotion and protection of shareholder rights that investors can place reliance upon directed proxy voting. The corporate governance framework should ensure that proxies are voted in accordance with the direction of the proxy holder and that disclosure is provided in relation to how undirected proxies will be voted. In those jurisdictions where companies are allowed to obtain proxies, it is important to disclose how the Chairperson of the meeting (as the usual recipient of shareholder proxies obtained by the company) will exercise the voting rights attaching to undirected proxies. Where proxies are held by the board or management for company pension funds and for employee stock ownership plans, the directions for voting should be disclosed. The objective of facilitating shareholder participation suggests that companies consider favourably the enlarged use of information technology in voting, including secure electronic voting in absentia.
Capital structures and arrangements that enable certain shareholders to obtain a degree of control disproportionate to their equity ownership should be disclosed.
Some capital structures allow a shareholder to exercise a degree of control over the corporation disproportionate to the shareholders' equity ownership in the company. Pyramid structures, cross hareholdings and shares with limited or multiple voting rights can be used to diminish the capability of noncontrolling shareholders to influence corporate policy. In addition to ownership relations, other devices can affect control over the corporation. Shareholder agreements are a common means for groups of shareholders, who individually may hold relatively small shares of total equity, to act in concert so as to constitute an effective majority, or at least the largest single block of shareholders. Shareholder agreements usually give those participating in the agreements preferential rights to purchase shares if other parties to the agreement wish to sell. These agreements can also contain provisions that require those accepting the agreement not to sell their shares for a specified time. Shareholder agreements can cover issues such as how the board or the Chairman will be selected. The agreements can also oblige those in the agreement to vote as a block. Some countries have found it necessary to closely monitor such agreements and to limit their duration. Voting caps limit the number of votes that a shareholder may cast, regardless of the number of shares the shareholder may actually possess. Voting caps therefore redistribute control and may affect the incentives for shareholder participation in shareholder meetings. Given the capacity of these mechanisms to redistribute the influence of shareholders on company policy, shareholders can reasonably expect that all such capital structures and arrangements be disclosed.
Markets for corporate control should be allowed to function in an efficient and transparent manner.
- The rules and procedures governing the acquisition of corporate control in the capital markets, and extraordinary transactions such as mergers, and sales of substantial portions of corporate assets, should be clearly articulated and disclosed so that investors understand their rights and recourse. Transactions should occur at transparent prices and under fair conditions that protect the rights of all shareholders according to their class.
- Anti-take-over devices should not be used to shield management and the board from accountability.
In some countries, companies employ anti-take-over devices. However, both investors and stock exchanges have expressed concern over the possibility that widespread use of anti-take-over devices may be a serious impediment to the functioning of the market for corporate control. In some instances, take-over defences can simply be devices to shield the management or the board from shareholder monitoring. In implementing any anti-takeover devices and in dealing with take-over proposals, the fiduciary duty of the board to shareholders and the company must remain paramount.
The exercise of ownership rights by all shareholders, including institutional investors, should be facilitated.
As investors may pursue different investment objectives, the Principles do not advocate any particular investment strategy and do not seek to prescribe the optimal degree of investor activism. Nevertheless, in considering the costs and benefits of exercising their ownership rights, many investors are likely to conclude that positive financial returns and growth can be obtained by undertaking a reasonable amount of analysis and by using their rights.
Institutional investors acting in a fiduciary capacity should disclose their overall corporate overnance and voting policies with respect to their investments, including the procedures that they have in place for deciding on the use of their voting rights.
