“Shareholders increasingly have a social responsibility, as does the government"


Political philosopher Prof. Rutger Claassen shared his expertise on corporate social responsibility with the Standing Committee on Finance on 15 November 2021. In his plea and accompanying position paper, he argues that shareholders of all companies increasingly have a social responsibility, as does the government.

The roundtable discussion was prompted by the Ministry's annual report on state participations. State participations are those companies of which the government is a shareholder, such as Schiphol Airport, KLM, the Gasunie and ABN Amro (temporarily, since 2008). Each year, the Ministry publishes an annual report and the  Kamer debates it. Claassen: “Recently, the annual report also started to focus on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) of state participations. The Tweede Kamer Finance Committee invited six experts to attend the 'expert session' in order to gain more knowledge prior to the debate with the Minister.”

Role of companies from a philosophical perspective

Claassen often writes about the role of corporations in our society from a philosophical perspective. For example, he wrote a background study for the WRR on various theories that have been used over time to assess the legitimacy of companies. And in De Groene Amsterdammer, he wrote about companies that take a stand in socially controversial issues. 

Shareholders and social responsibility

In the position paper he wrote in preparation for the meeting, Claassen emphasised that shareholders of all companies increasingly have a social responsibility. “They should not only use their vote in the Shareholders' Meeting to secure their financial objectives. They should also look at the ecological and social impact of their company. This also applies when the government is a shareholder. But in addition, state-owned companies were once started because there was a specific public interest. Think of KLM and Schiphol Airport. The public interest there is defined as the network function (hub), the accessibility of the Netherlands. That was the reason for the State to become a shareholder. Now the question arises: how does that relate to CSR objectives, such as climate reduction?”

Field of tension

According to the professor, the government is operating in an area of tension between profit objective, public objective and CSR objectives. Claassen recommends integrating CSR more into the process and ensuring greater transparency. He also argues in favour of experimenting with more stakeholder participation: “giving a voice to all the parties involved in the company.”

The debate with the Minister will take place next week. The interview with Claassen can be watched via debatgemist.nl.