Ontologies of Employee Ownership: A Comparative Analysis of Trust-Owned, Directly-Owned and Cooperatively-Owned Enterprises

Issues: Volume 10, Issue 1
Authors: David Wren, Rory Ridley-Duff

Each academic discipline wrestles with framing objects of study within its field. This paper is a reflexive analysis of the ontology of employee ownership (EO) and employee-owned businesses (EOBs) based on ten cases from two PhDs and two post-doctoral studies. We found that normative definitions of EO not only fail to reflect complexities uncovered during fieldwork but also obscure how EOBs are created and developed. We set out five primary questions that researchers need to resolve before framing a study of EO, and then investigate how those questions are resolved under company, cooperative and trust law. Our findings reveal variations in EOB realities that problematise the assumption that “employment status” defines EOBs. We found EOBs that selectively include or exclude front line employees from EO based on employment contract differences, and others that include front line workers based on a “contract for services”, rather than a “contract of service”. As a result, a revised view of “the employed” is required, based on workers’ capacity (either through employment contracts or membership arrangements) to selfmanage their labour in a shared enterprise. This broad view of “the employed” using Vanek’s concept of “labour-managed firms” (LMFs) is a more precise and inclusive framing concept that brings worker cooperatives fully within the scope of EO. We conclude that constructionist philosophies offer the best scope for knowledge creation for four of our five primary questions.

Keywords: Conceptual paper, Employee ownership, Employee-owned business, Labour-managed, Ontology, Worker Cooperatives
JEL classification: L26, L31, M14, P13, P31
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5947/jeod.2021.003
About authors: David Wren    Rory Ridley-Duff    Download .PDF