While the primary role of companies has traditionally been to maximize profits for their shareholders (whose liability is limited), this role is gradually expanding. In fact, there is a growing chorus of voices calling for a shift of focus toward the common interest, or at least toward social, environmental and governance concerns. This growing emphasis on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is especially noticeable in France, where the civil code has integrated social and environmental considerations into the corporate mission. However welcome this shift, it is still not enough to meet the many challenges of the 21st century, especially those pertaining to the environment, due in particular to the legal difficulties involved in determining liability.

This new issue of the ILB Opinions & Debates collection examines, from a historical perspective, the evolution of the concepts of limited and unlimited shareholder liability, which has enabled the limited company to become the most widespread legal structure in Europe and the United States.

It also opens up a much-needed debate on making shareholders and company managers liable in the event of damage to society caused by companies, especially environmental damage. These negative externalities are largely borne by society in general, and at a time when global warming is becoming increasingly threatening, CSR and Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) have certain limitations, as shown in this Opinions & Debates by Guillaume Vuillemey, a promising young French researcher.

Jean-Michel Beacco, Delegate General of the Institut Louis Bachelier (ILB)

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