Category Archives: Concepts

CSR: When High Aspirations Go Low – and How to Avoid it

By Peter Winkler & Michael Etter.

Managers’ public claims to improve CSR can have self-persuasive effects on corporations and their members. However, sometimes such “aspirational talk” can have the opposite effect. We explain why this may happen and how to avoid it.

“Green washing” or “smoke and mirrors” are labels that are often attached to the promises of managers who publicly claim to improve CSR. CBS researchers have challenged this sceptical view and argue that “aspirational talk” by managers, by raising public expectations and scrutiny, can make corporations and their members live up to these aspirations.

Sometimes, however, we argue that even the best-intended aspirations can have opposite, even detrimental effects. In the following we provide some reflections on the conditions, under which high CSR aspirations may “go low” and we suggest some ideas how to prevent such outcome.

From persuasive to provisional aspirations
Aspirations are helpful to direct and motivate employees. However, the last thing managers need on a mission towards substantial corporate responsibilisation are “blind believers”. Employees, who simply rely on a visionary manager and do not voice, where current business conduct impedes aspired CSR, will contribute little to change. Hence, we propose that managers should avoid getting too persuasive and creating “corporate cultism” around aspired CSR. Rather, managers should signal that visions are provisional and that employees, who critique contradictions between vision and reality, are the true driver of change.

From insistent to revisable aspirations
We suggest that managers should not stick too closely to their initial CSR aspirations. As innovation research tells us, insistence on initial ideas is never a good advisor to affect change. In contrary, managerial insistence on initial CSR aspirations may prevent that different ideas about future CSR by employees develop. Hence, managerial willingness to revise their aspirations in accordance to what employees consider responsible practice is crucial. After all, it is the employees who enact CSR in their daily work.

From broad to locally grounded aspirations
Aspirations, by nature, have a bias when it comes to envisioned scope and gravity. Dreams are larger than life. On a managerial mission towards better CSR, hence, the goal cannot, and maybe should not be to live up to managerial ideas. Rather, we suggest that corporate responsibilisation is about local grounding and depth of CSR in situated understandings and practices. In other words, CSR is less a question of reaching an aspired scope, but about winning depth and grounding in corporate practices.

Our ideas should by no means discourage managers to think big and speak out about CSR. However, we suggest that voicing CSR aspirations is only the first step. In a second step, managers might need to modify or sacrifice these aspirations for locally committed CSR practices.


Peter Winkler is a FH professor at the FHWien der WKW – University of Applied Sciences in Management and Communication, Vienna, and guest professor in organizational communication at the University of Salzburg, Austria. He is interested in sociological approaches to organizational and management communication research. In 2015/16, he was a research fellow at the Governing Responsible Business Research Environment at CBS.

Michael Etter, Ph.D., is a Marie Curie Research Fellow at Cass Business School, City University of London. He is interested in CSR, new ICTs, and social approval of firms. He tweets about media, technology, and business & society issues @MichaelEtter_.

Pic by Nick Fewings, Unsplash.

The Winners and Losers of Reward-based Crowdfunding

By Kristian Roed Nielsen.

Proponents of reward-based crowdfunding have touted its emergence as an alternative source of innovation finance as an exciting and democratizing event. This democratization is enabled via the unique blend of crowdsourcing (Poetz and Schreier 2012) and micro-financing (Morduch 1999). Fundraising is enabled by a widely dispersed community of users, whose interactions are facilitated by one or more platforms (e.g., IndieGoGo, Kickstarter, Kiva), trading “a small group of sophisticated investors” for “large audiences (the ‘crowd’)” (Belleflamme, Lambert, and Schwienbacher 2014:2). But how does the change in investors really change who is rewarded – basically who are the winners and losers of reward-based crowdfunding? It was with this question in mind that Caleb Gallemore, Kristjan Jespersen and I set out to follow the money and identify exactly where and who benefits from this new source of finance by analyzing data from the large US-based reward-based platform IndieGoGo.

