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Varieties of Capitalism and the Learning Firm: Corporate Governance and Labour in the Context of Contemporary Developments in European and German Company Law


  • Peer Zumbansen


Research in corporate governance and in labour law has been characterized by a disjuncture in the way that scholars in each field are addressing organizational questions related to the business enterprise. While labour has eventually begun to shift perspectives from aspirations to direct employee involvement in firm management, as has been the case in Germany, to a combination of 'exit' and 'voice' strategies involving pension fund management and securities litigation, it remains to be seen whether this new stream will unfold as a viable challenge to an otherwise exclusionary shareholder value paradigm. At the same time, recent suggestions made by Delaware Chancery Court Vice Chancellor Strine, to dare think about potentially shared commitments between management and labour - and UCLA's Stephen Bainbridge's response - underline the viability - and, the contestedness - of attempts at moving the corporate governance debate beyond the confines of corporate law proper. While such a wider view had already famously been encouraged by Dean Clarke in his 1986 treatise on Corporate Law (p. 32), mainstream corporate law does not seem to have endorsed this perspective. This paper takes the questionable divide between management and labour within the framework of a limiting corporate governance concept as starting point to explore the institutional dynamics of the corporation, hereby building on the theory of the innovative enterprise, as developed by management theorists Mary O'Sullivan and William Lazonick. Largely due to the sustained distance between corporate and labour law scholars, neither group has effectively addressed their common blind spot: a better understanding of the business enterprise itself. In midst of an unceasing flow of affirmations of the finance paradigm of the corporation on the one hand and 'voice' strategies by labour on the other, it seems to fall to management theorists to draw lessons from the continuing co-existence of different forms of market organization, in which companies appear to thrive. Exploring the conundrum of 'risky' business decisions within the firm, management theorists have been arguing for the need to adopt a more sophisticated organizational perspective on companies operating on locally, regionally and transnationally shaped, often highly volatile market segments. Research by comparative political economists has revealed a high degree of connectivity between corporate governance and economic performance without, however, arriving at such favourable results only for shareholder value regimes. Such findings support the view that corporate governance regimes are embedded in differently shaped regulatory frameworks, characterized by distinct institutions, both formal and informal, and enforcement processes. As a result of these findings, arguments to disassociate issues of corporate governance from those of the firm's (social) responsibility [CSR] have been losing ground. Instead, CSR can be taken to be an essential part of understanding a particular business enterprise. It is the merging of a comparative political economy perspective on the corporation with one on the organizational features, structures and processes of the corporation, which can help us better understand the distribution of power and knowledge within the 'learning firm'.

Suggested Citation

  • Peer Zumbansen, 2007. "Varieties of Capitalism and the Learning Firm: Corporate Governance and Labour in the Context of Contemporary Developments in European and German Company Law," Working Papers wp347, Centre for Business Research, University of Cambridge.
  • Handle: RePEc:cbr:cbrwps:wp347
    Note: PRO-2

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    Corporate Governance; organizational theory; innovative enterprise; learning firm; employee involvement; corporate social responsibility; European/German corporate governance;

    JEL classification:

    • G23 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - Non-bank Financial Institutions; Financial Instruments; Institutional Investors
    • K22 - Law and Economics - - Regulation and Business Law - - - Business and Securities Law

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