Category Archives: Ethics

Sustainability’s Infrastructure

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

By Hannah Elliott, Martin Skrydstrup and Matthew Archer.

Why SUSTEIN?

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

3 Research lines

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

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

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

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

Research line A

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

Research line B

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

Research line C

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

The grant

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

Reference

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


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

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

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


Closing remarks

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

The not-so-sharing economy

By Attila Marton

With the rise of Airbnb and Uber into the elite club of Silicon Valley superstar firms, the sharing economy has become an accepted business concept and social practice. Apart from the fact that sharing economy platforms (SEPs), such as Airbnb and Uber, are very savvy in playing labelling games (most of them have little to nothing to do with actual sharing), they are also very savvy in purposefully blurring established institutional boundaries and categories – most prominently, categories of employment and labour. By facilitating the “casual participation” of private individuals as users of their services, SEPs can gain significant advantages over well-established incumbents as they disrupt mature markets and labour structures as well as challenge long-held wisdoms of how to organize the creation and distribution of value.

It’s a thing now

The sharing economy is here to stay. Although, it is not yet clear whether the sharing economy will turn out to be as big a thing as the hype surrounding it suggests. Just to give some indicative numbers; The Economist estimates that the consumer peer-to-peer rental market is worth $26 billion, McKinsey predicts that the sharing economy will rise to $335 billion in revenues by 2025. In Denmark, 10% of the population has participated in the sharing economy in some form, while the Danish government announced a sharing economy strategy. At least it is safe to say that the hype is real and so are the expectations for high returns on the investments made into sharing economy platforms.

Something new, something old

The sharing economy, in its contemporary digitally platformed version, is the result of the confluence of three developments:

  • The rise of access-over-ownership as consumers are increasingly okay with paying for services and servitised products rather than to buy stuff. Streaming services, such as Netflix and Spotify, are telling examples. When we say access-based consumption or on-demand economy, we typically refer to this development.
  • The rise of peer-to-peer networks, which allow for direct inter- and transactions between peers coordinated by trust and reputation mechanisms. Think eBay and YouTube – typical examples of what we sometimes call the peer-to-peer economy or collaborative economy.
  • Allocating idle resources in order to tap into privately owned resources (assets and labour) and to promote more economical and sustainable use of resources as a result. Examples are IKEA’s second-hand campaign or renting out idle storage space via sharemystorage.com. Terms such as collaborative consumption and circular economy typically refer to this notion.

None of these developments is, of course, new nor exclusive to the sharing economy. Clans have been sharing food and tools since the dawn of humanity. Donating blood peer-to-peer has been around for at least half a century and the allocation of idle resources in brick-and-mortar second-hand shops even longer. The same applies to digital varieties of these practices; sharing files or selling/buying peer-to-peer online have been around since the 1990s (eBay was founded in 1995, Napster in 1999, Wikipedia in 2001). What is new is how these developments come together under specific technological, economic and cultural circumstances.

Mature technologies of automation enable private individuals to casually participate in economic activities as they self-service on dedicated platforms, which run automated matchmaking algorithms. Network effects attract larger groups of participants, increasing the economic value of those platforms (and of the corporations owning them). Thus, the coordination of casual participants has become a highly profitable business model. Culturally, these developments have become socially acceptable and appropriate as the new narrative of the Web 2.0 propagates “sharing is caring” and a general fascination with technological wizardry.

Four generic types of sharing economy platforms

An important outcome of above developments is that established institutional categories are becoming blurred, and static boundaries are becoming fluid. SEPs purposefully utilize these fluid boundaries to their advantage – be it between firms and markets (are Uber drivers employees or self-employed?), between internal and external resources (Airbnb hosts bring their own assets and have all the risks), and between private and business spheres (participants monetize and commodify their private life into assets), to name but only the most important examples. In our research (with Ioanna Constantiou, Dept. of Digitalization, CBS, and Virpi Tuunainen, Dept. of Information and Service Economy, Aalto University), we found that successful SEPs are very good at exploiting these boundary fluidity for their purposes. We identified four generic types we call the Franchiser, Chaperone, Principal, and Gardener.

