Download Benefit corporation according to Italian law

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The introduction of the Benefit Corporation in the Italian legal system
Feb 11, 2016
On December 28, 2015 the Italian Parliament approved the Law n. 208 which has introduced in the
Italian legal system the benefit corporation, an innovative type of corporation largely inspired by the US
legislation. A Benefit Corporation legislation has, in fact, been adopted by several US states (such as
California, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois, etc.).
The main peculiarities of the Italian Benefit Corporation are the following:
 The benefit corporation pursues a public benefit purpose (“finalità di beneficio comune”) in addition
to the profit purpose, which is typical of the traditional commercial corporations. Said public
benefit purpose must be specifically indicated in the business purpose of the company by-laws;
 The company by-laws must identify the person or the persons entrusted with the task of
pursuing the public benefit purpose. Failure to comply with the obligation to pursue the public
benefit purpose is a breach of the directors’ duties. Thus, legal proceedings can be brought
against the directors for said breach;
 For transparency reasons, on a yearly basis, the benefit corporation must deposit, together with
the Financial Statements, a report concerning the pursuit of the public benefit purpose. The
report has to be published on the benefit corporation’s website. The report must assess the
impact of the benefit company and of its activities in the pursuit of the public benefit purpose,
by using a comprehensive, transparent and independent third-party standard;
 The benefit corporation which does not pursue the public benefit purpose is subject to the rules
concerning deceptive advertising and to consumer law;
 Any partnership or corporation can acquire the legal status of Benefit Company if all the abovementioned conditions are satisfied and can add the title “benefit” to its social corporate name.
The Italian legislator, by approving the above-mentioned law, has taken into consideration the modern
trends of corporate sustainability. These trends show that sustainability is not only en ethic issue but
also an economic issue: it is proved that sustainability generates more business value, enhances
profitability and saves money. The Dow Jones Group Sustainability Index performed at an average of
36,1% better than the traditional Dow Jones Group Index (source: “The Business Case for Sustainability”,
July 2012 issued by International Finance Corporation ”).
However, the approved legislation has some critical aspects.
First of all, the legislator did not clarify the meaning of public benefit purpose, which appears to be too
generic. The legislator simply referred to a public benefit purpose which must have a positive impact
on persons, communities, territories, environment, cultural and social activities, bodies and associations
and other stakeholders. It is likely that case-law and best practices will contribute to clarify the meaning
of the public benefit purpose.
Secondly, the scope of the directors’ liability seems extended given that the directors have the duty to
pursue also social goals. Notwithstanding this, the legislator has not entitled third parties (in their
capacity of stakeholders) to bring legal claims against the directors for breach of their duty to pursue
the social goal. Said possibility, to date, seems reserved exclusively to the shareholders of the benefit
Finally, up to now, the benefit corporation legislation has not introduced special incentives such as tax
reliefs or rules in derogation of ordinary corporate law and labour law. It goes without saying that said
incentives would contribute much more to the promotion and the adoption of the Benefit Corporation
Paola Tascione
Italian lawyer and solicitor (non -practicing) admitted in the senior courts of England and Wales
[email protected]
This article is a summary of recent developments and, whilst every care has been taken to ensure the
accuracy of the information provided, it should not be regarded as a substitute for advice in any
particular case. Every case is different and you must not act solely on the basis of information
contained here. BILA and the article’s author make no warranties as to the accuracy of the information
contained in the article and are not responsible for the content of external websites. Where opinions
have been expressed, they are the personal opinions of the author and do not constitute professional
advice on any level, nor do they represent the opinions of BILA.