Category Archives: Accountability

Sustainability’s Infrastructure

Ethnographies of the global value chain of certified tea (SUSTEIN)

By Hannah Elliott, Martin Skrydstrup and Matthew Archer.

Why SUSTEIN?

Currently, the world’s tea industry is on a race with time to source tea sustainably before 2020. But what is “sustainable tea” and how do we know if tea is sustainable or not? This project entitled SUSTEIN (SUStainable TEa INfrastructure) will focus on this question by way of looking at localized translations of transnational sustainability standards in Kenya, United Arab Emirates and corporate headquarters in Europe. We aim to advance our understanding of the global value chain of certified tea.

3 Research lines

The theoretical objective is to venture beyond the notion of global value chain by reinterpreting sustainable supply chain management through the concept of infrastructure, a notion anthropologists and other social scientists have deployed in recent years to emphasize the political and temporal aspects of networks such as transnational supply chains. We hope that this concept will allow us to better comprehend how sustainable certification schemes manifest in global value chains.
SUSTEIN consists of three sub projects, which each address a core question posed by the project:

  • How does certification shape agrarian production in the form of cultivation and factory processing, and vice versa? Who benefits from which sustainability standards? (Line A)
  • How does certification influence the valuation of tea, assessed in terms of taste, grade and price? How is the value of certification performed and capitalized? (Line B)
  • How do corporate professionals and independent auditors distinguish between “sustainable/unsustainable”? What lines of evidence are recognized? (Line C)

Each of these questions will be answered by the corresponding research line:

tea plantation
Tea plantage in Kericho; one of SUSTEIN’s field sites.

Research line A

explores agrarian questions, enquiring into the ways contemporary drives towards sustainability shape and are shaped by modes of tea production in Kenya. The research focuses on the institution of the tea plantation and its associated factories and outgrower farms, all key components of the infrastructure of sustainable tea. The tea plantation has been described as having a “dual character” (Besky 2008: 1); it has its roots in British colonialism while being contemporarily positioned in international markets for certified sustainable commodities. This research line enquires into what ‘sustainability’ comes to mean and materialise within this apparently contradictory setting. How do contemporary measures seeking to ensure sustainable tea production, such as certified standards, affect the way tea is produced in the context of the plantation? And to what extent do longer-standing modes of plantation production endure through the present, in turn shaping contemporary sustainability ideologies and practices? The research line addresses these questions through ethnographic inquiry. The researcher will spend time with the people working on tea plantations and in factories certified by different certification bodies and on the farms of outgrowers contracted to supply the companies owning plantations with supplementary sustainable tea. Through interviews and participant observation, the ethnographer will enquire into the social, political and ethical worlds surrounding sustainable tea production in contemporary Kenya.

Research line B

will follow through on the plantation and factory sites to the auction sites in Mombasa and Dubai. Ethnographic fieldwork will be conducted in the Jebel Ali Free Zone in Dubai with no tax regulations, no strict labor laws nor import/export duties, making it the perfect infrastructural hub to blend and pack tea according to corporate logic. Likely as an outcome of this, the Dubai Tea Trading Centre has since its establishment in 2005 risen to re-export 60% of the world’s tea production. These volumes are predominantly traded on virtual platforms.
In contrast, the Mombasa Tea Auction holds two weekly auctions under the auspices of the East African Tea Trade Association (EATTA), which conforms to national regulations (Tea Act of Kenya & Tea Board of Kenya). Recently, this auction site voted “against the mouse and for the hammer,” maintaining the tradition of the Dutch auction style vs. virtual trading. The ethnography for this research line will move between these two sites, following tea blenders who purchase in Mombasa vs. Dubai and investigating tea expertise and technologies as it pertains to the valuation of certified tea.

Research line C

builds on these ethnographies of production and exchange to try and understand the relationship between corporations and standards/certification regimes. There is a tension between these groups of actors whereby standards organizations such as the Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade International need to appear independent in order for their certifications to remain credible while at the same time remaining sensitive to the financial obligations of for-profit corporations in order to promote “buy-in.”
This research line will draw on interviews with people working in these organizations and participant observation at sites where they interact, including industry conferences and trade fairs. These are the sites where sustainability is negotiated as both a concept and as a set of practices. With that in mind, interview questions will focus on, among other things, the extent to which specific agricultural and trading practices are integrated into broader definitions of sustainability and their manifestation in different certification regimes, the challenges of maintaining a critical distance between certifiers and corporations, and the way standards govern markets and, crucially, vice versa.

The grant

SUSTEIN is made possible by the Sapere Aude Starting Grant (meaning “dare to know”), awarded by the Danish Council for Independent Research (DFF). The Sapere Aude program “is aimed at younger, very talented researchers, who at the time of the application deadline and within the last eight years have obtained their PhD”. The Sapere Aude program targets “top researchers who intend to gather a group of researchers, in order to carry out a research project at a high, international level.”