  • The Franchiser aims for tight control over the platform participants and high rivalry among the service providers. The prototypical example is Uber, exploiting boundary fluidity by treating its drivers like employees while making them compete for fares dictated by Uber’s algorithm.
  • The Chaperone aims for loose control over the participants and high rivalry among the service providers. This is, of course, the Airbnb model; Airbnb exploits boundary fluidity by treating its participants like community members expected to follow norms and values while making the hosts compete like micro-entrepreneurs, who set their own prices based on Airbnb’s recommendation.
  • The Principal aims for tight control over the participants and low rivalry among the service providers. For instance, Handy (a per-task labour platform) treats its service providers like employees by making them sign contracts while the service providers participate in tenders based on standardized prices dictated by Handy.
  • Finally, the Gardener aims for loose control over the participants and low rivalry among the service providers. For instance, Couchsurfing (facilitating short-term, free-of-charge accommodation) leaves it to the participants to coordinate their accommodation while eliminating rivalry among the hosts by not allowing them to charge money.

Not so obvious implications

What each of these four types have in common is that they all rely on the casual participation of their user base; that is, their users typically operate on smaller scale, use their personal resources, and are less experienced than traditional service providers and professionals (not only in terms of delivering services but also protecting oneself against exploitative business practices).[1] Combined with digitalisation, such casualness provides unprecedented sources for creating value and disguises large portions of the labour of the participants.

It is the degree to which this hidden labour has become the core of the business models of Uber, Airbnb, Handy, and Couchsurfing, that is really new.

To name just two examples. By means of the app and data-driven algorithms, Uber obviously replaces taxi dispatchers. Not so obvious, however, is the hidden labour provided by the Uber riders who, by scoring their rides, control the service quality. This used to be the purview of employed and paid middle managers. Likewise, Airbnb does not only profit from on-boarding private individuals as hosts (instead of hiring professional concierges) but also from the marketing those hosts provide not just for themselves but for Airbnb, the corporation – hidden labour, which would have traditionally required to pay marketing specialists.

It is a not-so-sharing economy we are dealing with. In fact, the sharing economy is the quintessential expression of a new logic of capital accumulation in the digital economy, where large portions of labour are disguised as casual (or even pleasurable) participation in the name of self-servicing and sharing. These forms of hidden labour are not unintended consequences; they are essential parts of the platform business model, as they sustain the digital systems and algorithmic operations of those platforms in order to make “sharing” not only economically viable but, above all, profitable. As a result, the historically and culturally important institution of sharing (in the true sense of the word) is thinned out and replaced by the logic of the platform economy, the micro-entrepreneurial ethos of monetizing every aspect of one’s “everydayness”, and the precarity of depending on demand.


Attila Marton is Associate Professor at the Department of Digitalization at Copenhagen Business School. He  focuses the interplay between information management and digital memory studies and the question how we will remember and forget the past in the future.His research can also be found on Academia and ResearchGate.

Academic Reference

[1] See Katz, V. 2015. “Regulating the sharing economy,” Berkeley Technology Law Journal (30:385).

Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash

 

Consider also our post from last week, dealing with the topic of sharing.

Big fuss about a big policy plan – and why this matters for corporate social responsibility: the Chinese social credit system

By Dieter Zinnbauer & Hans Krause Hansen.

Few statist policy blueprints on matters pretty technical have captured our collective imagination as has the Chinese Social Credit System (SCS). Announced by China’s State Council on June 14, 2014, and building on experimentation with related mechanisms since the early 2000s, it sets out a hugely ambitious effort, officially described to instil societal trust, integrity and cohesion in a highly complex society. To get there it seeks to combine cutting-edge technology and vast amounts of data to create incredibly granular behavioural profiles of both companies and individuals. Good and bad behaviours are meant to be recorded in and through elaborate rating systems and blacklists, and made public on digital platforms. The expectation is that punishments and rewards will deter deviance and incentivise good conduct in close to any sphere of life.

With the West in the mirror

After years of relative in-attention, the SCS has loudly burst onto the Western media landscape. Here, it is typically described in Orwellian terms as a totalitarian system of surveillance and control. On closer inspection, the SCS is in fact embryonic, fragmentary and faced with enormous implementation challenges.

But the scale, scope and level of invasiveness associated with the data collection effort currently emerging in China should not look so shockingly unprecedented to Western publics once they begin to scrutinize their own backyards. Take the use of social media in the policing of protests as an example. Here the UK government engages in the analysis of big data to predict, pre-empt and respond in real time to a range of issues, including public dissent. Take information on someone’s physical whereabouts as another example. As it turns out the exact location of cell phone owners in 95% of the US is being tracked with the help of all major carriers in close to real time (ok, with a 15 seconds delay) and related data is being available to nudge people’s behaviour for a wide variety of purposes, e.g. by sending them last-minute campaign pitches when they wait in line outside a particular polling station or anti-abortion messages when they are found to linger outside health clinics that carry out these procedures or by sending political messages when they wait in line outside a particular polling station.

