Category Archives: Concepts

Changing Sustainability Norms through Processes of Negotiation – Strategic Arguments and Collaborative Regulation

By Karin Buhmann.

Two newly published CBS-authored books look at how public-private collaboration can bring sustainability norms into existence and offer recommendations for civil society, business, regulators and academics. Based on research on the discursive evolution of the Business & Human Rights regime and taking an interdisciplinary social science approach, both volumes target broad audiences of sustainability-concerned practitioners and academics across the social sciences.

Read on to learn about the background (urgency for sustainability-concerned stakeholder to have knowledge on processes to develop norms of conduct for transnational economic operations) and insights offered by the books in regard to argumentative strategies for advancing new sustainability norms and their acceptance; and procedural organisation to balance power disparities and avoid capture of the negotiation processes. Titles and details for ordering can be found at the end of this post (with discount offers).

The urgency
What does a Tesla in space have in common with conflict minerals or labour abuse in the garment supply chain? The question may look like a new school children’s riddle. In fact, it is a strong reminder of the urgency to consider how public and private organisations can collaborate to develop norms of responsible conduct, especially in areas marked by governance gaps; how such processes can avoid capture by particular interests; and what communicative strategies actors can deploy to advance the acceptance of new norms across functions and interests.

When Elon Musk earlier in February 2018 successfully launched a space rocket that carried a Tesla headed for Mars (although in missing that target it was less successful), the project was heralded as a break-through in private space exploration. Some have described Musk’s idea of colonizing Mars as a ground-breaking response to the Earth’s depletion of resources and space (!) for an ever-growing human population. Others have lamented the quest for extra-terrestrial resources, and called for humanity to solve problems on this planet before moving on to (as it has been put: wreck) other planets and their eco-systems. Some have been raising warning signs in regard to private exploration of resources in space at the backdrop of an absent or at best immature Earth-ly system for governance of earthlings’ interests and desires in extra-terrestrial resources, whether explored and potentially exploited by private or public actors.

Unfortunately, issues of territory and governance gaps are not limited to outer space. They are very much a fact of life on Earth. They are the cause of many of the social and environmental sustainability concerns that keep media, corporate watchdogs and CSR consultants busy. They are also the causes of tragedies like the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which killed more than 1000 workers employed in garment factories in the building, and injured more than 2000.

Governance Gaps – not only a matter of state weakness
Governance gaps caused by limited territorial jurisdiction of companies’ home states and limited political will to adopt international rules setting a level playing field for companies without freezing the bar at low levels are also at least partial reasons for abuse of workers in numerous other factories, mines, quarries, infrastructure or agri-industry projects or in the informal industry that form part of global value chains, typically supplying goods made in low-wage countries to buyers or retailers in higher-wage countries. These problems have been argued to be due to states (in capacity of governance phenomena) being absent, weak or ineffective. Academics have been debating so-called political CSR, arguing for private enterprises to fill gaps left by ineffective nation states. However, the reason for governance gaps is not only state weakness. Jurisdictional limitations on states’ powers to regulate and enforce rules outside their territory is also part of the reason, shared by nations across the world and exacerbated by disagreement and lack of political will at the international governance level to adopt international rules pertaining to business.

The issue of nation state jurisdiction and territory can be compared to tedious situations in everyday life that are annoying but hard to change: If your neighbour plays music that you do not like in his or her home, you are not allowed, to access that home and turn down the volume.  Unless, of course, the neighbour invites you to do so, or a prior agreement has been put in place. Similarly, you probably would not be pleased if your neighbour trespassed your property to turn off your music. Instead, the solution is to communicate and to do so in a manner that will – hopefully – drive change with your neighbour. Governance of transnational business activity largely depends on similar action, at least until governments agree to adopt and accept strong national rules with extraterritorial application, and/or international rules that apply to business. And as long as Earth’s governments do not agree on such rules for earthlings’ activities beyond our planet, this goes for exploration and exploitation of outer space too.