Reference

Besky, S. (2008) ‘Can a plantation be fair? Paradoxes and possibilities in Fair Trade Darjeeling tea certification’. Anthropology of Work, XXIX: 1, pp. 1-9.


Hannah Elliott is a post-doc in the Department of Management, Society, and Communication at Copenhagen Business School, having recently finished her PhD at the University of Copenhagen. She is responsible for research line A.

Martin Skrydstrup is an associate professor in the Department of Management, Society, and Communication at Copenhagen Business School and is the principal investigator of SUSTEIN. He is also responsible for research line B.

Matthew Archer is an assistant professor in the Department of Management, Society, and Communication at Copenhagen Business School and is responsible for research line C. He recently completed his PhD in environmental studies at Yale University and is interested in corporate sustainability and sustainable finance.


Closing remarks

In a year we hope to update BOS readers about how far we are with answering our research questions. In the meantime, we invite you to swing by our offices at Dalgas Have for a cup of tea.
The SUSTEIN project runs from 1 July 2018 to 30 June 2020.
For further information about the project, please contact the principal investigator, Martin Skrydstrup, at msk.msc@cbs.dk.

Feeling the Pain

By Robin Porsfelt.

While the recent US ’opioid crisis’ has been widely reported, a second, less recognized, crisis related to opioids has been taking place, and is still ongoing, more quietly in countries with less Western media visibility. Whereas the crisis in the US is arguably related to an over-subscription to opioid-based pain relief, such as OxyContin, the second crisis could rather be seen as a case of too tightly regulated access to opioids in health-care systems. This is at least the argument of a recent report commissioned by The Lancet which proclaims that the world is experiencing an under-management of pain where as many as 25 million people are suffering partly as a result of regulatory and cultural approaches to the use of opioids.

Severe lack of access

The report was the result of a three-year study on the integration and access of pain relief and palliative care in health systems. It opens with a succinct description of the problem: “Poor people in all parts of the world live and die with little or no palliative care or pain relief. Staring into this access abyss, one sees the depth of extreme suffering in the cruel face of poverty and inequity” (Knaul, Farmer & Krakauer et al, 2017: 1).

Those suffering from lack of access to adequate medication are predominantly found in low-income and middle-income countries, often with terminal illnesses, and includes approximately 2.5 million children dying with, what the report terms, ‘serious health-related suffering’ each year (Knaul, Farmer & Krakauer et al, 2017: 2). Of the almost 300 metric tons of morphine-equivalent opioids distributed annually, only 0.1 metric tons reach health systems in low-income countries. This is something the report’s authors condemn as: “a medical, public health, and moral failing and a travesty of justice” (Knaul, Farmer & Krakauer et al, 2017: 1).

Addiction and pain relief

But what are the reasons for this state of potentially unnecessary suffering? In contrast to many other debates on access to medication, the problem is in this case not predominantly related to questions of scarcity, costs, or tightly enforced intellectual property rights to drugs, but rather a mix of cultural and regulatory factors. There are (at least) two factors that explain the pattern: One is a lack of visibility due to fragmented patient advocacy and exclusion of pain alleviation from standard measures of health. Another key factor is that opioids do not only fall under the scope of medical regulation but are also controlled substances under international drug conventions (Ibid.).

As substances such as morphine are listed and regulated as narcotic substances by the UN, they become part of a machinery of international checks and balances on their flow, including import quotas and reporting requirements. The UN treaties are based on two imperatives, on the one hand the limitation of harmful and addictive substances, and on the other hand to secure access to medically vital analgesics.[1] In recent decades, the war on a drugs-compatible first imperative of strict control has become increasingly dominant, making such medication harder to access (Knaul, Farmer & Krakauer et al, 2017: 8).

A second related issue suggested by the report is ‘opiophobia’, described as prejudice and misinformation concerning medical use of opioids. Whereas a balanced approach to opioid prescriptions is needed, a prevalent fear of non-medical use and its side-effects among health-care providers, regulators, and patients have led to an underestimation of needs and insufficient medical use in many countries (Ibid.).

What’s to be done

Even though this inequity in pain relief is indeed under-acknowledged, potential solutions should at least, in theory, not be gridlocked by economic interests. As morphine and morphine-like medication is cheap to produce and commonly used in Western medical systems, the problem is rather about framing and contesting stigmatization. While acknowledging the risks with a too laissez-faire approach, there is a need to recognize the value in a controlled medical use of opioids to avoid unnecessary suffering as well.

A way to do so, as the report highlights, would for instance be a broadening of the third Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on ensuring healthy lives and well-being for all. Currently, the battle against substance abuse is covered in the SDG target 3.5, a step forward however would be to include pain alleviation and access to pain relief as similarly essential objectives – for instance as part of SDG target 3.8 on universal health coverage. As a measure, this is of course not enough, but at the current stage, and given the documented ‘abyss’ of equity in pain treatment worldwide, simply diagnosing the issue as problematic per se would to some degree seem like progress.