Or take the most popular new media companies. They are collecting extremely granular dockets of what their users do, say and who they socialise with on their own platforms. But less in the spotlight they also track users and non-users alike across millions of other websites and across the bulk of the most popular mobile applications, recording anything from detailed surfing behaviour down to the modes of movement – is the user currently cycling or on the train? What’s more, they increasingly merge theses profiles with billions of data points collected by other parties. One leading new media company claims to have access to information on 70% of all credit card purchases and thus approximating a rather totalitarian 360 degree, 24/7 view of user conduct, all the way to – no kidding – the barometric pressure of the users’ environment.

Public and private entanglements

A special matter of concern in the West relating to SCS is its fusion of socialist government and private sector capabilities, technical affordances and interests that make such a system feasible in the first place.

However, long gone in the West are the times when governments were the main purveyors and guardians of data about their citizens.  Even the holy grail of state information prowess, the census is not immune to private sector resources and influences. The UK government for example is exploring ways to make its census more cost-effective with the help of other big data sources and acknowledges that this will also have to include privately-held ones.

And there is also a proximity of big tech and political actors on a much more fundamental level. Tech companies evolved into some of  the most vocal and most prolific donors and lobbyists on the political scene. An entirely legitimate democratic engagement, but it raises questions about outsize influence given the scale of these efforts. Yet, much more unnerving, the leading social media and tech companies in the US   seconded staff as pro-bono experts to become part of the support teams of most presidential candidates in the run up to the 2016 presidential elections, giving them unique insights and connections into the affairs of some of the leading politicians in the country.

Subtle social sorting and weak institutional safeguards

A factor that explains the extraordinary attention that the SCS has received might pertain to the breadth of sanctions and consequences that these early uses have already resulted in. Bad social credit makes it more difficult for Chinese citizens to travel, find a home or get a job.  Unfortunately, this is nothing new and happens all over the world.  Under the label of risk- management citizens whose criminal record or financial credit history contains some irregularities have long been subjected to inferior treatment when renting a home, looking for a job or seeking insurance.

In principle, the protection of individual rights and limits on state over-reach and surveillance in most western countries relies on a host of elaborate institutional safeguards, checks and balances. While some of the egregious examples referenced above have actually been remedied when they were exposed, thus attesting to some degree of efficacy of legal and broader societal protections, other incidences have not been resolved and are somehow even seen as acceptable.

So shifting some of the attention and moral outrage that is being directed towards the Chinese SCS back to the home turf, and to investigate what troubling data practices and regulatory gaps that are germinating over here is more than warranted. In the wake of the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandals this has begun to happen and more commentators are noting the troublesome parallels between Chinese SCS and emergent data surveillance and discrimination issues in the West.

Enter the urgent business of business

And this is where business and its social responsibility comes in. Because one of the fundamental differences between the SCS and many issues in the West is that the disciplinary power, control functions and discriminatory implications of big data-driven social scoring are not primarily organised and instrumentalised through government, but deployed by the private sector and working their way into everyday lives.

Egged on by a growing populist Tech-lash, a whirlwind of new regulatory efforts and undoubtedly also in many cases by a deeper sense for doing no harm, the new tech companies have begun to take note, moving from denial to a gradual re-examination of some of their working principles, practices and normative anchoring.

Yet, the proof is still in the pudding whether this is a substantive change of minds and hearts. The Performance of the new tech sector on some standard measures of corporate integrity and transparency is still mediocre and lagging many other established industries.

The ways to a much more comprehensive, proactive and transformational integration of corporate social responsibilities into the strategy and practice of tech will have to coalesce around a broad band of issues, ranging from responsible stewardship of data, platform power and emergent artificial intelligence capabilities to bread and butter CSR issues such as responsible corporate political activity and supply chain and subsidiary integrity.

Think tanks and tech activists are putting forward a sprawling pool of ideas and initiatives from data collaboratives or privacy by design standards to high-profile research endeavours into artificial intelligence ethics. Meanwhile  European regulators are putting into force trailblazing rules as we write this column.

But a big tech embrace of a substantive and comprehensive notion of corporate social responsibility is urgently required to stave off the threat of an even more populist, illiberal, unequal, misogynistic and fragile future in which the tech industry is more part of the problem than a solution to it.


Dieter Zinnbauer is Governing Responsible Business Research Fellow at Copenhagen Business School in the Department of Management, Society and Communication.

Hans Krause Hansen is Professor at the Department of Management, Society and Communication at Copenhagen Business School. He teaches and researches about various aspects of public and private governance, including corruption, anti-corruption and transparency regimes in the global North and South.

 

Pic by Alias, Flickr.

