Energy companies are under the cosh again and now the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has waded in saying that the energy companies should 'show generosity', not just look to 'maximise their profits'.
Just like everybody else he is missing the point. Energy companies, like all companies, exist to make profit. It is their job to succeed as well as they can. But companies are not living feeling people so it is the job of the companies' directors to ensure the maximum performance of their firms.
In fact the requirement for directors to maximise profits is part of their legal fiduciary duty to the company and its shareholders. If they start giving away goods or over paying tax for that matter, it means that they are failing in maximising returns for shareholders – something they can be sued for.
How would you feel if your pension pot suffered because the company your pension provider invested in decided to give away profits or pay more tax than it was legally obliged to? You would want those shares to be ditched for a company that was more commercially aware wouldn't you?
The next thing is that companies have a duty to act within the law, they do not need to act 'morally'. In fact a 'company' is not sentient so it is up to directors to inject the human element. Politicians decide what is moral then shape the law accordingly for directors to obey. If a company director acts within the law then they are doing all that they and the company are required to do.
In many cases competition sorts out prices, but many claim that energy prices are rigged by a cartel of the main providers. This is a matter for politicians, regulators and the law. Trying to use a 'moral' argument looks good for the watching masses but is doomed to failure as the message falls on ears that that have no need to listen – other than to assess the affect on profits from the public relations fallout and that does not mean that the company or its directors end up acting 'morally'.
A quick thought, why is it that energy prices rising are a 'moral issue' but rising house prices are a wonderful thing? One is as important as the other and high house prices mean that hard-working hard-pressed families have huge mortgages (or rent) that limit expenditure elsewhere. I know that houses are a tangible thing that you end up owning, but so is the pension or investment fund you receive from providers that invest in such things as energy firms.
You have to also consider that all this moralising forgets that a main plank of (EU led) fossil fuel energy policy over the last decades has been to tax its use out of existence (like tobacco) in the hope that something 'green' (but subsidised) will turn up.
But at the end of the day it's easier to take a quick and populist swipe at energy firms rather trying to put 'morals' at the heart of UK company law in a globalised world or by admitting that we have totally miscalculated and are still massively dependent on fossil fuels to keep our economy going.