 

[1] A member of a group of drugs to achieve analgesia, i.e. relief from pain. (editor’s note)

References

Knaul, F. M., Farmer, P. E., Krakauer, E. L., et al. (2017). Alleviating the access abyss in palliative care and pain relief––an imperative of universal health coverage: The Lancet Commission report. Lancet. DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(17)32513-8


Robin Porsfelt is a PhD fellow at the Department of Management, Society and Communication. He is part of a PhD cohort on time and societal challenges, with particular research interests in the sociology of valuation and global governance

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash.

Hybrid organizing in the face of grand challenges

By Ali Aslan Gümüsay.

Sharing is not always caring

In 2015, thousands of refugees arrived in Europe. A recent paper by Kornberger and colleagues (2017) zooms in on the “Train of Hope”, a civil society organization that organically gained exclusive operational command at Vienna’s main train station during this refugee crisis. The paper is a critical reflection on much of the current sharing economy ‘hype’. In contrast to cases of “collaborative consumption”[1], where platform companies such as AirBnB or Uber offer (share?) other people’s resources, this is an exemplary case of engagement and sharing without expectations for direct individual return: a sharing of a concern for social well-being.[2] Sharing then becomes caring.

Hybridity everywhere

What is Train of Hope? It is probably something of a platform and social movement blend that combines various skills like first aid, translation and accommodation services. It is a hybrid organization – and such hybrids seem to pop up everywhere lately. These novel forms of organizing combine different logics, orders of worth, value spheres, organizational forms and/or identities – struggling for a value(s) synthesis.[3] I see incubators, social ventures, ateliers, fab labs struggling to organize, represent and scale – and find their diverse pursuits fascinating, enriching and complementary. They do hybrid organizing in and for society and are frequently novel, digital, flexible, fluid, cross-boundary, multi-jurisdictional, and temporary forms.

Grand challenges & novel forms of organizing

Why now? A potential answer may lie in the types of challenges our societies face. Scholars from the field of management and organization studies speak of “grand challenges”[4] that are complex, uncertain, and multi-jurisdictional phenomena.[5] They represent fundamental, global societal concerns of ecological or social nature that require coordinated and collective efforts of multiple actors, including business firms, governments, civil society, and academia – as well as new forms of (hybrid) organizing.

Together with Emilio Marti (Erasmus University Rotterdam), Hannah Trittin (Leuphana University Lüneburg), and Christopher Wickert (VU University Amsterdam), I have initiated a scientific network that will be funded by the German National Science Foundation (DFG). The network will zoom in over the next three years on the interrelationship between grand challenges and new forms of organizing. Such organizations attempt to tackle the various sustainable development goals from climate change, decent work and sustainable growth, gender equality, populism and racism, societal cohesion, responsible consumption and production, to sustainable cities and communities.

A Janus face

The scientific network takes the vantage point in the assumption that such new forms of organizing often have a Janus face. They are both potential cause and solution for certain grand societal challenges. On the one hand, social entrepreneurial ventures[6], online communities such as Wikipedia and Linux[7], crowd science projects like Foldit, Galaxy Zoo and Polymath[8], and social initiatives like “Train of Hope” promise novel means to tackle these challenges. On the other hand, they also create new ones. For example, crowdsourcing and other new forms of platform-organized work crafted along the surge of the digital economy[9] often fuel the proliferation of precarious, self-employed and low-paid work that undermines social welfare systems and thus endanger modern democracies.[10] Likewise, in her recent book “Weapons of Math Destruction”, O’Neil (2016) describes how the (ab)use of new, seemingly efficient big data management techniques can promote, rather than reduce, racism, inequality and discrimination. Clearly then, novel hybrid forms of organizing promise many opportunities to tackle grand challenges – yet also create new (grand) challenges for society.


Ali Aslan Gümüsay is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Hamburg and Research Fellow at Vienna University of Economics & Business. Twitter: @guemuesay

 

[1] Botsman & Rogers, 2010.

[2] Gümüsay, 2018.

[3] Gümüsay, 2017.

[4] George, Howard-Grenville, Joshi, & Tihanyi, 2016.

[5] Ferraro, Etzion, & Gehman, 2015.

[6] Mair & Martí, 2006.

[7] Garud, Jain, & Tuertscher, 2008.

[8] Franzoni & Sauermann, 2014.

[9] Bauer & Gegenhuber, 2015; Boes, Kämpf, Langes, & Lühr, 2016.

[10] Morozov, 2015.

References

Bauer, R. M., & Gegenhuber, T. 2015. Crowdsourcing: Global search and the twisted roles of consumers and producers. Organization, 22(5): 661–681.

Boes, A., Kämpf, T., Langes, B., & Lühr, T. 2016. “Lean” und “agil” im Büro: Neue Formen der Organisation von Kopfarbeit in der digitalen Transformation, Working Paper Forschungsförderung. Düsseldorf: Hans-Böckler-Stiftung.

Botsman, R., & Rogers, R. 2010. Beyond zipcar: Collaborative consumption. Harvard Business Review, 88(10): 30.

