Duty Before Virtue: The Real Ethical Dilemma Facing Corporate Governance

Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever NV, considers himself a hardcore capitalist. A label many in the corporate governance community find hard to believe given his stance against the mantra of maximizing shareholder value: “I don’t think our duty is to put shareholders first. I say the opposite”. The Dutchman is convinced that something is rotten: “Capitalism in its current form is broken… The very essence of capitalism is under threat as business is now seen as a personal wealth accumulator…. if you go back to Adam Smith, his thoughts were that capitalism was intended for the greater good”. Since Polman’s appointment, the Anglo-Dutch company has ended quarterly reporting, refused to pander to analysts, doubled capital spending, increased R&D, reduced the number of hedge funds in its shareholder base by half and, according to its CEO treats people, such as their 75,000 small hold tea farmers, fairly.

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