It is important to distinguish between a STAKEHOLDER and a SHAREHOLDER. They sound the same – but the difference is crucial!
Shareholders hold shares in the company – that is they own part of it.
Stakeholders have an interest in the company but do not own it (unless they are shareholders).
Often the aims and objectives of the stakeholders are not the same as shareholders and they come into conflict.
The conflict often arises because while shareholders want short-term profits, the other stakeholders’ desires tend to cost money and reduce profits. The owners often have to balance their own wishes against those of the other stakeholders or risk losing their ability to generate future profits (e.g. the workers may go on strike or the customers refuse to buy the company’s products).
Both the shareholder and stakeholder theories are normative theories of corporate social responsibility, dictating what a corporation’s role ought to be. By extension, they can also be seen as normative theories of business ethics, since executives and managers of a corporation should have their decision makings according to the “right” theory. Unfortunately, the two theories are very much at odds regarding what is “right.”