Ferraro, F., Etzion, D., & Gehman, J. 2015. Tackling Grand Challenges Pragmatically: Robust Action Revisited. Organization Studies, 36(3): 363–390.

Franzoni, C., & Sauermann, H. 2014. Crowd science: The organization of scientific research in open collaborative projects. Research Policy, 43(1): 1–20.

Garud, R., Jain, S., & Tuertscher, P. 2008. Incomplete by Design and Designing for Incompleteness. Organization Studies, 29(3): 351–371.

George, G., Howard-Grenville, J., Joshi, A., & Tihanyi, L. 2016. Understanding and Tackling Societal Grand Challenges through Management Research. Academy of Management Journal, 59(6): 1880–1895.

Gümüsay, A. A. 2017. Unpacking entrepreneurial opportunities: an institutional logics perspective. Innovation: Organization & Management, 1–14.

Gümüsay, A. A. 2018. COMMENTARY: Sharing is caring: From material to socio-material sharing. Academy of Management Discoveries. [Forthcoming]

Kornberger, M., Leixnering, S., Meyer, R., & Hoellerer, M. 2017. Rethinking the Sharing Economy: The Nature and Organization of Sharing in the 2015 Refugee Crisis. Academy of Management Discoveries. https://doi.org/10.5465/amd.2016.0138.

Mair, J., & Martí, I. 2006. Social entrepreneurship research: A source of explanation, prediction, and delight. Journal of World Business, 41(1): 36–44.

O’Neil, C. 2016. Weapons of math destruction: how big data increases inequality and threatens democracy. London: Allen Lane.

Pic: SDGs, circle, by UN WMO; edited.

Behavioural change in the work environment: a first review on MSC’s sustainable food policy.

By Jan Bauer.

  • MSC reviews six months of its sustainable food policy
  • Setting defaults can be highly effective
  • Guiding principles for the “right” defaults are not always easy to determine

During the summer 2017, the Department for Management, Society & Communication (MSC) at CBS hold a competition among its members to come up with ideas to foster sustainable behaviour within the daily work-life of the department. In addition to talking the talk in lectures and research, MSC hosts the CBS center for Corporate Social Responsibility, we also wanted to walk it.

Among many interesting submissions, the newly founded sustainable infrastructure task force (SIT) awarded the best idea, based on the potential impact and the feasibility of application within MSC. An idea to reduce the consumption of meat was declared as the winner. According to many studies, the reduction of meat reduces CO2 emissions and is associated with various health benefits.

Despite this evidence, banning meat in the department would have certainly and rightfully created substantial backlash. Banning meat would have unlikely been supported by a majority of the department members or its leadership as it can be arguably considered as an overly strong infringement of individual freedom.

Behavioural policy and the power of defaults

Based on a behavioral policy approach, the new food policy, publicly discussed in a department meeting and implemented in October 2017, ultimately changed the choice architecture of the way people order meals for meetings and events. For a trial period of six months, all meals became vegetarian by default; meaning that people get a vegetarian meal unless they actively opt-out and order a meat-based dish with a short email reply or by ticking a button (see example from a recent workshop invitation).

This idea is based on the principle of libertarian paternalism, which aims to steer peoples’ behaviour without restricting the freedom of choice and has been famously advocated by our colleague Cass Sunstein.

The power and controversy about purposefully setting defaults is often discussed in the context of organ donation. There is little doubt about the fact that people’s inertia to register as a donor can be linked to preventable deaths under the opt-out rule. The Netherlands recently change the default on the issue, but not all countries are expected to follow their example.

Predominant support for a sustainable default rule

The trial period of our food policy helped to understand the difficulties of implementing such a policy, e.g. what to do when you cannot ask participants. But it also aimed to collect data on how many vegetarian and meat-based meals were ordered. After the end of the trial period, a survey was conducted to elicit peoples’ attitudes towards and experiences with the policy.

More than 90% of the self-reported food orderings were vegetarian and the survey revealed that a majority supports to expand the policy beyond the trial period. However, the policy was not exclusively received with praise. Different concerns were raised about the policy, including the perception not feeling free to publicly speak up against such an initiative aimed and officially framed to “save the planet”.

Guiding principles: scientific evidence or democratic process?

I am confident that this pilot project will resolve its remaining issues, but the process itself has been a valuable learning experience and sparked some reflection. One issue is the rather simple question on what guiding principle should the default be selected in such an example. Two ideas come to mind instantly: assuming there is corporate interest in the health of employees and low CO2 emissions, the scientific evidence suggests that the vegetarian default should be the preferred way. However, decisions based on naturally broad scientific claims might miss important case-specific aspects, neglect the (corporate) culture and individual preferences.

Alternatively, setting the default by a democratic process might suffer from limited debate for such a morally loaded topic and individual biases against the abstract value of one’s own long-term health or reducing global warming. In principle, the aim should be to maximize overall welfare and nudge people to be “better off as judged by the themselves”. For reasons outlined above, it is not always easy or even fully clear, how and when individual judgement of such a policy should be assessed.