Where does the (crowd) money go and why?
Firstly, and perhaps not surprisingly, it appears that it is the already affluent regions that benefit the most from crowdfunding activities, while less well-off areas still receive the short end of the stick. Clearly while crowdfunding may offer an extra opportunity for achieving financing, this does not offset other factors that play an important role in entrepreneurial success e.g. background, education and social network that favour areas already affluent.

More surprisingly we also found that increased competition – i.e. more campaigns – actually increase the likelihood of funding success. For each percentage increase in the number of campaigns in the same neighborhood, we estimate a decrease of about 11% in the odds that each of those campaigns will receive no funding pledges. Indicating the increased competition actually results in a net positive outcome where campaigns rather than leeching of one another, generate momentum for further success. This may be because of increased levels of visibility of crowdfunding activities as a whole at the local level. In other words, people living in areas with more crowdfunding activities might be more aware of the practice, increasing the pool of potential investors. Another possibility is that areas with high levels of crowdfunding activities might generate local communities that can share knowledge and advice about the process, improving the quality of local ventures.

Finally, and still undergoing analysis, we increasingly find that certain people are – naturally – more successful then others at achieving crowdfunding success. Witnessing that for each successful campaign launched by an individual or group the likelihood for future success increases dramatically – hence after five successful campaigns launched by a given person or group they have a near 100 pct. chance of future success. We are perhaps witnessing the birth of the professional crowdfunder.

Crowdfunding as the democratizing agent of innovation?
As money seems to coalesce around certain regions and individuals we have to wonder whether this trend will continue. Will we increasingly see certain regions and individuals benefitting while other less well-off or professional lose out? And what does this mean for crowdfunding as the democratizing agent of innovation? It offers opportunity for you and I to drive innovation, but that innovation process itself perhaps unsurprisingly still seems to cluster around certain regions and persons. While this is by no means the final word – this is still early day research of only one sample – these observations nevertheless complicate the idea of relying on crowdfunding as a new mechanism for economic development, poverty reduction, or social action. While crowdfunding certainly provides a new way to access capital, it may not provide such access equitably.


Kristian is Assistant Professor at the Department of Management, Society and Communication and Visiting Researcher at Mistra Center for Sustainable Markets – Stockholm School of Economics. His research explores the potential role that “the crowd” could play in enabling sustainable entrepreneurship and innovation. Follow him on Twitter @RoedNielsen.

Pic by olgavisavi, via Fotolia.

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.

Who is Responsible for Educating Students in the World’s Agenda on Sustainable Development, if not Universities?

By Louise Kofod Thomsen.

In September 2017, the CBS PRME office hosted a small SDG awareness event at Solbjerg Plads. At the event, the students were asked to answer a brief survey in order to assess their awareness of the SDGs. Out of the 108 students, 67,6 percent indicated that they did not know about the sustainable development goals. From the students who indicated that they knew about the goals, 82,9 % answered that they learned about them outside of CBS.

But let’s zoom out from CBS for a moment and look at some examples from Danish business society. The Danish Global Compact Network was launched on 24 October 2017. This marked an increased focus on the private sector’s crucial role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in Denmark. Another recent event was the launch of the SDG Accelerator, a DKK 3 billion initiative by the UNDP (UN Development Programme) in collaboration with Industriens Fond with the aim to empower 20 SMEs with competencies to work strategically with the SDGs.

Funded by the Carlsberg Foundation, UNLEASH was held for the first time in Aarhus in August 2017, and gathered 1000 talents (students and alumni) from around the world to spend 5 days developing concrete solutions to the SDGs. The list of SDG initiatives in corporate sector could go on, but this is just to state that the corporate sector is mobilizing, we are seeing more investments focusing on SDG activities and even the Danish Parliament now has a Cross-Political Network on the Global Goals.

There is no doubt that the SDGs will be a strong influencer on the strategies and activities of the above-mentioned stakeholders until 2030. In the light of these developments, can universities afford not to take action?

Students do not learn about the SDGs from CBS
It has been two years since the SDGs were launched, but when CBS PRME hosted the SDG awareness event in September 2017, that was the first time the SDGs were present at a public event at CBS. This is while the DANIDA (The Danish International Development Agency), in collaboration with the UNDP, has developed teaching material and platforms for Danish highschool students and teachers. Highschools now host theme weeks on the SDGs providing the students with knowledge, opinions and competencies related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

At university level, The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation (KADK) is now requiring all graduates to incorporate the SDGs into their final projects and DTU has established a team of 3 working closely with DTU top management on implementing the SDGs at the university.

