Online – available


Companies are being regulated by politics, but they also shape the political arena themselves, whenever they influence politicians and political parties. Moreover, companies fulfill public functions such as providing public goods, regulating their own business activities, or addressing societal problems, like environmental harms. Can such a mixture of private activity and public responsibility be legitimate, in a democratic society? Doesn’t this give corporations too much political power? Are multinationals different in this respect from other companies? These are central questions in the ERC-research project “The Business Corporation as a Political Actor« , which will run from 2020 to 2025. The project is based at Utrecht University, and led by prof. dr. Rutger Claassen. 

The project is based on the hypothesis that a new social contract is necessary to legitimate the public role of contemporary corporations. This requires transplanting notions traditionally used for legitimizing states – like respecting human rights, democratic procedures, and standards of social justice – to corporations. Is such a thing possible; or do publicly acting corporations necessarily undermine the social contract? To answer this question, the project researches the possibilities to apply existing political theories of legitimacy to corporations. This theoretical reflection is combined with practical case studies on different types of regulation of corporate activity: corporate governance, tax policies, competition law, etc. The project is based in political philosophy, and connects philosophy to other disciplines, such as law, economics, political science and history. 

Online seminar on Corporate Governance

Did you miss the seminar? Click here to watch the recording.


In the second session of the online spring series, we will try to connect the debates around stakeholder representation and CSR by asking what the implications of CSR are for stakeholder representation. If we accept that corporations have some ethical obligations, what are their implications for who gets a say in corporate decision-making? Are there perhaps moral duties to involve certain groups or implement specific procedures to ensure that stakeholder interests are respected?


Prof. Isabelle Ferreras
Isabelle Ferrerras is professor of sociology at the Université catholique de Louvain (Belgium) and senior tenured fellow of the Belgian National Science Foundation (F.N.R.S.). Her research is focused on firms as political entities from both the empirical perspective of sociological research and the normative perspective of political theory. Her most recent book is “Firms as Political Entities. Saving Democracy through Economic Bicameralism” (CUP, 2017).

Prof. Nien-He Hsieh
Nien-hê Hsieh is Professor of Business Administration and Joseph L. Rice, III Faculty Fellow at the Harvard Business School. His research revolves around questions of Business Ethics, both in applied contexts like the employment relationship, and regarding its normative foundations, for example when it comes to the weighing of incommensurable values. He has published in, among others, Business Ethics Quarterly and the Journal of Political Philosophy.

Image credits: University of Utrecht, The Business Corporation as a Political Actor, webpage