It is increasingly common for shares to be held by institutional investors. The effectiveness and credibility of the entire corporate governance system and company oversight will, therefore, to a large extent depend on institutional investors that can make informed use of their shareholder rights and effectively exercise their ownership functions in companies in which they invest. While this principle does not require institutional investors to vote their shares, it calls for disclosure of how they exercise their ownership rights with due consideration to cost effectiveness. For institutions acting in a fiduciary capacity, such as pension funds, collective investment schemes and some activities of insurance companies, the right to vote can be considered part of the value of the investment being undertaken on behalf of their clients. Failure to exercise the ownership rights could result in a loss to the investor who should therefore be made aware of the policy to be followed by the institutional investors. In some countries, the demand for disclosure of corporate overnance policies to the market is quite detailed and includes requirements for explicit strategies regarding the circumstances in which the institution will intervene in a company; the approach they will use for such intervention; and how they will assess the effectiveness of the strategy. In several countries institutional investors are either required to disclose their actual voting records or it is regarded as good practice and implemented on an "apply or explain" basis. Disclosure is either to their clients (only with respect to the securities of each client) or, in the case of investment advisors to registered investment companies, to the market, which is a less costly procedure. A complementary approach to participation in shareholders' meetings is to establish a continuing dialogue with portfolio companies. Such a dialogue between institutional investors and companies should be encouraged, especially by lifting unnecessary regulatory barriers, although it is incumbent on the company to treat all investors equally and not to divulge information to the institutional investors which is not at the same time made available to the market. The additional information provided by a company would normally therefore include general background information about the markets in which the company is operating and further elaboration of information already available to the market.When fiduciary institutional investors have developed and disclosed a corporate governance policy, effective implementation requires that they also set aside the appropriate human and financial resources to pursue this policy in a way that their beneficiaries and portfolio companies can expect.
Institutional investors acting in a fiduciary capacity should disclose how they manage material onflicts of interest that may affect the exercise of key ownership rights regarding their investments.
The incentives for intermediary owners to vote their shares and exercise key ownership functions may, under certain circumstances, differ from those of direct owners. Such differences may sometimes be commercially sound but may also arise from conflicts of interest which are particularly acute when the fiduciary institution is a subsidiary or an affiliate of another financial institution, and especially an integrated financial group. When such conflicts arise from material business relationships, for example, through an agreement to manage the portfolio company's funds, such conflicts should be identified and disclosed. At the same time, institutions should disclose what actions they are taking to minimise the potentially negative impact on their ability to exercise key ownership rights. Such actions may include the separation of bonuses for fund management from those related to the acquisition of new business elsewhere in the organisation.
Shareholders, including institutional shareholders, should be allowed to consult with each other on issues concerning their basic shareholder rights as defined in the Principles, subject to exceptions to prevent abuse.
It has long been recognised that in companies with dispersed ownership, individual shareholders might have too small a stake in the company to warrant the cost of taking action or for making an investment in monitoring performance. Moreover, if small shareholders did invest resources in such activities, others would also gain without having contributed (i.e. they are "free riders"). This effect, which serves to lower incentives for monitoring, is probably less of a problem for institutions, particularly financial institutions acting in a fiduciary capacity, in deciding whether to increase their ownership to a significant stake in individual companies, or to rather simply diversify. However, other costs with regard to holding a significant stake might still be high. In many instances institutional investors are prevented from doing this because it is beyond their capacity or would require investing more of their assets in one company than may be prudent. To overcome this asymmetry which favours diversification, they should be allowed, and even encouraged, to co-operate and co-ordinate their actions in nominating and electing board members, placing proposals on the agenda and holding discussions directly with a company in order to improve its corporate governance. More generally, shareholders should be allowed to communicate with each other without having to comply with the formalities of proxy solicitation. It must be recognised, however, that co-operation among investors could also be used to manipulate markets and to obtain control over a company without being subject to any takeover regulations. Moreover, co-operation might also be for the purposes of circumventing competition law. For this reason, in some countries, the ability of institutional investors to co-operate on their voting strategy is either limited or prohibited. Shareholder agreements may also be closely monitored. However, if co-operation does not involve issues of corporate control, or conflict with concerns about market efficiency and fairness, the benefits of more effective ownership may still be obtained. Necessary disclosure of co-operation among investors, institutional or otherwise, may have to be accompanied by provisions which prevent trading for a period so as to avoid the possibility of market manipulation.
The Equitable Treatment of Shareholders
The corporate governance framework should ensure the equitable treatment of all shareholders, including minority and foreign shareholders. All shareholders should have the opportunity to obtain effective redress for violation of their rights.
Investors' confidence that the capital they provide will be protected from misuse or misappropriation by corporate managers, board members or controlling shareholders is an important factor in the capital markets. Corporate boards, managers and controlling shareholders may have the opportunity to engage in activities that may advance their own interests at the expense of non-controlling shareholders. In providing protection to investors, a distinction can usefully be made between ex-ante and ex-post shareholder rights. Ex-ante rights are, for example, pre-emptive rights and qualified majorities for certain decisions. Ex-post rights allow the seeking of redress once rights have been violated. In jurisdictions where the enforcement of the legal and regulatory framework is weak, some countries have found it desirable to strengthen the ex-ante rights of shareholders such as by low share ownership thresholds for placing items on the agenda of the shareholders meeting or by requiring a supermajority of shareholders for certain important decisions. The Principles support equal treatment for foreign and domestic shareholders in corporate governance. They do not address government policies to regulate foreign direct investment. One of the ways in which shareholders can enforce their rights is to be able to initiate legal and administrative proceedings against management and board members. Experience has shown that an important determinant of the degree to which shareholder rights are protected is whether effective methods exist to obtain redress for grievances at a reasonable cost and without excessive delay. The confidence of minority investors is enhanced when the legal system provides mechanisms for minority shareholders to bring lawsuits when they have reasonable grounds to believe that their rights have been violated. The provision of such enforcement mechanisms is a key responsibility of legislators and regulators. There is some risk that a legal system, which enables any investor to challenge corporate activity in the courts, can become prone to excessive litigation. Thus, many legal systems have introduced provisions to protect management and board members against litigation abuse in the form of tests for the sufficiency of shareholder complaints, so-called safe harbours for management and board member actions (such as the business judgement rule) as well as safe harbours for the disclosure of information. In the end, a balance must be struck between allowing investors to seek remedies for infringement of ownership rights and avoiding excessive litigation. Many countries have found that alternative adjudication procedures, such as administrative hearings or arbitration procedures organised by the securities regulators or other regulatory bodies, are an efficient method for dispute settlement, at least at the first instance level.
All shareholders of the same series of a class should be treated equally.
Within any series of a class, all shares should carry the same rights. All investors should be able to obtain information about the rights attached to all series and classes of shares before they purchase. Any changes in voting rights should be subject to approval by those classes of shares which are negatively affected.
The optimal capital structure of the firm is best decided by the management and the board, subject to the approval of the shareholders. Some companies issue preferred (or preference) shares which have a preference in respect of receipt of the profits of the firm but which normally have no voting rights. Companies may also issue participation certificates or shares without voting rights, which would presumably trade at different prices than shares with voting rights. All of these structures may be effective in distributing risk and reward in ways that are thought to be in the best interests of the company and to cost-efficient financing. The Principles do not take a position on the concept of "one share one vote". However, many institutional investors and shareholder associations support this concept. Investors can expect to be informed regarding their voting rights before they invest. Once they have invested, their rights should not be changed unless those holding voting shares have had the opportunity to participate in the decision. Proposals to change the voting rights of different series and classes of shares should be submitted for approval at general shareholders meetings by a specified majority of voting shares in the affected categories.
Minority shareholders should be protected from abusive actions by, or in the interest of, controlling shareholders acting either directly or indirectly, and should have effective means of redress.
Many publicly traded companies have a large controlling shareholder. While the presence of a controlling shareholder can reduce the agency problem by closer monitoring of management, weaknesses in the legal and regulatory framework may lead to the abuse of other shareholders in the company. The potential for abuse is marked where the legal system allows, and the market accepts, controlling shareholders to exercise a level of control which does not correspond to the level of risk that they assume as owners through exploiting legal devices to separate ownership from control, such as pyramid structures or multiple voting rights. Such abuse may be carried out in various ways, including the extraction of direct private benefits via high pay and bonuses for employed family members and associates, inappropriate related party transactions, systematic bias in business decisions and changes in the capital structure through special issuance of shares favouring the controlling shareholder. In addition to disclosure, a key to protecting minority shareholders is a clearly articulated duty of loyalty by board members to the company and to all shareholders. Indeed, abuse of minority shareholders is most pronounced in those countries where the legal and regulatory framework is weak in this regard. A particular issue arises in some jurisdictions where groups of companies are prevalent and where the duty of loyalty of a board member might be ambiguous and even interpreted as to the group. In these cases, some countries are now moving to control negative effects by specifying that a transaction in favour of another group company must be offset by receiving a corresponding benefit from other companies of the group. Other common provisions to protect minority shareholders, which have proven effective, include pre-emptive rights in relation to share issues, qualified majorities for certain shareholder decisions and the possibility to use cumulative voting in electing members of the board. Under certain circumstances, some jurisdictions require or permit controlling shareholders to buy-out the remaining shareholders at a share-price that is established through an independent appraisal. This is particularly important when controlling shareholders decide to de-list an enterprise. Other means of improving minority shareholder rights include derivative and class action law suits. With the common aim of improving market credibility, the choice and ultimate design of different provisions to protect minority shareholders necessarily depends on the overall regulatory framework and the national legal system.