Judgement at the right time

When it comes to the food itself, having the light, vegetarian meal could be judged as less appealing before or during lunch when being extremely hungry, but evaluation might already change shortly after the meal. Reflecting on a meal in a satiated state can alter the importance of different aspects. Research suggests that hunger shifts preferences towards more palatable and less healthy foods, but also repeated exposure to a specific food increases preference for it. Hence, only 30 minutes could make all the difference, but potential benefits to health and environment might manifest in 30 years and only by then alter retrospective evaluation of such a policy.

Even though there is no natural default, most people like eating meat despite potential adverse health effects, including myself, which makes justifying any default rule difficult. In our case, all approaches we tried point towards the same result, which makes us hopeful to do the right thing. A decision to prolong the experimental policy by another year was recently made in the Department Forum. However, it is important to keep in mind that at its worst, this specific policy presents a die-hard meat lover with a vegetarian meal that he forgot to opt-out of – a hopefully rare event I am nevertheless sorry for.


Jan Bauer is Assistant Professor at Copenhagen Business School and part of CBS’ Governing Responsible Business Research Environment. His research interests are in the fields of health economics and consumer behaviour. As part of the Nudge-it Project, he focused on fostering healthy food choices of children and adults.

‘Just Sustainabilities’ in a World of Global Value Chains

By Stefano Ponte.

What if we used our size and resources to make this country and this earth an even better place for all of us: customers, Associates, our children, and generations unborn? What if the very things that many people criticize us for—our size and reach—became a trusted friend? 

Excerpt from ‘Leadership in the 21st Century’, speech by Lee Scott, then CEO of Walmart, Bentonville, Arkansas, 24 October 2005 (as in Humes 2011: 102)

Whenever we engage in consumption or production patterns which take more than we need, we are engaging in violence.

Vandana Shiva, Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace (2016: 102)

A New Era

Human activity is having major impact on the earth and its biosphere, to the point that geologists have now defined a new era – the Anthropocene – to reflect this phenomenon. For some, this is a period that started in the late 18th century with a marked increase in fossil fuel use, and that has accelerated dramatically since the middle of the 19th century. During this time, human action has overshadowed nature’s work in influencing the ecology of the Earth. Global sustainability crises, such as climate change, the acidification of oceans, and the ‘sixth great extinction’ of planetary life characterize this period of great turbulence in the relation between humanity and nature.

Others question the focus on humanity as an undifferentiated whole in the term ‘Anthropocene’, and propose a different term to explain the same result: Capitalocene, ‘the era of capitalism as a world-ecology of power, capital and nature’ (Moore 2016: 6). This term shifts focus away from the putative duality of human-nature relations and towards capitalism as a way of organizing nature. From a Capitalocene perspective, major changes in the world-ecology started taking place already in the mid-15th century – with a progressive transition from control of land as a way to appropriate surplus value, to control of land as a way of increasing labour productivity for commodity production. In other words, it is not enough to simply examine what capitalism does to nature and how humanity can solve global sustainability challenges through innovation in technology and business models. We need to conceptualize power, value and nature as thinkable only in relation to each other.

Sustainability Management

In addition to cost, flexibility and speed, sustainability management has become another key element of contemporary capitalism. The practices that corporations enact to address sustainability issues are also (re)shaping the existing spatial, organizational and technological fixes that are needed to ensure continuous capital accumulation.  Geographically, production is moving to locations that can meet basic sustainability specifications in large volumes and at low cost; organizationally, multi-stakeholder initiatives on sustainability have come to play a key role in global value chain (GVC) functioning; labour conditions among suppliers are under pressure from the need to meet increasing environmental sustainability demands from lead firms; and the need to verify sustainability compliance has led to the adoption of new technologies of measurement, verification, and trust.

The ‘business case’ for sustainability has been by and large solved – lead firms do not only extract sustainability value from suppliers, but also benefit from internal cost savings, supplier squeezing, reputation enhancement and improved market capitalization. As the value of goods increasingly depends on their intangible properties (including those related to sustainability) than on their functional or economic value, sustainability management becomes a central function of corporate strategy – filtering through organization, marketing, operations and logistics. Lead firms in GVCs are leveraging sustainability to extract more information from suppliers, strengthen power relations to their advantage, and find new venues of value creation and capture.

The business of sustainability is not sufficient as a global solution to pressing climate change and other environmental problems. It is doing enough for corporations seeking to acquire legitimacy and governance authority. This legitimacy is further enhanced through partnerships with governments and civil society groups. Some of this engagement is used strategically to provide ‘soft’ solutions to sustainability concerns and to avoid more stringent regulation. While the business of sustainability is leading to some environmental improvements in some places, and better use of resources in relative terms in some industries, the overall pressure on global resources is increasing. The unit-level environmental impact of production, processing, trade and retail is improving. But constantly growing consumption, both in the global North and in the global South, means that in the aggregate environmental sustainability suffers.

