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What We're Reading: Is Private Equity Joining – or Co-opting – the Employee Ownership Movement?

In a May 19, 2022, article entitled Is Private Equity Joining – or Co-opting – the Employee Ownership Movement? appearing in the Fast Company online magazine, authors Marjorie Kelly and Karen Kahn highlight the skepticism of employee ownership experts concerning private equity-backed initiatives to build worker wealth through shared ownership.

The article focuses in particular on Ownership Works, a nonprofit that partners with companies and investors to help companies develop and create employee ownership programs for a diverse workforce. At least, that is the claim, but some experts are questioning whether Ownership Works promotes or jeopardizes a democratic economy.

Is the focus where it should be, on the workers who are creating value for companies, or is the focus on making money for Ownership Works?

Many of the affiliates of the new Ownership Works effort are known to extract wealth from companies, loading them up with debt to the detriment of employees. “They’re doing what big capital does: take over a concept like employee ownership and make it their own in order to make more money,” said Ian MacFarlane, president of

EA Engineering, a $140 million environmental engineering firm that is 100% employee owned and a B Corporation.

The washing phenomenon is not new and has co-opted the climate justice movement, Greenwashing, as well as the LGBTQ+ movement, Pinkwashing.

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