Beyond CSR guidelines, reporting and codes of conduct
Global sustainability concerns go beyond climate change, often related to economic practices with social and environmental impacts. Excessive natural resource exploitation, land grabbing and sub-standard labour conditions in global supply chains are frequent occurrences that also have high sustainability relevance.  Such practices pose risks to the environment and human lives currently as well as in a longer term sustainability perspective of balancing current needs with those of the future. Investments and trade have caused depletion of large stretches of tropical forests, which not only harms the environment and adds to climate change, but also affects the socio-economic conditions of communities. The transnational character of these economic activities often involve or affect numerous private and public actors in several states or regions. This causes challenges for singular or even sector-wide private self-regulatory initiatives, and reduces the effectiveness of self-regulation by individual actors on their own. The enormity and encompassing character of global sustainability challenges have also drawn attention to the limitations of singular initiatives like private or sectoral Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) guidelines, reporting schemes and codes of conduct. Hence, broadly applicable multi-stakeholder-created sustainability governance schemes have emerged to fill gaps left by public as well as private governance.

Breakthroughs in global sustainability governance
The UN Global Compact with its ten principles in the four issue areas of human rights, working standards, environment and anti-corruption, is a prominent example. Yet like the Paris Climate Change Accord offers a general normative framework but leaves much to further detailing of implementation. The UN ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ Framework  and Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) offer more detailed guidance that has inspired several other transnational business governance instruments even beyond human rights, thus influencing the evolution of CSR norms and governance in a broader sense (Buhmann 2016, 2015). All these instruments were firsts within their fields, and broke previous stalemates. What causes such breakthrough? How can organisations concerned with sustainability engage with a regulatory process to advance substantive outputs? Understanding this can have far-reaching impacts for future public, private and hybrid governance of sustainability, locally, globally and beyond, and whether private, public or hybrid.

Norms of conduct: the road to the product is as important as the product
When we think of normative directives for private or public organisations for actions that conform with global sustainability needs, the focus is often on the substantive content of the rule as such: in other words, what are organisations encouraged or required to do? However, the road that leads to that substantive content of a rule is a condition for what ends up in the rule, whether soft (guiding) or hard (binding). It is therefore crucial to understand what makes some processes progress and deliver results, whereas others stall.

Across the globe, organisations of many types encounter difficulty in adequately meeting environmental and social sustainability challenges. The diversity of processes and outcomes calls for insights on what drives and impedes processes of clarifying what constitutes acceptable conduct. There is a particular need for knowledge on what makes for effective processes for defining norms for such conduct, and for the norms to become accepted with a view to integrate into organisational practice.

The field of business responsibilities for their societal impacts is marked by a diversity of interests that are often not aligned, even within a sector: those of different business organisations and sectors, different civil society organisations with diverse focus issues, and various national or local governments with diverging interests. As result, developing norms of conduct becomes a process of negotiation in which participants often have regard to what is in their own interests. The bumpy road to the 2015 Paris Climate Change Accord is a case in point, but not unique. The evolution of international normative guidance for businesses in regard to human rights leading to agreement on the 2008 UN  Framework and 2011 Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights have received less attention and acclaim outside human rights circles, but the processes to those results represent important innovation too and potential lessons for future collaborative regulation.

Studies suggest that while some initiatives to develop norms of conduct for responsible business conduct get weakened in the process, typically as a result of lobbying by certain organisations (Kinderman 2013; Fairbrass 2011; Buhmann 2011), in other cases the key to a strong or weak result is in the capacity of actors at making the effective argument, and linking up with the right partners for that purpose (Hajer 1995; Kolk 2001[1], Arts 2001[2]).

How are norms on sustainability issues negotiated?
At this backdrop, it is highly necessary to understand how norms on sustainability issues are negotiated and how stalemates that mark many such efforts can be broken. Two new books by CBS professor Karin Buhmann deal with this issue, both drawing on the evolution of the emergent regime on business responsibilities for human rights. Of the two monographs, Changing sustainability norms through communicative processes: the emergence of the Business & Human Rights regime as transnational law (Edward Elgar 2017) undertakes an analysis of the discourse that marked the construction of detailed normative guidance for businesses and states in regard to business responsibilities on human rights. It analyses communicative and argumentative dynamics that allowed the multi-stakeholder process launched by the UN to break previous stalemates in several settings, as well as dynamics that caused previous initiatives to fail. It finds that the ability to address other actors in terms that directly speak to their rationality and interests holds big potential for obtaining significant influence on the details of the normative outcome, and its acceptance. The book offers a theoretical explanation of this, and expands the analysis through findings and explanations on how actors in multi-stakeholder regulatory processes may strategically play on the interest of other actors in change and in preserving their interests. It offers insights on argumentative strategies that can be applied by civil society, CSR- and sustainability-committed companies, regulators or others to advance the acceptance of new norms on sustainability with other actor