What To Do

Public actors at all jurisdictional levels need to put in place orchestration strategies that improve the actual achievement of sustainability goals, and activists and civil society groups should identify and leverage pressure to strengthen the effectiveness of orchestration. But these strategies have to be informed by the realities of the daily practices, power relations and governance structures of a world economy that is organized in global value chains. Orchestration is more likely to succeed when a combination of directive and facilitative instruments is used; when sustainability issues have high visibility in a global value chains; when the interests of private and public sectors are aligned, and when orchestrators are aware of the kinds of power that underpin the governance of value chains and act to reshape these power configurations accordingly.

A path towards ‘just sustainabilities’ means addressing inequality – since it drives competitive consumption and leads to lower levels of trust in societies, which makes public action more difficult; it entails focusing on improving quality of life and wellbeing, rather than growth; it demands a community economy and more public consumption; it involves meeting the needs of both current and future generations and at the same time reimagining these ‘needs’; it demands a paradigm of ‘sufficiency’, rather than maximization of consumption; it recognizes that overconsumption and environmental degradation impacts on many people’s right to enjoy a decent quality of life; and it requires a different kind of ‘green entrepreneurial state’, which also caters to these needs. Just sustainabilities necessitate building a social foundation for an inclusive and stable economic system that operates within our environmental planetary boundaries; and it demands business to behave responsibly (within its organizational boundaries and along value chains) to maintain its social license to operate.

This text is based on excerpts of Stefano Ponte’s forthcoming book Green Capital, Brown Environments: Business and Sustainability in a World of Global Value Chains, Zed Books: London. The book is based on 20 years of research on sustainability and global value chains, and builds from empirical work on several agro-food value chains (wine, coffee, biofuels) and capital-intensive industries (shipping and aviation).

Stefano Ponte is Professor of International Political Economy in the Department of Business and Politics, Copenhagen Business School and the former academic co-director of the Sustainability Platform at CBS. Twitter: @AfricaBusPol


Selected books for further reading on this topic:

Agyeman, J. 2013. Introducing just sustainabilities: Policy, planning, and practice. Zed Books.

Dauvergne, P. 2016. Environmentalism of the Rich. MIT Press.

Humes, E. 2011. Force of nature: The unlikely story of Wal-Mart’s green revolution. HarperBusiness New York.

Jackson, T. 2009. Prosperity without growth: Economics for a finite planet. Routledge.

Moore, J. 2016. Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, history, and the crisis of capitalism. PM Press.

Shiva, V. 2016. Earth democracy: Justice, sustainability and peace. Zed Books.

 

Pic by Marufish, Flickr.

Droned

by Glen Whelan.

A Military Heritage

A drone is an unmanned aircraft. Long used to refer to male honeybees – whose main function is to fertilize a receptive queen bee (and then die a seemingly horrific death) the word was first used to refer to remote-controlled aircraft by the US Navy back in the 1930s. The word was chosen as a homage to ‘the Queen Bee’, a remote-control aircraft that the Royal Navy demonstrated to the US Navy, and that inspired the US Navy to develop similar aircraft.

In the 1990s, the word drone was being used as a verb to describe the act of turning a piloted aircraft into an unpiloted one.[i] And by 2009, the word drone was being used to describe the act of remotely killing someone. As Fattima Bhutto wrote in 2009:

“Droned” is a verb we use now in Pakistan. It turns out, interestingly enough, that those US predator drones that have been killing Pakistani citizens almost weekly have been taking off from and landing within our own country. Secret airbases in Balochistan – what did we ever do before Google Earth? [ii]

Various Civilian Uses

With the development of consumer market autonomous drones[iii] that can be told to follow yourself or another person, it seems that the word ‘droned’, or ‘droning’, is soon to be used more regularly. Rather than just being used to describe acts of murder (or defense), however, it seems it will be used to refer to the act of being filmed or recorded by (autonomous) flying devices more generally.

Such filming will clearly be a good thing for legitimate film-making. And there are possibilities for autonomous drones to be used to improve accountability: as a form of sousveillance in response to surveillance by the powerful. But drones have other uses as well. Indeed, there are already numerous cases of drones being used for stalking around the world. Late last year for example, it was reported that:

“A group of women living in a rural setting near Port Lincoln on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula have been woken at night by a drone looking into their home…. One of the women, who like the rest of the group did not want to be identified, was asleep and alone at home on her relatively remote hobby farm. She was woken by a bang on her bedroom window and when she looked out into the darkness was confronted by a camera attached to a drone, hovering within centimetres of her window”.

Technologically Changing Society

Whilst such reports are alarming, Nick Bilton[iv] has used a personal anecdote to suggest that the negatives of being droned could be overstated. As he writes:

“I was sitting in my home office, working on this very column about neighbours getting into arguments over drones, when I heard a strange buzzing sound outside. I looked up and hovering 20 feet (around 6 metres) from my window was a black drone with a beady-eyed camera pointed at me.