While we should acknowledge the CBS courses including SDGs into curriculum and teaching, CBS needs to take a much stronger stand and acknowledge the SDGs as a crucial part of all business education. It is time we break down the belief that the SDGs are not part of e.g. finance and accounting and acknowledge that sustainable development are relevant for all discplines and practises if you want a sound and longlasting business.

Universities can benefit greatly from engaging in the SDGs
A report developed by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network in collaboration with Monash University, University of Wellington and Macquarie University argues that universities not only have a critical role to play in achieving the SDGs, but will also benefit greatly from doing so. Among the benefits, the report mentions an increased demand for SDG related education, a framework for demonstrating impact, accessing of new funding streams and collaboration with new external and internal partners. Evident of this is PRMEs upcoming SDG Day 11 April with 13 student organizations coordinating a full day of SDG activities and events all funded by Chr. Hansen, VELUX and Ørsted who got engaged when they heard “SDGs in a business context”.

Education is at the core of achieving the SDGs, and universities are with their teaching and research activities of fundamental importance to the implementation of the goals. The SDGs are a global framework and shared language and understanding of the world’s development with strong buy-ins from governments, business, civil society, foundations and other universities. CBS can benefit greatly from this support and use the SDG platform to position itself as a meaningful contributor in the areas of research and education.

Next step –  reach, engage  and educate the 67 percent of CBS students, who have never heard of the SDGs.


Louise Thomsen is Project Manager for CBS PRME and the VELUX Chair in Corporate Sustainability at the Department of Management, Society and Communication, CBS. Her areas of interest are sustainable consumption, innovation, student engagement, education and partnerships for sustainable development. Follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter

Pic by CBS PRME.

After #Metoo: Are We as Equal as We Would Like to Think?

By Sara Louise Muhr & Florence Villesèche.

The me too movement was founded in 2006 by Tarana Burke to help survivors of sexual violence, but it was not until after the public revelations of sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein in October 2017 that it went viral as a hashtag and ended up demonstrating the world-wide prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace.

It has been a shock to many how widespread sexual assault and harassment is – not least in a Scandinavian context, where the assumption of equality and respect long has been a foundational societal value. The massive amount of me too stories from Scandinavia – from all social classes, all occupations, all ages and ethnicities – have forced us to take another hard look at our beloved equality and ask the question ‘are men and women after all as equal as we would like to think?’.

Let’s look at some numbers…
And if we look at the numbers, we’re not… Just to take a few examples: Denmark has 6 % female CEOs in private companies, Denmark has a 16 % overall gender pay gap: 30 % among CEOs, 6,6 % among newly educated candidates, 2,6 % among our students. Around 50 % experience sexual harassment at work. Moreover, all studies point to the fact that women (and other minorities) are consistently evaluated lower than (white) men and women (and other minorities) systematically receive shorter, less-praise worthy letters of recommendation compared to (white) men.

What’s in a fight?
This means that we are not as equal as we would like to think. Some bodies fit the business world; some have to fight their way up and deal with a lot of resistance on the way. The difference here lies in the fight. Those women who make it to the top, are those who don’t give up. They are those who can take it, who have the power (or patience) to deal with or fight off the sexism and sexual harassment they are faced with on the way, every day.

Other bodies who fit the context of the business world, don’t have to fight. They just fit in. We might therefore on paper have equal opportunities, but some bodies meet resistance, some fit and do not meet resistance. As Sarah Ahmed argues in an essay about ‘Phenomenology of Whiteness’, if whiteness is our starting point – the default – then the black body is out of place. A black body is a black body; a white body is just a body. Similarly, the female body is out of place, not at home, not natural in a top management context. A female leader is a therefore always already a female leader; a male leader is just a leader. A female leader cannot escape her body.

