Legal Environment – General

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Corporations are created as legal persons by the laws and regulations of a particular jurisdiction. These may vary in many respects between countries, but a corporation’s legal person status is fundamental to all jurisdictions and is conferred by statute. This allows the entity to hold property in its own right without reference to any particular real person. It also results in the perpetual existence that characterizes the modern corporation.

In addition to the statutory laws of the relevant jurisdiction, corporations are subject to common law in some countries, and various laws and regulations affecting business practices. In most jurisdictions, corporations also have a constitution that provides individual rules that govern the corporation and authorize or constrain its decision-makers.

The U.S. passed the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) in 1977, with subsequent modifications. This law made it illegal to bribe government officials and required corporations to maintain adequate accounting controls. It is enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Substantial civil and criminal penalties have been levied on corporations and executives convicted of bribery.

The UK passed the Bribery Act in 2010. This law made it illegal to bribe either government or private citizens or make facilitating payments (i.e., payment to a government official to perform their routine duties more quickly). It also required corporations to establish controls to prevent bribery.

In India, corporate governance is to a large extent, a set of mechanisms through which outsider investors protect themselves from expropriation by insiders (La Porta et al 2000). The topic of Corporate Governance has gained attention since the 1980‘s and more so after the code of corporate governance issued by the Cadbury committee. In line with the Cadbury committee, the Kumara Mangalam Birla Committee has also issued a code of corporate governance for companies in India.

Since the late 1990s, significant efforts have been taken by Indian regulators, as well as by Indian industry representatives and companies, to overhaul Indian corporate governance. Not only have reform measures been put into place prior to the discovery of major corporate governance scandals, but both industry groups and government actors have sprung into action following the Satyam scandal. The current corporate governance regime in Indian straddles both voluntary and mandatory requirements. For listed companies, the vast majority of Clause 49 requirements are mandatory. It remains to be seen whether some of the more recent voluntary corporate governance measures will become mandatory for all companies through a comprehensive revision of the Companies Act.


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