Votes should be cast by custodians or nominees in a manner agreed upon with the beneficial owner of the shares.
In some OECD countries it was customary for financial institutions which held shares in custody for investors to cast the votes of those shares. Custodians such as banks and brokerage firms holding securities as nominees for customers were sometimes required to vote in support of management unless specifically instructed by the shareholder to do otherwise. The trend in OECD countries is to remove provisions that automatically enable custodian institutions to cast the votes of shareholders. Rules in some countries have recently been revised to require custodian institutions to provide shareholders with information concerning their options in the use of their voting rights. Shareholders may elect to delegate all voting rights to custodians. Alternatively, shareholders may choose to be informed of all upcoming shareholder votes and may decide to cast some votes while delegating some voting rights to the custodian. It is necessary to draw a reasonable balance between assuring that shareholder votes are not cast by custodians without regard for the wishes of shareholders and not imposing excessive burdens on custodians to secure shareholder approval before casting votes. It is sufficient to disclose to the shareholders that, if no instruction to the contrary is received, the custodian will vote the shares in the way it deems consistent with shareholder interest. It should be noted that this principle does not apply to the exercise of voting rights by trustees or other persons acting under a special legal mandate (such as, for example, bankruptcy receivers and estate executors). Holders of depository receipts should be provided with the same ultimate rights and practical opportunities to participate in corporate governance as are accorded to holders of the underlying shares. Where the direct holders of shares may use proxies, the depositary, trust office or equivalent body should therefore issue proxies on a timely basis to depository receipt holders. The depository receipt holders should be able to issue binding voting instructions with respect to the shares, which the depositary or trust office holds on their behalf.
Impediments to cross border voting should be eliminated.
Foreign investors often hold their shares through chains of intermediaries. Shares are typically held in accounts with securities intermediaries, that in turn hold accounts with other intermediaries and central securities depositories in other jurisdictions, while the listed company resides in a third country. Such cross-border chains cause special challenges with respect to determining the entitlement of foreign investors to use their voting rights, and the process of communicating with such investors. In combination with business practices which provide only a very short notice period, shareholders are often left with only very limited time to react to a convening notice by the company and to make informed decisions concerning items for decision. This makes cross border voting difficult. The legal and regulatory framework should clarify who is entitled to control the voting rights in cross border situations and where necessary to simplify the depository chain. Moreover, notice periods should ensure that foreign investors in effect have similar opportunities to exercise their ownership functions as domestic investors. To further facilitate voting by foreign investors, laws, regulations and corporate practices should allow participation through means which make use of modern technology.
Processes and procedures for general shareholder meetings should allow for equitable treatment of all shareholders. Company procedures should not make it unduly difficult or expensive to cast votes.
The right to participate in general shareholder meetings is a fundamental shareholder right. Management and controlling investors have at times sought to discourage non-controlling or foreign investors from trying to influence the direction of the company. Some companies have charged fees for voting. Other impediments included prohibitions on proxy voting and the requirement of personal attendance at general shareholder meetings to vote. Still other procedures may make it practically impossible to exercise ownership rights. Proxy materials may be sent too close to the time of general shareholder meetings to allow investors adequate time for reflection and consultation. Many companies in OECD countries are seeking to develop better channels of communication and decision-making with shareholders. Efforts by companies to remove artificial barriers to participation in general meetings are encouraged and the corporate governance framework should facilitate the use of electronic voting in absentia.
Insider trading and abusive self-dealing should be prohibited.
Abusive self-dealing occurs when persons having close relationships to the company, including controlling shareholders, exploit those relationships to the detriment of the company and investors. As insider trading entails manipulation of the capital markets, it is prohibited by securities regulations, company law and/or criminal law in most OECD countries. However, not all jurisdictions prohibit such practices, and in some cases enforcement is not vigorous. These practices can be seen as constituting a breach of good corporate governance inasmuch as they violate the principle of equitable treatment of shareholders. The Principles reaffirm that it is reasonable for investors to expect that the abuse of insider power be prohibited. In cases where such abuses are not specifically forbidden by legislation or where enforcement is not effective, it will be important for governments to take measures to remove any such gaps.
Members of the board and key executives should be required to disclose to the board whether they, directly, indirectly or on behalf of third parties, have a material interest in any transaction or matter directly affecting the corporation.
