ABB is committed to the highest international standards of corporate governance, and supports the general principles as set forth in the Swiss Code of Best Practice for Corporate Governance, as well as those of the capital markets where its shares are listed and traded.
In addition to the provisions of the Swiss Code of Obligations, ABB’s key principles and rules on corporate governance are laid down in ABB’s Articles of Incorporation, the ABB Ltd Board Regulations & Corporate Governance Guidelines (which includes the regulations of ABB’s Board committees and the ABB Ltd Related Party Transaction Policy), and the ABB Code of Conduct and the Addendum to the ABB Code of Conduct for Members of the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee (EC). It is the duty of ABB’s Board of Directors (the Board) to review and amend or propose amendments to those documents from time to time to reflect the most recent developments and practices, as well as to ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations.
This section of the Annual Report is based on the Directive on Information Relating to Corporate Governance published by the SIX Swiss Exchange. Where an item listed in the directive is not addressed in this report, it is either inapplicable to or immaterial for ABB.
According to the New York Stock Exchange’s corporate governance standards (the Standards), ABB is required to disclose significant ways in which its corporate governance practices differ from the Standards. ABB has reviewed the Standards and concluded that its corporate governance practices are generally consistent with the Standards, with the following significant exceptions:
- Swiss law requires that the external auditors be elected by the shareholders at the Annual General Meeting rather than by the audit committee or the board of directors.
- The Standards require that all equity compensation plans and material revisions thereto be approved by the shareholders. Consistent with Swiss law such matters are decided by our Board. However, the shareholders decide about the creation of new share capital that can be used in connection with equity compensation plans.
- Swiss law requires that the members of the compensation committee are elected by the shareholders rather than appointed by our Board.
- Swiss law requires shareholders to approve the maximum aggregate Board compensation and the maximum aggregate Executive Committee compensation.
Duties of directors and officers
The directors and officers of a Swiss corporation are bound, as specified in the Swiss Code of Obligations, to perform their duties with all due care, to safeguard the interests of the corporation in good faith and to extend equal treatment to shareholders in like circumstances.
The Swiss Code of Obligations does not specify what standard of due care is required of the directors of a corporate board. However, it is generally held by Swiss legal scholars and jurisprudence that the directors must have the requisite capability and skill to fulfill their function, and must devote the necessary time to the discharge of their duties. Moreover, the directors must exercise all due care that a prudent and diligent director would have taken in like circumstances. Finally, the directors are required to take actions in the best interests of the corporation and may not take any actions that may be harmful to the corporation.
Exercise of powers
Directors, as well as other persons authorized to act on behalf of a Swiss corporation, may perform all legal acts on behalf of the corporation which the business purpose, as set forth in the articles of incorporation of the corporation, may entail. Pursuant to court practice, such directors and officers can take any action that is not explicitly excluded by the business purpose of the corporation. In so doing, however, the directors and officers must still pursue the duty of due care and the duty of loyalty described above and must extend equal treatment to the corporation’s shareholders in like circumstances. ABB’s Articles of Incorporation do not contain provisions concerning a director’s power, in the absence of an independent quorum, to vote on the compensation to each director; however, the maximum aggregate compensation of the directors for each term of office is subject to shareholder approval.
Conflicts of interest
Swiss law does not have a general provision on conflicts of interest and our Articles of Incorporation do not limit our directors’ power to vote on a proposal, arrangement or contract in which the director or officer is materially interested.
However, the Swiss Code of Obligations requires directors and officers to safeguard the interests of the corporation and, in this connection, imposes a duty of care and loyalty on directors and officers. This rule is generally understood and so recommended by the Swiss Code of Best Practice for Corporate Governance as disqualifying directors and officers from participating in decisions, other than in the shareholders’ meeting, that directly affect them.
Confidential information obtained by directors and officers of a Swiss corporation acting in such capacity must be kept confidential during and after their term of office.
If directors and officers transact business on behalf of the corporation with bona fide third parties in violation of their statutory duties, the transaction is nevertheless valid, as long as it is not explicitly excluded by the corporation’s business purpose as set forth in its articles of incorporation. Directors and officers acting in violation of their statutory duties – whether transacting business with bona fide third parties or performing any other acts on behalf of the company – may, however, become liable to the corporation, its shareholders and its creditors for damages. The liability is joint and several, but the courts may apportion the liability among the directors and officers in accordance with their degree of culpability.
In addition, Swiss law contains a provision under which payments made to a shareholder or a director or any person(s) associated therewith, other than at arm’s length, must be repaid to the company if the shareholder or director or any person associated therewith was acting in bad faith.
If the board of directors has lawfully delegated the power to carry out day-to-day management to a different corporate body, e.g., the executive committee, it is not liable for the acts of the members of that different corporate body. Instead, the directors can be held liable only for their failure to properly select, instruct and supervise the members of that different corporate body.