The privilege of invisibility
This links to the privilege of invisibility, the privilege of ‘fitting’ the context, fitting the room. Karen Ashcraft refers to this as the glass slipper. Certain bodies fit certain occupations, whereas other bodies need to adapt and adjust and never really fit, always stand out. This is both the female top-manager and the male kindergarten teacher; the female fire-fighter or the male stay at home dad. The problem here, is not necessarily ‘not fitting the room’. Rather, the problem is the harassment, which is normalized against the ones not fitting the room. This is what the wide impact of the me too campaign has shown: The normalization and naturalisation of sexism against women at the workplace – from demeaning comments to actual sexual assault – which holds women back, keeps men in a positions of power; makes it necessary for women to fight for their right to a career, stick it out, deal with all the crap. It is a normalization of harassment and bullying of various kinds targeted the bodies that don’t fit in. And as Jaqueline Rose points out in a recent article in London Review of books, although sexism and harassment is often excused by being just for fun or a singular slip, it is ‘’never innocent, or a mere trifle, playful, or a ‘joke’‘.

The aggregation of micro aggressions
We therefore need to call out the sexism that sieves through every layer of our society and is weaved into our workplace cultures. Sexism is naturalized to a degree that many even feel entitled to it. Like the other day when one of us was presenting a diversity and inclusion plan to increase the number of female professors at our university, where a male participant in full honestly claimed that the low number of female professors was ‘natural’ as ‘it is scientifically proven that men are more intelligent than women’. Nobody said anything, nobody called out the injustice of such a remark, it was seen as his right to say this. The problem here is that nobody realises that micro aggressions like this – or remarks and behaviour which are even worse – are repeated every single day. And where they in and of themselves possibly can be seen as innocent and as jokes or as a remark from one radical person, together they construct the foundation of our work culture and in this way aggregated create systematic discrimination. The below quote from the everyday sexism project powerfully shows how everyday micro aggressions function in bulks:

Board member in my office: “how’s my little staff girl doing?” Same board member at an event: “it’s okay about your tits — I’m an ass man.” Another board member: “how’d a pretty girl like you get so smart?” Another board member, “I actually like that you’re so outspoken.” Another board member: “just type this up for me.” Sign on my way to work: “real men vote for Trump.” Bumper sticker on the car in front of me: “don’t be sexist — broads hate that!” At the supermarket, “gimme a smile, baby.” In the parking lot, “move it, you fat bitch.” New stories every day, every day, every day. (Website post, April 2017, Tags: Everywhere, Public space, Workplace. Themes Bodies; Experience; Resignation)

It is about time we wake up and realize that gender imbalance at management and board level, is not just because women rather want to stay at home or are less ambitious or don’t have what it takes. We have a problem with systematic discrimination in the form of every day micro aggressions – covering everything from demeaning comments to sexual harassment. And it is not a sustainable development. We do not use all the talent we have at hand when we systematically discourage parts of the population. Times up!


Sara Louise Muhr is Associate Professor at Copenhagen Business School. Her research focuses on critical perspectives on managerial identity, diversity, and HRM, and has appeared in journals such as Organization Studies, Organization; Gender, Work and OrganizationJournal of Business Ethics, Culture & Organization and Scandinavian Journal of Management.

Florence Villesèche is Assistant Professor at Copenhagen Business School. She is a Marie Curie Fellow and received an Emerald/EFMD Highly Commended Award for outstanding doctoral research. Her published work about diversity, identity and networks includes contributions to Human RelationsEuropean Management Review, Personnel Review, and Equality, Diversity & Inclusion.

Pic by Kristopher Roller, Unsplash. Edited by BOS.

The Ethical Blindness of Corporate Sustainability

By Andreas Rasche.

Corporate sustainability (and related concepts like ESG and materiality) have been reduced to discussions around financial value. This makes these concepts “ethically blind”. We are in need of a resurgence of business ethics, otherwise the endless discussions of the “business case” for sustainability will turn out to be the error at the heart of true leadership for sustainable business practices.

