Throwback to one of the many events at our faculty

Elverding Conference 2023: Enhancing sustainable business and corporate regulation in the EU

The Elverding Conference 2023 on ‘Enhancing sustainable business and corporate regulation in the EU’ took place on 26 October 2023. At the conference, presenters outlined how effective ownership strategies could be used to promote business sustainability and how directors’ duties could be aligned with the social role of corporations. 

Rob Bauer at Elverding Conference 2023

The context for the conference was that the European Commission has adopted a range of regulatory initiatives in support of the EU’s green transition such as the Taxonomy Regulation, Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD), and Regulation on Sustainability-related Financial Disclosures (SFDR). The aim was to discuss what shareholders and managers could do to promote this transition.

Effective and sustainable approaches to active ownership

The first conference session focused on effective and sustainable approaches to active ownership and discussed how investors can effectively convey their long-term expectations on sustainability to companies. It included presentations from Prof. Sofie Cools (KU Leuven and Radboud University) and Prof. Rob Bauer (Maastricht University). 

A key insight from Prof. Cools was that there are notable differences between jurisdictions in terms of shareholder rights to submit proposals on sustainability-related matters, and that strategy is often a competence of the board rather than of the shareholders. These factors limit the potential role of shareholders in pushing for business sustainability. Prof. Bauer’s presentation showed that divestment from unsustainable companies does not seem to have a real-world impact, that investor engagement with companies on sustainability only succeeds in 20 percent of cases, and that this engagement is more likely to be successful when it is collaborative, intensive, and encompasses multiple activities.

Directors’ duties and social role of corporations

The second conference session turned to directors’ duties and the social role of corporations. It consisted of presentations from Prof. Paul Davies (Oxford University) and Prof. Jaap Winter (VU Amsterdam). 

Prof. Davies argued that changes in corporate purpose – such as those envisioned by Prof. Colin Meyer in his book Prosperity – are by themselves insufficient to lead to a sustainable transformation of business activities. He indicated that more structural changes would be required to enable these kinds of sustainable purpose, and suggested that it might be better to invest social and political capital on other, more effective projects. Prof. Winter, for his part, highlighted that companies, as members of society, need to consider the effects of their actions on other members. He suggested that this may require the re-imagining of corporations as human constructs, an increase in the group of stakeholders to whom the corporation has a duty of care, and a shift in company decision-making so that values, intentions, and convictions are integrated into choices and decisions. 

Audience Elvering Conference 2023

Panel discussion

The conference closed with a panel discussion featuring members from the business and investor community (Annelien van Meer (Sustainability Manager of a.s.r), Rients Abma (Executive Director of Eumedion), and Simon Rawson (Director of Corporate Engagement and Deputy CEO of ShareAction). Van Meer emphasised the importance of thoughtful communication, the role of leadership, and the importance of language. Abma noted a strong stance in favour of sustainability in the institutional investor community and warned of the risk that shareholder proposals may infringe on legitimate areas of the board’s competence. Lastly, Rawson highlighted the importance of exploring different pathways to expose companies to the perspectives, preferences, and interests of shareholders.

Want to read more about the key takeaways from the Elverding Conference? 

Written by: Constantijn Aartsen

Go to the
summarized conference report

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