Collaborative regulation for balancing of power disparities
In recognition that where negotiations take place on issues marked by highly divergent interests and issues of power, legitimacy of the process and output are significant for a normative outcome to be meaningful, the other monograph, Power, Procedure, Participation and Legitimacy in Global Sustainability Regulation: a theory of Collaborative Regulation (Routledge 2017) offers a theory-based proposal for collaborative regulation that takes account of power disparities and continuously manages these. The analysis combines empirical experience on public-private regulation of global sustainability concerns and theoretical perspectives on transnational regulation to offer a new theoretical approach to guide multi-stakeholder negotiations. It sets out detailed suggestions for the organization of multi-stakeholder processes to regulate sustainability issues to avoid capture and ensure the legitimacy of the regulatory process as well as the outcome of that process. In a global legal and political order, in which the private sector is increasingly replacing the public in terms of power and privilege but lacks the democratic legitimacy of the state and international organisations, such issues are of global as well as regional or local pertinence.

By addressing the same overall topic of developing sustainability norm and empirical cases to inform the analysis, the books develop synergy through two separate analyses that are mutually complementary. Both volumes apply theoretical perspectives from organisational and communication studies, political science and sociology to enrich the socio-legal analysis of regulatory strategies and innovative transnational law-making. This makes the volumes speak to the broad audiences that are engaged in the development of sustainability norms in practice and theory.

Focusing on the processes for developing norms of conduct, the analyses leave assessments of the uptake and effectiveness of such norms in organisations to future studies.

Titles and publisher details

Karin Buhmann (2017) Changing sustainability norms through communicative processes: the emergence of the Business & Human Rights regime as transnational law Edward Elgar Publishers (Globalization, Corporations and the Law). 416 pages.  Order here; 35 % discount code valid through March 2018: VIP35.

 

Karin Buhmann (2017) Power, Procedure, Participation and Legitimacy in Global Sustainability Regulation: a theory of Collaborative Regulation. Routledge/Taylor & Francis Publishers (Globalization: Law and Policy). 200 pages.  Hardcover and e-book available here.

 

 


Karin Buhmann is Professor with special responsibilities for Business and Human Rights. She is employed at the Department of Management, Society and Communication (MSC) at Copenhagen Business School (CBS). She currently serves as the interim Academic Director of the cbsCSR (CBS Center for Corporate Social Responsibility) and CBS Sustainability.

[1] Kolk, A. (2001) Multinational enterprises and international climate policy. In Arts, Bas, Math Noortmann and Bob Reinalda (eds) Non-state actors in international relations, Hants: Ashgate: 211-225.

[2] Arts, B. (2001) The impact of environmental NGOs in international conventions. In B. Arts, M. Noortmann and B. Reinalda (eds). Non-state actors in international relations, Hants: Ashgate: 195-210.

Pic by David Watkis, Unsplash.

 

 

 

 

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.

Banking on the Future – Driving Responsibility and Sustainability in the Financial Sector

By Lavinia Iosif-Lazar.

While the world seems to have moved on from the last financial crisis, one can only wonder if banks and financial institutions have learnt something from it that could steer them away from repeating the experience. From the educational side, we also have to consider whether business schools are able to instill in their graduates the values and norms to navigate financial institutions into clearer waters.

100 Years CBS – Time to Rethink Finance
During a CBS conference in the late months of 2017, academics and practitioners within the finance and banking industries alike had come together to think and “rethink the financial sector”. The purpose of the event was to bring to light the issues and opportunities of responsibility and sustainability within the financial sector, and create an agenda for future research and teaching in business schools, like CBS.