My LinkedIn and Facebook feeds are filled with great stories about how well corporate sustainability aligns with financial measures (be it revenue, profit or another metric). Sustainability practitioners seem to love these research findings. No one can blame them. They are the ones who need to “sell” sustainability efforts to top management, and having evidence that sustainability aligns well with financial goals makes this task a lot easier. I do not necessarily doubt these findings, although any researcher will tell you that results always depend on how a study is built, and also that correlation and causation are often confused in these studies.

What I am concerned about is that research findings are turned into normative prescriptions without much reflection: just because some research finds that corporate sustainability efforts support the financial bottom line of a company, we should not conclude that these efforts should only be undertaken whenever they support the financial bottom line. Corporate sustainability is most urgently needed whenever it does not support the financial bottom line. In those situations, the decision for sustainability is a tough one; it requires courage and, in many cases, ethical reflection.

Future thinking, writing, and speaking about corporate sustainability needs to much better balance the financial gains and the moral dilemmas attached to relevant issues. Otherwise, we risk to become ethically blind. Such blindness is often referred to as the “inability of a decision maker to see the ethical dimension of a decision at stake.” (Palazzo et al., 2012: 325) Practitioners’ and academics’ obsessions with the business case has clearly diminished our ability to turn a problem/issue into a case for moral reflection and imagination.

A good example are materiality assessments. These assessments rank ESG issues according to their influence on a firm’s strategy (incl. financial bottom line) and the interest of the firm’s stakeholders in these issues. The moral need to address an issue, because it is the right thing to do, falls off the agenda. Corporate sustainability becomes a pick and choose exercise, which corporations often frame in whatever way they please.

The field, which we nowadays refer to as corporate sustainability (incl. ESG and materiality etc.), started out with discussions around the moral responsibility of businessmen. Back then the focus was, among other things, on how moral dilemmas can be resolved. I am not saying these are the good old times. But it is clear that the discourse has not only changed label (from ethics to responsibility to sustainability), but also that this very discourse has been hijacked by the belief that corporate sustainability is only a worthwhile endeavour whenever it creates financial value for a company.

All of this is not to say that corporations should not financially profit from their corporate sustainability efforts. It is also not to say that managerial tools like materiality assessment are completely useless – they can be of great help. However, it is to say that we cannot and should not reduce discussions around sustainability to a single dimension: be it the financial one, the moral one, or any other one. Corporate sustainability issues are by design multi-faceted, and so must be our thinking about them.

Former CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch, once famously declared:

On the face of it, shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world. Shareholder value is a result, not a strategy …your main constituencies are employees, your customers and your products” (quoted in Moon, 2014, p. 106)

We should extend this argument to the business case for sustainability. The idea of a business case itself is a stupid one; such a case should never be the sole motivation of engaging in corporate sustainability, although it can be an outcome of such engagement.

I prefer morally informed decisions. But it is getting harder to convince practitioners and academics that there is more to corporate sustainability than the financial bottom line. Having a business case for corporate sustainability should never be a precondition for addressing an issue or a problem. Otherwise, we move towards moral mediocrity…


Andreas Rasche is Professor of Business in Society at Copenhagen Business School and Director of CBS’s World-Class Research Environment “Governing Responsible Business”. He is also Visiting Professor at the Stockholm School of Economics. Andreas can be reached at: ar.msc@cbs.dk and @RascheAndreas. More at: http://www.arasche.com

Sources:
Moon, J. (2014). Corporate Social Responsibility: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford et al.: Oxford University Press.
Palazzo, G., Krings, F., & Hoffrage, U. (2012). Ethical Blindness. Journal of Business Ethics, 109(3), 323–338.

Pic by Caleb Jones, Unsplash.

Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives and Legitimacy

By Mikkel Kruuse.

  • Which groups of actors typically drive the standard development within Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives (MSIs) and why?
  • Power imbalances between actors within MSIs go beyond the global North/South dichotomy.
  • There seems to be a trade-off between input legitimacy (via equal participation) and output legitimacy (outcomes) of MSIs.

Approximate Reading Time: 2-3 minutes.

