Julie Cassidy

A current research project being undertaken by Julie Cassidy, Professor of Law and Taxation in the Department of Commercial Law at the University of Auckland Business School.

The role of Māori Tikanga values in corporate governance

An impromptu audience comment at an Auckland Law School symposium on corporate governance led Professor Julie Cassidy down a new and exciting path to her current research project.

The comment was “Maybe we can learn from Māori values”. Julie’s presentation quickly took a sharp left turn, as she explained to a largely Australian audience what Māori governance values are and how they differ from corporate governance law under the Companies Act 1993.

According to “hard law” regulations, shareholders’ interests are foremost and hence the major imperative for companies is profit. “Soft law”, on the other hand, relies on a code of ethics, which on its own is not enforceable. However, there is a middle way – a hybrid of hard and soft law, based on the OECD model 2004, now adopted by the Financial Markets Authority New Zealand (FMA) and the New Zealand Stock Exchange (NZX).

The hybrid model is much more suitable for Māori corporate entities, in which stakeholders rather than shareholders are given primacy. These entities are also multi-purpose, taking into account social, political and cultural values as well as economic drivers. And unlike organisations managed by boards and focussed on short-term profits, Māori business entities are communally owned, highly consultative, and focussed on long-term goals: preserving the land or enterprise for future generations, for example. They are concerned with financial success, of course, but equally with the health and wellbeing of their people – funding scholarships, community healthcare, child care and marae maintenance, amongst many other social and cultural initiatives.

Consequently, although Māori corporate governance criteria are prescribed and vetted by government agencies such as the Office of Treaty Settlements, their organisations are founded upon the traditional values that underpin contemporary tikanga. These values are:

  • Whanaungatanga (kin relationship)
  • Wairuatanga (spirituality)
  • Manaakitanga (sharing, hospitality)
  • Mana (customary law, political power)
  • Tapu (protective code of conduct)
  • Utu (reciprocity, balance)
  • Rangatiratanga (effective leadership)

Since that symposium in 2017, Julie and her colleague Robert Joseph from the University of Waikato have been working on a hybrid law reform option that is a blend of modern corporate governance and the Māori values described above. Values that are integral to long-term, sustainable success in business and in society, in Aotearoa-New Zealand and around the world. So yes, Julie says. We can certainly learn a lot from Māori tikanga.