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Types of business associations

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Besides the partnership and the company or corporation, there are a number of other forms of business association, of which some are developments or adaptations of the partnership or company, some are based on contract between the members or on a trust created for their benefit, and others are statutory creations. The first of these classes includes the cooperative society; the building society, home loan association, and its German equivalent, the Bausparkasse; the trustee savings bank, or people's or cooperative bank; the friendly society, or mutual insurance association; and the American mutual fund investment company. The essential features of these associations are that they provide for the small or medium investor; and, although they originated as contractual associations, they are now governed in most countries by special legislation and not by the law applicable to companies or corporations.

The establishment and management of cooperatives is treated in most countries under laws distinct from those governing other business associations. The cooperative is a legal entity but typically owned and controlled by those who use it or work in it, though there may be various degrees of participation and profit sharing. The essential point is that the directors and managers are accountable ultimately to the enterprise members, not to the outside owners of capital. This form is rooted in a strong sense of social purpose; it was devised more than a century ago as an idealistic alternative to the conventional capitalist business association. It has been particularly associated with credit, retailing, agricultural marketing, and crafts.

The second class comprises the English unit trust and the European fonds d'investissements or Investment fonds, which fulfill the same functions as American mutual funds; the Massachusetts business trust (now little used but providing a means of limiting the liability of participants in a business activity like the limited partnership); the foundation (fondation, Stiftung), a European organization that has social or charitable objects and often carries on a business whose profits are devoted to those objects; and, finally, the cartel, or trade association, which regulates the business activities of its individual members and is itself extensively regulated by antitrust and antimonopoly legislation.

The third class of associations, those wholly created by statute, comprises corporations formed to carry on nationalized business undertakings (such as the Bank of England and the German Federal Railways) or to coexist with other businesses in the same field (such as the Italian Istituto per la Ricostruzione Industriale) or to fulfill a particular governmental function (such as the Tennessee Valley Authority). Such statutory associations usually have no share capital, though they may raise loans from the public. They are regarded in European law as being creatures of public law, like departments and agencies of the government. In recent years, however, a hybrid between the state corporation and the privately owned corporation or company has appeared in the form of the mixed company or corporation (societe mixte). In this kind of organization, part of the association's share capital is held by the state or a state agency and part by private persons, this situation often resulting from a partial acquisition of the association's shares by the state. In only France and Italy are there special rules governing such associations; in the United Kingdom and Germany they are subject to the ordinary rules of company law.


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