Over the course of the event, the ambition was to develop a dialogue with stakeholders from the banking and finance industry and to challenge the current attitude towards banking and its future with “responsibility” being the word of the day. The hope was that this dialogue would ignite new ideas and develop an agenda for future research and teaching in business schools towards 2117.

During the three tracks focusing on society, business models and the individual, with responsible banking being the overarching theme, participants heard speakers address issues spanning from the role Fintech and disruptive technologies like blockchain and cryptocurrencies play in industry innovation to different religious perspectives on banking and finance.

To Rethink Finance, we need to Rethink Education
When it comes to financial education, the focus was set on bringing it in sync with the new developments and real life challenges, while at the same time stressing the need for a business model based on valuation and normative principles. In crisis situations, the clear-cut modelling learnt in school no longer represents the norm. Education plays a major role in securing that the new generations of graduates have the capabilities needed to identify and understand people and their needs, rethink and modernize local banking and be attuned to the technological developments that can pave the way to a more responsible banking sector  – centered on people instead of money.


Lavinia is project coordinator at CBS PRME. You can visit the PRME Office at Dalgas Have 15, Room 2C.007  & follow CBS PRME on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Pic by Markus Leo (Unsplash), edited by BOS.

Can Your Green Building Rub Off On You?

By Lara Anne Hale.

  • How can the standardization of green default rules influences those living in or working with buildings?
  • Both the green and performance gap can be bridge through choice architecture within building infrastructure, thus facilitating sustainable consumption.
  • Counter to prior literature on default rules, my research finds that one key aspect of how design affects people is through awareness.

Approximate reading time: 2-3 minutes.

The Green Gap and the Performance Gap
There has been a wealth of research into sustainable consumption suggesting that individuals may value protecting the environment, but then not make green purchases, known as the “green gap” (Barbarossa & Pastore, 2015; Johnstone & Tan, 2015; Gleim & Lawson, 2014). At the same time there is a discrepancy between the way green buildings are built to energetically perform and how they perform in reality, known as the “performance gap”. Theorists, practitioners, and policy makers alike have sought to tackle the green gap with choice architecture, designing the way choices are framed to increase the likelihood of some choices over others (including choosing green products over standard ones) (Thaler & Sustein, 2008). And in recent years, there has been a demonstrated shrinking of the performance gap when learning from buildings as they are used, and then using these learnings to improve building performance predictions (Menezes et al., 2012). But what if these two strategies came together?

Closing the Gaps: Design for Awareness
As outlined in my recently published article “At Home with Sustainability: From Green Default Rules to Sustainable Consumption” (Hale, 2018), choice architecture within building infrastructure can be the starting point to sustainable consumption; and buildings designed this way can work towards reducing both the green and performance gaps. The article examines the building demonstration projects using the Active House standard and how the standardization of green default rules – choice architecture that sets the default choice for settings, such as temperature, lighting, water pressure, etc. (Sunstein & Reisch, 2013) – influences those living in or working with the buildings. Counter to prior literature on default rules, the research finds that one key aspect of how the design affects people is through awareness. By experiencing the Active House buildings and then later experiencing a contrast in a different built environment, they gained an appreciation for the conveniently designed way with which the buildings helped them to live better and consume fewer resources.

 

From green defaults to sustainable consumption through standards (Hale 2018)

A “Learning by Living” Approach to Sustainable Consumption
These positive effects work both ways. On the one hand, the very real impact of living in a sustainable home can generate an interest in seeking a green lifestyle in broader ways. For example, while living in one of the demonstration homes named Maison Air et Lumière, the Pastour family’s youngest child did not experience asthma attacks and was even able to stop taking his medication. However, upon moving back to a standard house, his attacks resumed. This poignant change in their child’s health drove the Pastour family to testify for the significance of sustainable living (Pastour, 2013). On the other hand, the standard makers learn from the experiences of those living in the demonstration buildings and can adapt and improve upon the building projections so that there is a better match between expectations and reality, and so that the buildings are better designed with people at the center.

Maison Air et Lumière. Pic by Adam Mørk for VELUX.

Altogether there are promising avenues for combining choice architecture and sustainable building design that make more healthy, comfortable indoor spaces for people, while basically offering a “learning by doing”…or “learning by living” approach to sustainable consumption.


