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Free University of Bozen-Bolzano

Group photo of the seminar

CC Cooperatives

International perspectives on the (corporate) law of social enterprises

Review of the research seminar with Dr. Pendl - The comparative analysis of international regulatory models provided valuable new insights for the research and practice of cooperatives

The discourse on social enterprises has been established in the economic and social sciences for some time. At the same time, different definitions and approaches to this term have developed and solidified, particularly with regard to specific regional contexts.

At the invitation of the Competence Centre for the Management of Cooperatives, Dr. Matthias Pendl from the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Law in Hamburg examined the corporate law dimension of social enterprises. His aim was to clarify the similarities and differences in international regulatory models of these hybrid enterprise forms. This is an emerging international field of research, and its systematic investigation is only just beginning.

The lecture on May 22nd began by highlighting the contrast between an individualistic approach, prevalent in the USA, and the community-oriented approach to social enterprises, which dominates in Europe. Despite these two traditions, different organizational forms have developed for the concrete legal design of social enterprises, which Dr. Pendl critically examined. He focused on characteristic organizational forms and case studies, such as the Benefit Corporation, which is dominant in the USA, the Community Interest Company in the United Kingdom, and the Cooperativa Sociale in Italy.

The cooperative model continues to be very popular as an organizational form for social enterprises, particularly in southern European countries such as Italy, Portugal, and Spain. It is the democratic participation rights, ideally found in cooperatives, that distinguish European forms of social enterprises from those in the Anglo-American context, where the legal options for these types of companies are more geared towards individual capital interests.

According to Dr. Pendl, social enterprises are not a short-term trend but a phenomenon that will become even more important in the future. This corresponds to the zeitgeist of sustainability, ESG ratings, and criticism of capitalism. Consequently, the legal structure of these companies will continue to receive special attention. A key challenge will be to provide suitable protective measures to ensure compliance with the social mission and prevent "social washing."

The latest publication by Dr. Matthias Pendl in the European Business Organization Law Review can be accessed here: