‘Stakeholder Capitalism’ opens the door to political discrimination

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Much of the coverage around my private member’s Bill C-257 has focused on the degree to which it responds to the events surrounding the convoy movement and the use of the Federal Emergencies Act. Bill C-257 proposes to add “political belief and activity” as prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act, and I tabled the bill at a time when concerns were being raised about the inconsistent response of the federal government to protests, depending on whether or not the government agreed with the protestors’ objectives.

But while events in Ottawa were a natural immediate trigger of conversation about political discrimination, my bill seeks to respond to a series of concerns that are broader and longer standing.

The genesis for me proposing Bill C-257 is more general concern about the rise and possible application of so-called “Stakeholder Capitalism.” Stakeholder Capitalism is the idea that we should create an economic system in which companies seek to maximize value for all “stakeholders,” instead of just for their own shareholders.

On the face of it, the idea that companies should concern themselves with the social good instead of just their own bottom line is intuitively appealing to many people. The Stakeholder Capitalism concept has been advanced and defended by such prominent people as Klaus Schwab (Stakeholder Capitalism is the title of his latest book) and Mark Carney (who’s book Value(s) emphasizes similar themes).

A good critique of Stakeholder Capitalism is the book Woke, Inc. by tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. Ramaswamy argues that companies who purport to be maximizing value for all are often doing so insincerely and to advance their own interests. Most corporations who are saying “Black Lives Matter” are not saying the same about Uyghur lives. Mark Carney has himself faced criticism for making and then walking back the highly dubious claim that the half-trillion-dollar asset management firm where he works is “net zero.”

Clearly many companies who claim to care about certain values do not actually care about them in practice, but Ramaswamy’s critique goes beyond just hypocrisy. He argues that, even when practiced sincerely, Stakeholder Capitalism gives too much power to corporations. Large companies using their power to push particular ideas about the common good are claiming an outsized role in debates about common values. Decisions about the goods that a society pursues should be made through democratic competition and debate, not through corporate-directed “stakeholder consultations” that perpetuate corporate interests and power. The goods that a society prioritizes should be selected on a “one person one vote” basis, not a “one share, one vote” basis. Even the most generous-hearted corporations necessarily reflect the power of shareholders and management to aggregate stakeholder feedback and make decision. A society in which large corporations identify stakeholder values and then push those values is functionally much less democratic than a society in which collective social priorities are identified through open and transparent democratic debate.

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