Lara Anne Hale is an industrial postdoc fellow with VELUX and Copenhagen Business School’s Governing Responsible Business World Class Research Environment. The 3-year project is part of Realdania’s Smart Buildings & Cities cluster within BLOXHUB’s Science Forum. It builds upon her PhD work on experimental standards for sustainable building to look at the business model innovation process in organizations’ adaptation to the smart building business. Follow her on Twitter.
 Pic by Kate Ausburn (Unsplash), edited by BOS.

Considering Impact on the Road to Sustainability

By Paige Olmsted.

Mainstreaming the environment is a key component to achieving sustainability objectives – how organizations account for their existing impact, and assess the impact of innovative solutions is a focal area for a new CBS effort bringing academic expertise to real-world challenges.

Why nature matters
When we hear words like “biodiversity” and “conservation”, it often conjures images of tigers or coral reefs, of rare and endangered species in faraway places. The benefits that are provided to us from ecosystems however, are not just something that happen somewhere else. Forests not only provide paper goods and construction materials, they regulate rainfall, are the source for new medical discoveries, and remove toxins from the air and soil. Coastal wetlands provide flood regulation, improve water quality, and sequester vast stores of carbon.  With the advent of climate change it has become increasingly clear that protecting wild places and sustainably managing natural resources is critical to sustainable communities and economies.

Despite increased awareness of the large-scale impacts of human activity on natural resources, at best we have collectively slowed bad trends, rather than reversed course toward positive ones. Part of this may be explained by Malthusian logic – even if we produce goods more efficiently and with less net input per unit, as populations increase geometrically, and middle class populations balloon in countries like Brazil, China, and India, demand for more goods far exceeds any efficiencies of new design or technology.  Reconciling how to navigate on this road to sustainability is a central question of our time.

What is the role of business?
Since natural resource consumption — agriculture, mining, fisheries — are major drivers of habitat conversion, corporate actors receive particular attention with respect to their role in ecosystem degradation. This also means that changes toward more sustainable practices can have substantial impact. The former president of WWF Canada explained the corporate relationship with Coca Cola in the following way

Coca Cola is in the top three consumers of sugar cane, glass, and coffee in the world.  We can campaign twenty-five different governments for fifteen years to change the way sugar cane is produced in countries that likely can’t enforce such regulation, or Coke can mandate change and it happens overnight” (Dauvergne and Lister, 2013).

There is inherent skepticism that consumption and corporate action can help address environmental concerns, but we have seen organizations increasingly recognize how sustainability matters are critical to their operations. The environment is not seen as being in opposition to economic growth, but instead seen as essential for it. International reports such as the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, and organizations like UNEP’s Green Growth Initiative and the World Business Council on Sustainable Development all either implicitly or explicitly endorse the idea that we (as individuals, governments, businesses) will benefit in the long term from healthy ecosystems.  Therefore, even for those not motivated by a conservation ethic, they emphasize that we all benefit directly from their sustainable management.

Of course, to deeply integrate sustainability to the core of doing business, and to achieve ambitious global targets such as those included in the UN’s sustainable development goals, truly transformative action is needed. It will have to involve innovation at all levels of society, across supply chains, and through creative partnerships that leverage the reach of large corporations without discounting the livelihoods and well-being of communities all over the world.

What is happening at CBS?
As one effort to support transformative change in the realm of sustainability, CBS is developing an “Impact for Innovation Lab”. We have chosen impact as the core theme because it is so crucial to understanding whether solutions are truly making a difference – within organizations or on the ground.

The Impact Lab will be a hub for engagement across academic disciplines, civil society, and private sector actors to collaborate on real-world challenges. We will combine ecological, economic, and institutional expertise to develop and test new tools and methodologies. With agricultural commodities, the built environment, and technology as overarching themes, we aim to address environmental and social issues across supply chains, consider the most impactful (as in damaging) practices, to implement the most impactful (as in positive) outcomes. If these sound like challenges your organization is wrestling with, or you want to apply your research efforts to tackling complex problems, do not hesitate to contact Paige Olmsted (po.msc@cbs.dk) or Kristjan Jespersen (kj.msc@cbs.dk). With respect to the road to sustainability, there is likely more than one route or vehicle needed, and we are looking for test drivers.


