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60 N. Ir. Legal Q. 263 (2009)
Gone and Almost Entirely Forgotten: The Watkinson Report

handle is hein.journals/nilq60 and id is 267 raw text is: NILQ 60(2): 263-78

Gone and almost entirely forgotten:
the Watkinson Report
SALLY WHEELER
Queen's University Belfast
Introduction
T he aims of this paper are twofold. First I want to extol the virtue of Hadden's Company
Law and Capitalism because it was a hugely inspiring text on a subject which was routinely
seen as technical, difficult and dull and without an intellectual tradition which place[d] ...
rules and doctrines within a broader theoretical framework which g[a]ve meaning and
coherence.1 Second, as the paper's tide suggests, I want to consider the Watkinson Report
or, as it is more properly described, The Responsibiliies of the British Public Company, which was
issued by the CBI Council in 1973. These two aims complement each other as much of
Hadden's commentary reflects the ideas of public interest and non-adversarial industrial
relations which are also to the fore in the Watkinson Report. I will consider why some at
least of the key responsibilities it identified are no longer seen as part of the remit of
corporate responsibility and the consequences of those changes in the areas of economic
democracy and occupational pensions. Alongside this, I will also give some thought to why
these responsibilities have been replaced with others such as the huge voluntary
comrmitment to corporate social responsibility that now exists in the corporate sector.
At the time the suggestion was made for this special issue, the Watkinson Report was
almost exactly 35 years old. It has virtually disappeared from the memory of company law,2
it appears. However, at a time when the form, role and, ultimately, the responsibility of
public companies and their managers, particularly in the financial sector, are being
questioned by wider society, there is a certain topicality to looking at how public companies
saw themselves in 1973 in relation to that wider society in which they were located. It
provides us with a unique set of benchmarks against which the trends in corporate
behaviour that have followed, such as the adoption of shareholder value as the predominant
credo of corporate existence, and the changes required by transitions to post-fordism and
I  NI Stokes Company law and legal theory in W Twaning (ed.), Legal Theog, and Common  Li, (Oxford:
Blackwcll 1986), p. 155.
2   Although as Geotircy Chandler, ,, long-standing proponent of corporate responsibility and human rights
pointed out in a letter to The Times in November 1996, the Tomorrows Company document produced by the
Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce (RSA) M 1995 had something
of the same flavour about it. Chandler accurately predicted that the fate of the RSA document would be the
same as that of the Watknson Report.

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