European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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Corporate Governance and the Voice of Labour: a Transnational Survey

Thanks to a large-scale survey by questionnaire distributed to all employee representatives that serve at board-level throughout the European Union, this research project aims at investigating their roles, activities, decision-making criteria and networking.

Since 17 out of the 27 EU member states have developed legal provisions on board-level employee representation, worker participation might be seen as a part of the European social model. However, little research has dealt with this topic, especially from a European perspective. Thus, the current transnational survey will shed new light on the role and activities of board-level employee representatives, such as their relations with trade unions, and other bodies of employee representation.

Since the first wave of legislation in the 1970s, disputes on board-level employee representation have focused on two competing positions: justice and democracy – employee interests should be represented at board level – and efficiency and productivity – the presence of board-level employee representatives may have adverse effects on company performance. While this debate has been largely in abeyance since then, and board-level employee representation broadly accepted in Western Europe, the last decade has seen a reversal in this respect. The ascendancy of neo-liberal political programmes, coupled with a series of company scandals involving board malpractice, as well as the questioning of the relevance of a shareholder-oriented corporate governance model, have further brought into question the viability of existing approaches to corporate governance structures and regulation. Concurrently, the internationalisation of company boards, following the European Company Statute and the 10th Directive on Cross-Border Mergers, means that employee representatives from different member states – with different kinds of practical experience and used to operating under different legal circumstances – will be required to act together on company boards. It is thus apposite that the roles and functions of board-level employee representatives in Europe be examined.

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