Paige Olmsted is a postdoctoral scholar at the Institute for Resources, Environment & Sustainability at the University of British Columbia, and a guest researcher at CBS in the Department of Management, Society and Communication for 2017-2018.

Pic by Pranam Gurung, Unsplash.

Challenges & Opportunities in Local Textile Production

By Kirsti Reitan Andersen.

Today the progressive digitalization of the economy is shaping the way in which the fashion industry operates. The overarching discourse often highlights new technical concepts and currents trends of automatization and data exchange in manufacturing (the so-called fourth industrial revolution) as the primary sources of product and process innovation. However, while exploring organizational tensions in ‘local’ textile and fashion production in Norway, we were reminded that the human element of craftsmanship has always lent itself to innovation and the evolution of techniques and applications.

Local Fashion Producers in Norway – An Upstream Miracle?
Aiming to explore the way in which organizations manage opposing demands in everyday organizational life, e.g. creating high quality garments at a ‘reasonable’ price point but also produce locally, we visited some of the remaining textile and fashion producers in Norway. Amongst these were Hillesvåg Ullvarefabrikk AS, Oleana and Krivi Vev. Producing textiles and garments in a country which holds some of the world’s highest minimum salaries seems like a lost cause in an industry that over the last decades has been leading the so-called race to the bottom. Nonetheless, the designers and manufacturers with whom we met have managed to stay in business — and over the last few years — received increasing interest in their services and grow their business.

The Creative Potential of Human Craftsmanship
Arguably, the reasons behind this turn of events are many. However, during our fieldwork, two things stood out. First, although the textile and garment factories that we visited run on technologies traditional to the industry, they manage to offer services similar to those that in recent discussions have been tied to the promise of 3D printing technologies to re-localize production, enabling “close-to-market mini-factories that allow interaction with customers during localized manufacturing processes” (Ihl & Piller 20016). For example, having a flexible set up and being geographically close, they engage in co-creation, developing products in close collaboration with both designers and customers.

Second, the designers and manufacturers with whom we met continuously create new products (e.g. new fiber qualities), drawing on traditional craft techniques combined with technologies traditional to the industry. Notably, years of training and practical experience are required by craft practitioners before they are able to successfully deliver craft innovation.

New technologies offer great opportunities for innovation, not least in the textile and garment industry. However, a fascination with new technologies should never make us forget or underestimate the exceptional creative potential of human craftsmanship in combination with both old and new technologies.


Kirsti Reitan Andersen is a Post Doc at the Department of Management, Society and Communication, Copenhagen Business School. In her current work, she explores organizational tensions — specifically focusing on challenges and opportunities in local production and sustainability.

Pic by Igor Ovsyannykov, Unsplash.

Is CSR Effectively Altruistic?

By Lot Elshuis.

CSR is the part of a company that focusses on doing good. Interestingly enough, business is all about impact and effectiveness when it comes to the core of the business, but when strategies of doing good are developed and implemented there is often more concern for what sounds good than for the effectiveness and impact of their actions on recipients. Why is the rigor applied to core business activities often not applied to CSR-strategies as well?

Effective Altruism: Maximize impact, not feel-good moments
Effective Altruism takes exactly this approach. Kick-started by philosopher Peter Singer, Effective Altruism is a community that wants to change how ‘doing-good’ is often approached. First of all, Effective Altruism emphasizes that most people in developed countries, and especially those belonging to the richest 10% of the world population, have an outstanding opportunity to do good. We have won the lottery! Therefore we have the beautiful chance to add value to the lives of others.

Second of all, if we indeed want to take the opportunity to do good, we can do the most good by focusing on maximizing positive impact through applying scientific evidence and reason, instead of only looking at what sounds and feels good. Without thinking carefully about how exactly to do good, there is a risk of wasting important resources on things that do not work. Even worse is having the idea of doing good, while actually causing harm.

