The legislative and regulatory elements of the corporate governance framework can usefully be complemented by soft law elements based on the “comply or explain” principle such as corporate governance codes in order to allow for flexibility and address specificities of individual companies. What works well in one company, for one investor or a particular stakeholder may not necessarily be generally applicable to corporations, investors and stakeholders that operate in another context and under different circumstances. As new experiences accrue and business circumstances change, the different provisions of the corporate governance framework should be reviewed and, when necessary, adjusted. Countries seeking to implement the Principles should monitor their corporate governance framework, including regulatory and listing requirements and business practices, with the objective of maintaining and strengthening its contribution to market integrity and economic performance.
As part of this, it is important to take into account the interactions and complementarity between different elements of the corporate governance framework and its overall ability to promote ethical, responsible and transparent corporate governance practices. Such analysis should be viewed as an important tool in the process of developing an effective corporate governance framework. To this end, effective and continuous consultation with the public is an essential element. In some jurisdictions, this may need to be complemented by initiatives to inform companies and their stakeholders about the benefits of implementing sound corporate governance practices. Moreover, in developing a corporate governance framework in each jurisdiction, national legislators and regulators should duly consider the need for, and the results from, effective international dialogue and co-operation. If these conditions are met, the corporate governance framework is more likely to avoid over-regulation, support the exercise of entrepreneurship and limit the risks of damaging conflicts of interest in both the private sector and in public institutions.
A. The corporate governance framework should be developed with a view to its impact on overall economic performance, market integrity and the incentives it creates for market participants and the promotion of transparent and well-functioning markets.
The corporate form of organisation of economic activity is a powerful force for growth. The regulatory and legal environment within which corporations operate is therefore of key importance to overall economic outcomes. Policy makers also have a responsibility to put in place a framework that is flexible enough to meet the needs of corporations operating in widely different circumstances, facilitating their development of new opportunities to create value and to determine the most efficient deployment of resources. Where appropriate, corporate governance frameworks should therefore allow for proportionality, in particular with respect to the size of listed companies. Other factors that may call for flexibility include the company’s ownership and control structure, geographical presence, sectors of activity, and the company’s stage of development. Policy makers should remain focussed on ultimate economic outcomes and when considering policy options, they will need to undertake an analysis of the impact on key variables that affect the functioning of markets, for example in terms of incentive structures, the efficiency of self-regulatory systems and dealing with systemic conflicts of interest. Transparent and well-functioning markets serve to discipline market participants and to promote accountability.
B. The legal and regulatory requirements that affect corporate governance practices should be consistent with the rule of law, transparent and enforceable.
If new laws and regulations are needed, such as to deal with clear cases of market imperfections, they should be designed in a way that makes them possible to implement and enforce in an efficient and even handed manner covering all parties. Consultation by government and other regulatory authorities with corporations, their representative organisations and other stakeholders, is an effective way of doing this. Mechanisms should also be established for parties to protect their rights. In order to avoid over-regulation, unenforceable laws, and unintended consequences that may impede or distort business dynamics, policy measures should be designed with a view to their overall costs and benefits. Public authorities should have effective enforcement and sanctioning powers to deter dishonest behaviour and provide for sound corporate governance practices. In addition, enforcement can also be pursued through private action, and the effective balance between public and private enforcement will vary depending upon the specific features of each jurisdiction.
Corporate governance objectives are also formulated in voluntary codes and standards that do not have the status of law or regulation. While such codes play an important role in improving corporate governance arrangements, they might leave shareholders and other stakeholders with uncertainty concerning their status and implementation. When codes and principles are used as a national standard or as a complement to legal or regulatory provisions, market credibility requires that their status in terms of coverage, implementation, compliance and sanctions is clearly specified.
C. The division of responsibilities among different authorities should be clearly articulated and designed to serve the public interest.
Corporate governance requirements and practices are typically influenced by an array of legal domains, such as company law, securities regulation, accounting and auditing standards, insolvency law, contract law, labour law and tax law. Corporate governance practices of individual companies are also often influenced by human rights and environmental laws. Under these circumstances, there is a risk that the variety of legal influences may cause unintentional overlaps and even conflicts, which may frustrate the ability to pursue key corporate governance objectives. It is important that policy-makers are aware of this risk and take measures to limit it. Effective enforcement also requires that the allocation of responsibilities for supervision, implementation and enforcement among different authorities is clearly defined so that the competencies of complementary bodies and agencies are respected and used most effectively.
Potentially conflicting objectives, for example where the same institution is charged with attracting business and sanctioning violations, should be avoided or managed through clear governance provisions. Overlapping and perhaps contradictory regulations between jurisdictions is also an issue that should be monitored so that no regulatory vacuum is allowed to develop (i.e. issues slipping through in which no authority has explicit responsibility) and to minimise the cost of compliance with multiple systems by corporations. When regulatory responsibilities or oversight are delegated to non-public bodies, it is desirable to explicitly assess why, and under what circumstances, such delegation is desirable. In addition, the public authority should maintain effective safeguards to ensure that the delegated authority is applied fairly, consistently, and in accordance with the law. It is also essential that the governance structure of any such delegated institution be transparent and encompass the public interest.
D. Stock market regulation should support effective corporate governance. Stock markets can play a meaningful role in enhancing corporate governance by establishing and enforcing requirements that promote effective corporate governance by their listed issuers.
Also, stock markets provide facilities by which investors can express interest or disinterest in a particular issuer’s governance by allowing them to buy or sell the issuer’s securities, as appropriate. The quality of the stock market’s rules and regulations that establish listing criteria for issuers and that govern trading on its facilities is therefore an important element of the corporate governance framework. What traditionally were called “stock exchanges” today come in a variety of shapes and forms. Most of the large stock exchanges are now profit maximising and themselves publicly traded joint stock companies that operate in competition with other profit maximising stock exchanges and trading venues. Regardless of the particular structure of the stock market, policy makers and regulators should assess the proper role of stock exchanges and trading venues in terms of standard setting, supervision and enforcement of corporate governance rules. This requires an analysis of how the particular business models of stock exchanges affect the incentives and ability to carry out these functions.
E. Supervisory, regulatory and enforcement authorities should have the authority, integrity and resources to fulfil their duties in a professional and objective manner.
Moreover, their rulings should be timely, transparent and fully explained. Supervisory, regulatory and enforcement responsibilities should be vested with bodies that are operationally independent and accountable in the exercise of their functions and powers, have adequate powers, proper resources, and the capacity to perform their functions and exercise their powers, including with respect to corporate governance. Many countries have addressed the issue of political independence of the securities supervisor through the creation of a formal governing body (a board, council, or commission) whose members are given fixed terms of appointment. If the appointments are staggered and made independent from the political calendar, they can further enhance independence. These bodies should be able to pursue their functions without conflicts of interest and their decisions should be subject to judicial or administrative review. When the number of corporate events and the volume of disclosures increase, the resources of supervisory, regulatory and enforcement authorities may come under strain. As a result, in order to follow developments, they will have a significant demand for fully qualified staff to provide effective oversight and investigative capacity which will need to be appropriately funded. The ability to attract staff on competitive terms will enhance the quality and independence of supervision and enforcement.
F. Cross-border co-operation should be enhanced, including through bilateral and multilateral arrangements for exchange of information.
High levels of cross-border ownership and trading require strong international co-operation among regulators, including through bilateral and multilateral arrangements for exchange of information. International co-operation is becoming increasingly relevant for corporate governance, notably where companies are active in many jurisdictions through both listed and unlisted entities, and seek multiple stock market listings on exchanges in different jurisdictions.