The moral responsibilities of stockholders

Journal of Business Ethics 5 (5):385 - 390 (1986)

Abstract

This paper attempts to address the question of the ethical obligations of stockholders. Having presumed a rather narrow conception of the nature of property, and citing the limitations on stockholders rights and/or power, some have suggested that stockholders have no significant moral responsibilities. Others say that stockholders have moral responsibilities which they derive from the fact that the shareholders of a corporation are the legal owners of it. This article first of all, contests the view that stockholders have no responsibilities regarding the moral or immoral activities of the corporation in which they invest. It will be maintained, however, that while stockholders have moral responsibilities to monitor corporate decisions and perhaps, to actively try to influence the corporation to act morally, such ethical obligations cannot be derived solely from the stockholders' legal ownership of the corporation. The true ground of the moral obligations of stockholders is a social/political one and one which embraces a broadened conception of the nature of property.

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