Private governance in a globalized economy
While it is difficult to dispute the benefits of globalization, the integration of production and trade has made it increasingly difficult for even highly developed nations to regulate activities that extend beyond their borders. For example, how do we decide who is responsible for the negative externalities of global production, such as emission of greenhouse gasses, when considering that goods often pass through several countries before reaching their final destination? Some of these issues can potentially be resolved through cooperation in intergovernmental organizations that are able to establish extraterritorial jurisdiction, but it is important to keep in mind that the implementation relies on the individual governments that in some cases may not be able or willing to do so.

Resulting from the absence of legally enforceable regulation, there has emerged a great number of non-state market-driven governance systems since the 1980s. However, unlike democracies where the government derives its legitimacy through public elections, this is not an inherent part of private governance. As such, a particular concern is that private governance could essentially be equivalent to corporate self-regulation. In order to avoid this issue, non-governmental organizations are increasingly encouraging companies to participate in so-called multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs), in which different types of stakeholders work together to achieve a common goal, such as the implementation of social and environmental standards for global production.

Stakeholder Participation and Distribution of Power
Some of the more well-known examples of MSIs include the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which have both grown considerably since they were established in 1993 and 1996, respectively. Although the membership diversity ideally helps to ensure that MSIs are not being controlled by a single type of actor, this may not always be the case in practice. In particular, it has been suggested in the academic literature that this form of civil regulation is primarily being driven by actors from the global North, while values and knowledge originating in the global South are often marginalized.

Notwithstanding this naturally questions the legitimacy of MSIs, it still seems appropriate to ask why this tendency persists. First, there is a significant cost associated with creating a new initiative and the individual actors must therefore possess sufficient resources to do so. However, as resources are finite there is a trade-off between where to best apply them, and as such it appears reasonable to want something in return. In other words, there must be an opportunity to realize highly valued interests for an actor to spend the resource required to create and maintain an MSI. To be sure, this is not to say that the global South does not share an interest in solving the various social and environmental issues, but when viewed as a single group they have fewer total resources compared to the North. This may offer a partial explanation of why MSIs appears to be dominated by Northern interests, yet it is highly unlikely that there are no actors within the global South group that have the required resources to participate in the various standards-development activities.

Input and Output Legitimacy
Returning to the question of legitimacy, it does not really improve the situation to replace the commonly remarked North/South divide with a big/small distinction. Even so, it may help to better understand why actors behave in a certain way and how MSIs function. As noted above, the purpose of MSIs is to provide for a common good when national governments are unable or unwilling to do so, but at the same time it is not free to create and maintain these initiatives. Thus, while all parties may benefit from the common good, the associated cost renders it implausible that actors would be willing to carry the burden of providing it – that is, unless the reward is considered to be proportional.

In summary, it can be argued that having a small group of actors responsible for the majority of standards development will question the input legitimacy of an MSI, in terms of who participates in the process. But at the same time, the issue at hand is likely to remain unresolved if no one is willing to allocate the necessary resources, which ultimately lowers the output legitimacy of the MSI. In this way, some MSIs may present a trade-off between input and output legitimacy when it comes to regulating global production, where some actors gain increased influence over the decision-making in exchange for spending additional resources.

Finally, it is important to mention that there are a great many different MSIs in existence, and that the contents of this post do not apply to every single one. Instead, the purpose is to help advance the discussion of MSI and legitimacy in general, where these insights will hopefully prove beneficial.


Mikkel is a MSc Candidate in International Business and Politics at Copenhagen Business School and research assistant at the Department of Management, Society and Communication

Pic by Margarida CSilva, Unsplash.

How two CBS Alumni are Selling Ugly Fruits and Veggies for a Change

By Carolin Schiemer.

Never seen a 3-legged carrot in real life? You might not be alone, because you can’t find crooked fruit and veggies in Danish supermarkets, where all produce has exactly the same size, shape and colour. Give this a thought or two more and you might ask yourself: what happens to all those cucumbers, potatoes and apples that are aren’t big, small, red, green, square, round or straight enough to “pass” the strict retail beauty test?

The Issue with Standardisation
Right now, what you get in supermarkets is according to UNECE standards categorized as “first class produce”, which has to be uniform in colour, shape and size. What is being withheld from you is the perfectly edible produce of the second class or even below, which might be visually defective but retains its “essential characteristics as regards the quality, the keeping quality and presentation” – yummy stuff just with marks of life experience, so to speak!