The Case of Play-Pumps International
Let me give an often-used example. Many developing-world communities are provided with water through hand-pumps. The social enterprise Play-Pumps International had the idea to replace these hand-pumps by merry-go-rounds, which would pump up water while children played on them. It seemed to be the ideal win-win situation. The enterprise received a grant from the US Government, a World Bank Development Marketplace award, and (it can’t get much better) a visit and sponsorship from rapper Jay-Z. However, sadly enough, the Play-Pumps didn’t have the positive impact that everyone assumed it had. One of the main problems was that the pumps needed constant force to obtain the water, which, obviously, made the kids tired. This often compelled the women of the communities to struggle to push the pumps. Moreover, the Play-Pumps were several times the cost of a hand-pump, which were able to pump more water an hour as well. (see Doing Good Better by William MacAskill for a more elaborate description of the case)

Rule of Thumb: Importance, Neglectedness, Tractability
Although Effective Altruism is focused on the individual who is willing to do good, we could apply the same to corporations who pursue CSR or social entrepreneurial strategies. Especially because effective altruists often focus on the cost-effectiveness of a cause or approach. This line of thought shouldn’t be unworldly to corporations, since cost-effective rationalizations are applied on a regular basis. An often-used rule of thumb by Effective Altruism for evaluating causes or approaches is assessing the following criteria:

  • Importance: What is the scale of the problem; how many people are affected and how deeply?
  • Neglectedness: Is there still enough opportunity to do good, or are a lot of other people already working on improvement in this field?
  • Tractability: Is there something practical you can do, with the possibility of succeeding?

By applying these criteria and looking for evidence through research, companies are likely to have a more profound impact on the area in which they want to do good.

Responsibility – but where?
As the name says, CSR is about responsibilities. Therefore, we might wonder whether companies who apply CSR actually have the responsibility to do the most good they can (with the same amount of time and money). Can we argue for saving lives in the poorest countries instead of improving the labor conditions of the workers in one’s own supply chain? While the former has a bigger impact, the latter might, to a greater extend, be in line with the more obvious responsibilities of the particular company. This is an interesting discussion, but unfortunately outside the scope of this post to deal with.

However, a lot of multinational organizations are already involved in causes that do not directly relate to their own supply chain. Google is for example awarding $1 billion in grants and contributes 1 million employee volunteer hours ‘to create more opportunity for everyone’. More specifically, H&M announced in a press release in September that they are donating $200,000 to Save the Children for “South Asia’s worst flooding in years”. From an effective altruist perspective, it would be rational to figure out, what the scale of this cause is at the moment, if there aren’t already a lot of other donors involved in this particular disaster relief in South Asia, and whether Save the Children can actually do something successfully about the situation of those affected by the floods. Accordingly, this could be compared to the measured impact of other causes to conclude where H&M’s, or Google’s, resources would be most valuable.

Impact before Marketing!
We all know that CSR is more often than not linked to marketing strategies. There is a high chance that H&M chose to donate to South Asia’s flooding because more potential consumers will be affected since they probably have heard about the flooding recently and were emotionally moved. However, this doesn’t have to pose a problem, because Effective Altruism is not per se about ‘selflessness’, although often used as definition for altruism. It is totally fine to feel good about doing good. In fact, it would be wonderful if everyone felt better by doing good, because then it is likely that more people will actually do good. Therefore, it would be all the more impactful if organizations started to market the impact of their causes, rather than doing and marketing what feels good. With that, consumers could support companies that do good effectively, instead of companies that scream the loudest without having a real positive impact on important cause areas.


Lot Elshuis is a MSc Candidate in Business Administration and Philosophy at Copenhagen Business School. With a background in philosophy, her research interest is focused on discussions about the role and responsibility of business in society and the ethical dilemmas that these discussions entails. You can contact her on LinkedIn.

Pic by Diego PH, unsplash.

 

A Story of Poison, Pork and Consumer Protection

By Jan Bauer.

  • Renewal of controversial weed killer supported by Germany despite internal dissent
  • Corporate support seems the only consistency in many decisions
  • What evidence should determine the public opinion of a minister?

