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Centre for Commercial Law Studies

Understanding the Modern Company

9 May 2015

Time: 1:00 - 1:00am
Venue: Lecture Theatre, Centre for Commercial Law Studies, Queen Mary University of London, 67-69 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London WC2A 3JB

From their origin in medieval times to their modern incarnation as transnational bodies that traverse nations, the company remains an important, yet highly misunderstood entity. It is perhaps not surprising then that understanding what a company is and to whom it is accountable remains a persistent and enduring debate across the globe.

Today, the company is viewed in a variety, and often contradictory, ways. Some see it as a public body; others view it as a system of private ordering, while still others see it as a hybrid between these two views. Companies have also been characterized as the property of their shareholders, a network, a team, and even akin to a natural person. Yet the precise nature of the company and its role in society remain a modern mystery.

This conference brings together a wealth of scholars from around the world to explore the nature and function of companies. By drawing from different backgrounds and perspectives, the aim of this conference is to develop a normative approach to understanding the modern company. 


09.00 Registration/Coffee and tea

09.15 Welcome

09.30 Session I: Comparative and Historical Perspectives
Since Parliament introduced the concept of incorporation in 1844, the company has been characterised in a myriad of
ways from a concession of the state to a fiction to a ‘real entity’ and the property of its shareholders. These views
have been influenced by the adoption of corporate theories that have arisen temporally and across jurisdictional
lines. Despite their age, however, these views remain important as they continue to strongly influence contemporary
law. Thus, this part explores historical and comparative perspectives of the company, providing context and
promoting a deeper understanding of current approaches.


10.45 Tea and coffee break

11.00 Session II: The Company: Public or Private?
Should a company be viewed as a public entity, a private entity, or some combination of the two? Arguments in
favour of viewing it as public entity, include among others, that a state is essential to its formation; that modern
companies exercise power equivalent to (or in some cases even greater than) that of a state, and that many
companies exercise functions that were traditionally reserved to the state. On the other hand, the traditional and
predominant view of companies – by both managers and the public alike – is that a company, which is capitalized by,
organized by, and managed by private individuals is a private entity. Scholars on both sides of this debate will
debate this contentious topic in an effort to understand what the precise nature of a company is or should be.


12.15 Lunch

13.15 Session III: Rights or Duty Bearer?
One of the natural corollaries of determining the role of the modern company in society is that this presents a clearer
picture as to what the rights or duties of a company should be. Is a company entitled to the same constitutional
rights as a natural person? A viewing of the company as a private entity or a “real entity” would suggest so. On
the other hand, viewing the company as akin to a public body or fiction may give the state a greater role in
imposing civil and criminal obligations on the state, particularly in relation to third parties. In this session,
commentators will discuss contemporary legislation and cases which have been increasing both company’s rights
and duties and debate what rights or duties companies should bear in relation to their role in society.


14.45 Tea and coffee break

15.00 Session IV: Governing the Modern Corporation
Having explored the nature and role of the corporation in modern society from the earlier parts, this part looks at
how best to govern corporations in order to ensure that corporations respect this identified role. Focusing mainly on
the question of the balance of powers within companies and corporate governance strategies, this part will reflect
the latest academic theories and predictions on how the modern company should be governed going forward.


16.15 Drinks reception

17.15 Close


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