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This article explores the rising tension between shareholder and director power in the common law world. First the article analyzes key arguments in the shareholder empowerment debate, and current US reform proposals to grant shareholders stronger rights, from a comparative corporate law perspective, examining how traditional US legal rules diverge from other common law jurisdictions. Secondly, the article discusses power shifts in the opposite direction – namely toward the board – in some parts of the common law world.

The article shows that US shareholders have traditionally had unusually restricted rights compared to their counterparts in common law jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom and Australia. It challenges a number of arguments supporting the traditional US approach, by showing that the arguments are often US-specific, and are less persuasive from a comparative corporate governance perspective. The article also identifies an important tension between legal rules designed to enhance shareholder power, and commercial practices designed to subvert it. It shows how strategic commercial responses to regulation can affect the operation of legal rules. The existence of commercial pushback of this kind suggests that, even if US shareholder powers are significantly strengthened, that will by no means be the end of the story.



Published in

Corporate Governance: An International Review
Vol. 18, pp. 344-359, 2010

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