If not sold cheaply to the food processing industry, all too often “ugly” produce never reaches end consumers. Farmers, who are well aware of their demanding buyers, have different options when it comes to dealing with the unwanted produce. It can be left on the fields as natural fertiliser, used to feed animals or to produce biogas, and often it is simply thrown away in a landfill.

In Need for New Understandings of Quality
Food waste is a huge problem globally, as about 1/6 of all veggies and fruits grown are lost on farms, where in some cases every second piece is tossed due to cosmetic flaws. EVERY SECOND. In Denmark alone, that amounts to about 100.000 tons of food waste a year during primary production only. Food waste happens in every step of our food supply chain, so globally we use about 21% of the world’s fresh water and 28% of arable land to grow food we never eat.

At the same time we are worried that we don’t have enough food for a growing world population – a narrative I have found particularly prevalent in marketing food items as the “solution” to global health and climate challenges caused by unsustainable food systems, such as quinoa and edible insects. But what this narrative often fails to address is the difficult configuration of ‘how’ to achieve a positive impact in practice. How can we say we are worried about food security while throwing away or misusing food that has been grown with the purpose of feeding people? The narrative about doomsday being just around the corner is not telling the whole story. Something’s rotten here… and it’s not an apple!

It’s Time to Feed “Ugly” Produce back into our Food Systems
The whole story describes a reality where each actor in our food systems continues to market and accept flawlessness as an indicator for quality, with the consequence that produce earns its edibility through its looks and not through its nutritional qualities. And while there are several solutions in Denmark tackling food waste at the end of the food supply chain, such as WeFood, YourLocal or TooGooToGo, there are almost none at the beginning of it. Danish farmers are lacking time, resources and channels to connect with consumers while being constantly under price pressure from cheaper producers located down south and the short contractual agreements with buyers.

As a response to this craze, my partner and good friend Petra Kaukua and I founded GRIM, a new Copenhagen food waste business. Our mission is to fight food waste and traditional food industry beauty standards by delivering boxes of ugly, organic & seasonal fruits and veggies of all shapes, colours and sizes right to Your door, which we source directly from awesome farmers located in Denmark.

Petra and I met in the first week of our Master studies in Organizational Innovation & Entrepreneurship at CBS. We are both internationals in Copenhagen and share a love for food and music, so there was no party and no school project we didn’t do together. In that sense, GRIM was really a brainchild of our teamwork in a course in Social Entrepreneurship, where we investigated with a problem-centered approach how food waste is rooted within the Danish society.

Are you the next GRIM Ambassador?
Fast forward: Since February 2018, GRIM has been part of the one year start-up incubator InnoFounder run by Innovation Fund Denmark, where we receive funding, mentoring and a desk in one of Scandinavia’s best co-working spaces, Founders House (A little side note: the application round for the next InnoFounder batch just opened, so if you are a recent graduate or about to graduate soon, go apply now!) Last month, we completed our first test run. Soon, we are hoping to come back with a second round of ugly delivery, where we for the first time want to test out pick up locations. But we need YOUR help!

We are looking for GRIM ambassadors who help us make the world an uglier place. So if you are excited about what you’ve just read and you want to be with us in our mission to put a hold on food waste, you can get involved or help us find the next GRIM pick up point location – maybe at your school, your workplace or kollegium? Drop us an email to hejsa@eatgrim.dk to learn more about what we are looking for and get yourself and your friends some great GRIM rewards.

We believe it’s time for an ugly food revolution – one where we are questioning the current concept of quality and edibility. The future of eating is ugly!


Carolin is the co-founder of the start-up GRIM and former student assistant at the CBS Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility (cbsCSR). She graduated from her Master in Organizational Innovation and Entrepreneurship at CBS in June 2017 and is the co-author of the book chapter “Marketing insects: Superfood or Solution-Food?” in: Edible insects in Sustainable Food Systems (out soon on Springer International Publishing).

Check out GRIM’s website & follow on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Pic by Supermercat Studio.