The idea that the interests of a company’s stakeholders are unrelated to those of its shareholders is as outdated as it is misguided.
Take BHP and Rio Tinto, who recognise the Traditional Owners of the land on which they operate among their most important stakeholders.
As we saw across WA at the Voice referendum, the greater the share of Aboriginal voters at a polling booth, the higher the Yes vote, including in Roebourne, down the road from Australia’s richest port, where almost 70 per cent of people voted Yes. How was it not in the interests of shareholders for these companies to back the aspirations of their TOs, whose support the companies rely on daily to create shareholder returns?
Then there is Qantas, which has returned to delivering big returns for shareholders, despite eroding its reputation with many stakeholders, including customers and employees, not to mention the rest of us, who suffer under the higher interest rates inflated airfares help drive.
The fact that Qantas can deliver such returns for shareholders, in spite of its reputational issues, owes much to its privileged position in Australia’s aviation market. But that position is largely at the discretion of the federal government as well as its most important stakeholders, voters, and shouldn’t be taken for granted – a truth probably not lost on many Qantas shareholders, which may have been one of the reasons the 2023 AGM was so testy.
Stakeholder and shareholder interests are inseparable.
This article also appeared in The West Australian newspaper.