‘Just Sustainabilities’ in a World of Global Value Chains

By Stefano Ponte.

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

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

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

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

A New Era

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

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

Sustainability Management

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

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

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

What To Do

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

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

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

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


Selected books for further reading on this topic:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Pic by Marufish, Flickr.

Droned

by Glen Whelan.

A Military Heritage

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

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

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

Various Civilian Uses

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

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

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

Technologically Changing Society

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

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

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

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


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

Links

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

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

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

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

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

Why it Doesn’t Matter that Facers are Annoying

By Jacob Schjødt.

You are walking down a high-traffic street in Copenhagen minding your own business. You’re thinking about the new pair of pants you’re about to buy. But then. About 30 meters ahead. You see something that immediately provokes a feeling of mild anxiety. You decide to take a detour, and walk to the very edge of the street. But it’s too late. You have already been spotted. A friendly looking young man with long hair, piercings and a big smile calls at you. ‘Is it me, he’s calling at?’ you ask yourself – hoping the answer to be ‘no’. But it is you. You have been caught. By a Facer.

What is a Facer?
In the most general sense, a Facer is a professional salesperson who sales products, services or memberships face-to-face. Facers are usually found on high-traffic shopping streets in large cities. Facers can take many forms and promote various causes, ranging from Scientology to insurance and memberships to charities. In this blog, I will only consider the latter, as you know them from Unicef, Amnesty, Care etc.

Why Facers are annoying
Usually when people talk about facers, they readily settle on the apparent fact that Facers are rather, if not very, annoying. And, in general, I agree with these people: Facers are annoying. They force you out of your comfort zone, they completely ignore your interests, and they ask you to consider something that is not at all related to your life. Facers force you into a situation in which you have to choose between two negative outcomes: 1) feel bad about not helping someone in need or 2) give away money that you had other plans with. Also, facers are fake. Facers pretend to like you, just to get your money. This creates an unfamiliar and unpleasant encounter in which it’s easy to feel that you have to be rude to maintain a sense of control. And the list goes on…

And Why it Doesn’t Matter That They Are
The situation is clear. Facers are super annoying. But to jump from this fact of reality to the conclusion, that one should not support their cause – or that it’s fine to talk ill of them – is a school book example of an ad hominem argument. Contrary to many other cases of ad hominem thinking, however, we can actually justify Facer’s annoying behaviour (assuming that we sympathize with the charity they are promoting).

A decent facer can sign up 3 new members on a 6 hour shift, and these member will donate around 75-150 DKK per month. A charity membership lasts about 1.5 years on average (an estimate), and a Facer makes around 120DKK per shift (depending on their salary model). If a Facer works 2 times per week, he/she will then make around 60.000 DKK in a year, and earn the charity well above 400.000 DKK. If you thought being annoying could save lives, wouldn’t you be annoying?

Beware of the Facer Fallacy
Our tendency to found moral arguments on unpleasant feelings is one of the most heavily supported claims in moral psychology (Haidt, 2001; 2012, Haidt et al., 2000; Greene, 2001; 2009; 2014). I think that Facer-bashing is a solid example thereof. I think that we too readily succumb to a ‘if the messenger is annoying, he cannot be on to something’, fallacy when it comes to Facers, and that we should make an effort to develop a more positive attitude towards these people and their work.

References

  • Haidt, J. (2001). The emotional dog and its rational tail: A social intuitionist approach to moral judgment. Psychological Review, 108(4), 814–834. https://doi.org/10.1037//0033-295X.108.4.814

  • Haidt, J. (2012). The righteous mind. Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion …, (January), 1–508. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004

  • Haidt, J., Bjorklund, F., & Murphy, S. (2000). Moral dumbfounding: When intuiton finds no reason. Working Paper. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004

  • Greene, J. (2014). Moral Tribes. Emotion, Reason and the Gap Between Us and Them, 300. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004

  • Greene, J. D., Sommerville, R. B., Nystrom, L. E., Darley, J. M., & Cohen, J. D. (2001). An fMRI investigation of emotional engagement in moral judgment. Science, 293(5537), 2105–2108. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1062872

  • Greene, J. D. (2009). Dual-process morality and the personal/impersonal distinction: A reply to McGuire, Langdon, Coltheart, and Mackenzie. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45(3), 581–584. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2009.01.003

Jacob Schjødt is a Master student of Business Administration and Philosophy at CBS and Student assistant at CBS PRME. He has been responsible for organising the first Students for the Global Goals Festival at CBS on April 11, 2018. Follow CBS PRME on Facebook and Twitter for the latest updates.

Pic by Daniel Lombraña González, 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.

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.