At first, I was upset and felt spied upon. But the more I thought about it, the more I came to the opposite conclusion. Maybe it’s because I’ve become inured to the reality of being monitored 24/7, whether it’s through surveillance cameras or Internet browsers. I see little difference between a drone hovering near my window, and someone standing across the street with a pair of binoculars. Both can peer into my office.”

Whether or not the majority of people would agree, or disagree, with Bilton’s sentiment, is well beyond the present piece. But what should be noted with regard to it, is that he seems to be correct to emphasize that droning will have a material impact on what we deem (un)acceptable. Thus, as more and more people get droned – and as the capacity to make more sophisticated autonomous drones gathers pace – we should expect social norms and practices regarding privacy and personal (air) space to change as well.


Glen Whelan teaches at McGill, is a Visiting Scholar at York University’s Schulich School of Business, and the social media editor for the Journal of Business Ethics. He was GRB Fellow at CBS in 2016/2017.  His research focuses on the moral and political influence of corporations, and high-tech corporations in particular. He is on twitter @grwhelan.

Links

[i] Zimmmer, B. 2013. The flight of ‘drone’ from bees to planes. The Wall Street Journal, July 26. https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324110404578625803736954968

[ii] Bhutto, F. 2009. Missing you already. New Statesman, March 12. https://www.newstatesman.com/asia/2009/03/pakistan-war-government-terror

[iii] https://www.skydio.com

[iv] Bilton, N. 2016. When your neighbor’s drone pays an unwelome visit. The New York Times, January 27. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/28/style/neighbors-drones-invade-privacy.html

Pic by Cambodia, P.I. Networt, Flickr. No changes made.

Is Social Media Redefining the Pursuit of Social Change?

By Daniel Lundgaard.

  • Social media has become a battleground where NGOs with global perspectives, corporations and new digital social movements all fight to shape public opinion in the pursuit of social change
  • Though often criticized for the low quality of online deliberation, social media has become one of the primary avenues for diffusion of information, and increasingly an embedded part of our infrastructure
  • This calls for more research on how social media is changing various aspects of our lives and how we, through collaborative efforts, may foster change

Approximate Reading Time: 2-3 min.

Social Media for Social Change?
The impact of social media on the way we live our lives is undeniable. Recent statistics suggests that there are more than three billion active social media users. This makes social networking sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter some of the most influential contexts regarding diffusion of information and they are, to a certain extent and as many of us would admit, emotionally contagious. This has created a digitalized world where social media has ‘given a voice to the people’, as civil society can use social media to express concerns. However, the debate about whether expressing concerns through social media leads to any substantial change is only just at the beginning.

What is your take on this? Is social media cultivating global collaboration and facilitating a pursuit for a better world, or instead disrupting the debate by cultivating polarization and fragmentation? – And are these two arguments necessarily mutually exclusive? Join me as we explore these two sides a bit further to understand how social media might be the key to pursuing social change.

The two sides of the debate
On the one side of the debate, we have the argument that social media facilitates constructive, powerful and impactful digitally networked action to pursue social change, as for example seen with the Arab Spring and recently the #Metoo movement. This follows the argument that these online platforms are evolving from a tool for social interaction towards becoming an embedded part of our infrastructure and some of the primary contexts for collaborative efforts.

On the other side, we have the argument that simply enabling collaborative efforts is not enough to promote social change, as social media is argued to be “ripping apart the social fabric of how society works” (former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya. The challenge is that social media is heavily criticized for disrupting the pursuit for social change by cultivating echo-chambers, destructive polarization, fake-news and filter bubbles which hinder constructive online deliberation. This critique is further substantiated by critics arguing that social media cultivates non-committal activism (often referred to as slacktivism), which can thwart efforts to achieve social change, as ‘likes’ or ‘shares’ still can’t be eaten, and sharing or liking an image of a starving child doesn’t solve any issues by itself.

Why you shouldn’t disregard social media’s potential
The keywords here are “by itself”, because while the isolated ability for social media to cultivate social change is questioned, social media’s ability to connect millions of disparate actors and facilitate engagement in collaborative efforts cannot be denied. Social media has the innate ability to link individual contributions and facilitate large-scale collaboration that leads to a better outcome than what each individual could have achieved on his or her own as for example illustrated by how Change.org and SumOfUs.org use social media to fight social injustice and socially irresponsible corporations. Fostering polarization might very well be destructive, but it can also be constructive and facilitate social change by inspiring stronger commitment within specific groups, which might help ‘fuel’ collaborative efforts towards more substantial change.

These two sides are thus not necessarily mutually exclusive, as the coherent large-scale collaboration potentially benefit from emerging through more polarized communities that can give a ‘voice’ to otherwise squelched and ‘minor’ opinions, as seen with the #BlackLivesMatter-movement and the #Metoo-movement. The key to using social media in the pursuit for social change is therefore to harness the ability for social media to link disparate like-minded actors and facilitate coherent large-scale collaboration, as illustrated by the Occupy Wall Street-movement as well as the Tunisian uprising that sparked the Arab Spring. The ability to connect globally disparate actors based on perceived shared values and some form of collective mind-set is thus one of the primary ways that social media is changing the pursuit for social change.

