Research Handbook on the History of Corporate and Company Law
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Research Handbook on the History of Corporate and Company Law

Edited by Harwell Wells

Understanding the corporation means understanding its legal framework, but until recently the origins and evolution of corporate law have received relatively little attention. The topical chapters featured in this Research Handbook, contributed by leading scholars from around the world, examine the historical development of corporation and business organization law in the Americas, Europe, and Asia from the ancient world to modern times, providing an invaluable resource for both further historical research and scholars seeking the origins of present-day issues.
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Chapter 6: Shareholder primacy, labour and the historic ambivalence of UK company law

Marc T. Moore


Chapter 6 focuses more tightly on a particular aspect of UK company law, the widely accepted generalization that, in contrast to many other jurisdictions. UK company law has always given primacy to shareholders. While not disagreeing with this generalization—indeed, the author, Marc Moore, shows the collection of legal rules and principles that tend to establish it today—he argues that this primacy has been more contested than is recognized. Across the twentieth century there has been a good deal of ‘doctrinal and ideological turbulence’ in UK company law concerning who the corporation should chiefly serve. In the 1970s the UK even came close to adopting an ‘industrial democracy’ approach which would have provided for employees representation on large companies’ boards—an approach thwarted, in part, by labour’s belief that it was better protected outside the corporate governance mechanism. Thus, while present UK law may embody a shareholder primacy stance, that stance has not always fitted in with the nation’s broader social and political currents, and could still prove vulnerable to the consequences of economic and demographic changes.

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