One of the most frequently recurring themes in our discussions
has been that of ownership. Roger Warren Evans has asked
for our support for a campaign to change the legal status
of corporations, particularly where they are owned by
other corporations. Essentially he is saying that they
are fundamentally different from personal private property
or possessions and should be treated as such by the law
and not given the privileges of individual persons.
We have discussed how the structure of company law, the
issuing of share options to directors have produced an
incentive structure which stands in the way of adapting
to serious resource challenges (e.g. Will Huttons
work to name but one), let alone the public good. Chris
Cook (Partnerships Consulting) has demonstrated the very
different, cooperative structure of the limited liability
The structure of the company and its consequences for
corporate social responsibility (CSR) have also been a
focus. We have followed the CORE campaign with interest
as well as the way CSR has been warped, hijacked and misrepresented
by the corporate sector. Corporate Watch have talked to
us about TRIPS and have ourselves opposed within the Labour
Party, the wholesale move to PFI/PPP and the introduction
of private suppliers and market mechanisms in the NHS.
At every turn there is the problem of absolute unfettered
private ownership rights, the incentives they create and
the way it makes people think.
Holding a conference
But we have also come across plenty of people doing
alternatives", and plenty of people thinking about
alternative forms of ownership.
There has been a real resurgence in the co-operative movement
(both the Co-op itself and the growth of firms like the
Phone Co-op and Ealing Community Transport now
far more than just transport) and a new self-confidence
in cooperative ideas. The Co-operative Advantage is recognised
more and more.
There has also been a growth in other forms of social
enterprise, social firms, where the organisation aims
for a trading surplus (not a profit) but is also committed
to social goals. This sector is now knocking on the door
of public service provision and has the potential to offer
local authorities a chance to employ firms more in keeping
with a public service ethos.
Similarly Fair Trade is now become a local authority
procurement issue and has also changed mainstream consumer
ideas. The Fair Trade sector has also given rise both
to the lending company Shared Interest, based explicitly
on a practice of ownership which does not merely seek
personal returns and has taken on a role in CSR through
the Just Pensions campaign. One of our own
members has also put forward ideas about Citizens
Ownership whereby any individual member of a co-operative,
or sharehold is automatically, by virtue of their ownership,
accountable to a particular stakeholder group, at the
least consumers, the workforce and environmental concerns.
Our involvement with the European Social Forum introduced
to those of us who were not already involved/ aware the
principles behind creating a commons through open source
software and the principles it embodies.
With all this activity and all these fascinating ideas
and from so many different people, holding a conference
was the obvious thing to do.
The conference: From Ownership into Stewardship
Saturday 19th November 2005 at: London
School of Economics
On useful role that we feel our project could fulfil,
and something it has done all along in its workshops,
is to bring together people who, working in different
spheres, would not otherwise meet or realise they had
so much in common.
In particular we wanted to persuade political activists
that not only was there an enormous number of innovative
and exciting projects around, but that these were politically
relevant. And conversely, persuade some of the alternatives
people that taking a political perspective was both timely
One of the strongest themes of our discussions has been
that of stewardship. Not only does it oppose
the absolute and asocial nature of private property, it
creates a different sort of citizen: one aware of their
place within a complex society and environment.
Our keynote speaker, Prem Sikka, well known to many as
a scourge of the accountancy profession spoke about his
campaign: Tame the Corporations. While the profession
as presently constituted may be in a parlous state, he
has drawn intention to the importance of making organisations
accountable. This is a key function in the institutions
1) Simply getting people together to talk and
spark off each other was a worthwhile end in itself.
2) We aim to publish a set of papers to be part
of the dialogue which has been started by people
like our keynote speaker Prem Sikka.
3) We shall be promoting company law reform mentioned
above; and we will launch a project to investigate
how individual shareholders/ members really can
be a source of accountability.