Members of the board and key executives have an obligation to inform the board where they have a business, family or other special relationship outside of the company that could affect their judgement with respect to a particular transaction or matter affecting the company. Such special relationships include situations where executives and board members have a relationship with the company via their association with a shareholder who is in a position to exercise control. Where a material interest has been declared, it is good practice for that person not to be involved in any decision involving the transaction or matter.
The Role of Stakeholders in Corporate Governance
The corporate governance framework should recognise the rights of stakeholders established by law or through mutual agreements and encourage active co-operation between corporations andstakeholders in creating wealth, jobs, and the sustainability of financially sound enterprises.
A key aspect of corporate governance is concerned with ensuring the flow of external capital to companies both in the form of equity and credit. Corporate governance is also concerned with finding ways to encourage the various stakeholders in the firm to undertake economically optimal levels of investment in firm-specific human and physical capital. The competitiveness and ultimate success of a corporation is the result of teamwork that embodies contributions from a range of different resource providers including investors, employees, creditors, and suppliers. Corporations should recognise that the contributions of stakeholders constitute a valuable resource for building competitive and profitable companies. It is, therefore, in the long-term interest of corporations to foster wealth-creating cooperation among stakeholders. The governance framework should recognize that the interests of the corporation are served by recognising the interests of stakeholders and their contribution to the long-term success of the corporation.
The rights of stakeholders that are established by law or through mutual agreements are to be respected.
In all OECD countries, the rights of stakeholders are established by law (e.g. labour, business, commercial and insolvency laws) or by contractual relations. Even in areas where stakeholder interests are not legislated, many firms make additional commitments to stakeholders, and concern over corporate reputation and corporate performance often requires the recognition of broader interests.
Where stakeholder interests are protected by law, stakeholders should have the opportunity to obtain effective redress for violation of their rights.
The legal framework and process should be transparent and not impede the ability of stakeholders to communicate and to obtain redress for the violation of rights.
Performance-enhancing mechanisms for employee participation should be permitted to develop.
The degree to which employees participate in corporate governance depends on national laws and practices, and may vary from company to company as well. In the context of corporate governance, performance enhancing mechanisms for participation may benefit companies directly as well as indirectly through the readiness by employees to invest in firm specific skills. Examples of mechanisms for employee participation include: employee representation on boards; and governance processes such as works councils that consider employee viewpoints in certain key decisions. With respect to performance enhancing mechanisms, employee stock ownership plans or other profit sharing mechanisms are to be found in many countries. Pension commitments are also often an element of the relationship between the company and its past and present employees. Where such commitments involve establishing an independent fund, its trustees should be independent of the company's management and manage the fund for all beneficiaries.
Where stakeholders participate in the corporate governance process, they should have access to relevant, sufficient and reliable information on a timely and regular basis.
Where laws and practice of corporate governance systems provide for participation by stakeholders, it is important that stakeholders have access to information necessary to fulfil their responsibilities.
Stakeholders, including individual employees and their representative bodies, should be able to freely communicate their concerns about illegal or unethical practices to the board and their rights should not be compromised for doing this.
Unethical and illegal practices by corporate officers may not only violate the rights of stakeholders but also be to the detriment of the company and its shareholders in terms of reputation effects and an increasing risk of future financial liabilities. It is therefore to the advantage of the company and its shareholders to establish procedures and safe-harbours for complaints by employees, either personally or through their representative bodies, and others outside the company, concerning illegal and unethical behaviour. In many countries the board is being encouraged by laws and or principles to protect these individuals and representative bodies and to give them confidential direct access to someone independent on the board, often a member of an audit or an ethics committee. Some companies have established an ombudsman to deal with complaints. Several regulators have also established confidential phone and e-mail facilities to receive allegations. While in certain countries representative employee bodies undertake the tasks of conveying concerns to the company, individual employees should not be precluded from, or be less protected, when acting alone. When there is an inadequate response to a complaint regarding contravention of the law, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises encourage them to report their bona fide complaint to the competent public authorities. The company should refrain from discriminatory or disciplinary actions against such employees or bodies.
The corporate governance framework should be complemented by an effective, efficient insolvency framework and by effective enforcement of creditor rights.
Especially in emerging markets, creditors are a key stakeholder and the terms, volume and type of credit extended to firms will depend importantly on their rights and on their enforceability. Companies with a good corporate governance record are often able to borrow larger sums and on more favourable terms than those with poor records or which operate in nontranspare
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