Glyphosate and a German Minister under Fire
The German Minister of Food and Agriculture, Christian Schmidt (CSU), came under fire in the end of November. He voted in favor of renewing the license for the controversial weed killer Glyphosate in Europe – against the will of the Minister of the Environment, Barbara Hendricks (SPD), and without consulting chancellor Merkel. Mr. Schmidt said he “made the decision on [his] own and within the responsibility [his] department”. While the potential health and environmental risks of Glyphosate, better known under Monsanto’s commercial name Roundup, are still subject to debate, the unilateral approach by the minister has at least poisoned the political climate between the two parties before the upcoming exploratory negotiations to renew their “grand coalition”.

Many Question Marks behind a Political Free Solo
One can only speculate why Mr. Schmidt considered it necessary to purposefully violate the joint rules of procedure between the federal ministries that would have required him to abstain from voting as long as there is a disagreement between the federal ministries. Mr. Schmidt defended his actions by claiming that his vote will lead to a more restrictive use of the herbicide in some areas. Glyphosate producer Monsanto, currently in the process of being taken over by the German chemical company Bayer, seems not satisfied with the renewal either and would have expected an extension of the license by more than five years.

Eat more Meat, but don’t sell a “Vegan” Schnitzel
This decision is by no means the first controversy surrounding the German Minister of Food and Agriculture and his duty to balance cooperate and consumer interests. Mr. Schmidt openly promoted the consumption of pork in public institutions, which has been abandoned by some canteens to avoid complications with religious customers. Additionally, he encouraged to ban the use of common marketing practices to sell meat replacements as “vegetarian sausages” or a “vegan schnitzel”. This effort was advocated to prevent the confusion of consumers, as they might be overburdened by linking the words “vegan” or “vegetarian” with the meatlessness of the product in questions – what should happen to German meat dishes that falsely claim to be vegetarian, such as “Leberkäse” (literally translated to “liver cheese”) remains unclear. Despite the minister’s concern, there is little evidence for an actual confusion among consumers and the fact that the growing popularity of vegetarian and vegan products negatively affects the meat industry created some skepticism about the motives for such a proposal.

The ambivalent Role of Scientific Evidence in the Process of Policy Making
This issue relates to larger questions about the importance of scientific evidence to guide regulatory action. Despite increasing efforts to foster evidence-based policy, the scientific evidence rarely provides perfect guidance on what will be the outcome of a certain policy (the discussion about the impact of the planned U.S. tax reform is another famous example). So in the absence of clear evidence; what determines a minister to go one way or the other: personal beliefs, the opinion of his constituency, the influence of lobbyists?

The Traffic Light System for Food Labels – as Case in Point
For the specific case, we might shed some light on this by looking at remarks from Mr. Schmidt on issues with clearer evidence. In the area of nutritional food labels, research shows that the mere provision of nutritional facts on the back of products does insufficiently guide consumer choices and recent studies highlight that salient and simplified front-of-package labels, such as the traffic light system, can help consumer making healthier choices. Additionally, there is a broad public support for better food labelling that guide consumers and make healthy choices easier. Despite this evidence, the minister considers such labels as an “impermissible simplification” and rejects further regulation in this direction as too paternalistic.

A view shared by several other EU countries that tried to go against the voluntary traffic light food label in the UK, as it “aimed at classifying food as more or less “healthy””, which would violate trade legislation. Traditional product manufactures have little leeway to reformulate their products and claim to be disadvantaged. For instance, the majority of meat products would receive a red label which might negatively affect sales – in other words, the fear is that such labelling actually works from a consumer’s point of view. Hence, there seems to be an inherent tension between consumers’ needs for guidance and industry claims of discrimination. The European Commission apparently announced “a thorough review” by the end of 2017.

People before Profits
It is hard to understand on what basis Mr. Schmidt himself determines the needs for regulatory action and why he made each of these individual decisions. While the Glyphosate incident appears to be a procedural failure in the absence of clear evidence, his stances on food labelling fails to acknowledge a general consumer science and public consensus. All decisions, however, seem to be in line with the interests of the industry. Mr. Schmidt himself stated that “we should not restrict the choice for the majority of society for reasons of ease or cost” when it comes to leaving pork off the menu. Hence, I propose to consistently follow this logic and not restrict consumer protection supported by the majority of scientists and the public for reasons of ease or costs for some special interest groups.


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.

Pic by GLOBAL 2000 / Christoph Liebentritt, flickr.