Social media has become a battleground
These examples illuminate that social media has become a battleground where NGOs with global perspectives, corporations and new digital social movements all fight to shape public opinion on the pursuit for social change. The important thing to note is that we are seeing the beginning of change. Implications of business practices are becoming a matter of civic concern, as evidenced by how consumers use social media to express their concerns and continuously attempt to influence corporate behavior in the pursuit for a better world. Social media is thus at the core of pursuing social change, as consumers can circumvent the traditional ‘gate-keeping’ function of traditional media and directly interact with organizations, which to a certain extent have empowered the digitalized civil society.

The critique of social media should however not be disregarded. Echo-chambers can be highly destructive, and social networking sites can create personalized ‘bubbles’ where your exposure to information is determined by the platform, as illustrated by the recent Facebook-data leak suggesting that data was harvested and exploited in an attempt to reshape political deliberation.

However, using the strengths of social media to unite in numbers has undoubtedly created new opportunities for us as consumers to affect public opinion towards an increased emphasis on social responsibility and social change. The next question is then how these collaborative efforts lead to substantial change, potentially by influencing the behavior of organizations, which is something I will continue to investigate in my research going forwards.


Daniel Lundgaard is a PhD fellow at the CBS Governing Responsible Business Research Environment. His research is mainly focused on the impact of the digital transformation, in particular, how social media has ‘given a voice to the people’ as a way to challenge norms and dominating discourses, and thereby changed our world and influenced the relationship between business and society.

Pic by Kym Ellis via Unsplash, edited by BOS.

Investigating Emerging Responsible Corporate Tax Practice

By Sara Jespersen.

  • In the absence of an over-arching world tax authority, much agency and power remains in the hands of the corporations operating the system.
  • Much of the discussion on responsible corporate tax practice is focused on those corporations that maximize the use of the rules to minimize their tax payments
  • But what about those corporations that do not participate in the race to the bottom on tax practices –  can we see emerging trends of responsible corporate tax practice and where?

Approximate reading time: 2-3 minutes.

The issue – corporate tax and globalization
Corporate tax planning is high on the political agenda in Denmark and, indeed, internationally since the revelations of how corporations minimize their tax bills through the use of tax havens have started rolling. Several corporations have been exposed for their aggressive practices by the European Commission, NGOs, journalists – to the great outrage of the public and politicians.

Valuable work is being undertaken to understand the depth of the crisis for society, the seriousness of the problem – its persistence and scale, and the dynamics of the politics of solving it. Much of which is focused on those corporations that maximize the use of the rules to minimize their tax payments.

But what about those corporations that already pay their so-called fair share and do not participate in the race to the bottom on tax practices? In particular, those who are not afraid to show it?

The governance challenge – tax competition among sovereign states and the offshore world
The challenge of all this arises because of the way in which the governance of the tax affairs of multinational enterprises (MNEs) is set up. MNEs that operate in several countries from the North to the South of the world operate in various judicial systems. Many of them also have mobile assets that can be moved from one jurisdiction to another through the click of a mouse and has little to do with the physical world. Some jurisdictions have set themselves up to attract the location of this type of intangible assets and will give favourable tax conditions in return. Judging where corporate assets should be taxed and what the market value is of intangible assets is no easy task for any one country in the world. With no over-arching world tax authority the outlook for permanent solutions to some of these fundamental challenges to the taxation of MNEs corporate profits is looking somewhat long-term.

What role for business and for responsible corporate tax practices?
So it looks that much agency and power remains in the hands of the corporations operating the system. In a society where the focus on corporate tax payments remains one of the hottest topics and trust in corporate tax affairs is dwindling for years on end conditions are perfect for encouraging greater responsibility in corporate tax matters. But what responses are we seeing from the business world of their own initiative if any? How are they responding to this mounting distrust in corporate taxation practices from “society”?

There are signals that somethings are brewing. The fair tax mark in the UK have taken off, CSR Europe have included the issue of corporate tax in their work, as has the network of responsible investors the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) and the European Commission is not shy to be clear about their vision of tax as a part of CSR (speech by Margrethe Vestager, EU trade commissioner.

My research going forward will focus on investigating this emerging trend of responsible corporate tax practice. It will investigate to what degree it is already taking place and what it might consists of, as well as its meaning and potential in an international political economy with a great focus on corporate tax payments and MNE’s role in supporting the achievement of the sustainable development goals around the world.


Sara is PhD Fellow at Copenhagen Business School and her research is focused on the emerging relationship between responsible business conduct and corporate tax planning of multinational enterprises. Building on several years of experience from working with international development NGOs, Sara is particularly interested in how this affects developing countries’ financing challenges and the focus on the role of the private sector in achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs).  

You can contact Sara via email and follow her on Twitter.

Pic by Madison Kaminski (Unsplash), edited by BOS.