Category Archives: MSIs

About Meta-MSIs and Private Governance

By Luisa Murphy.

  • What are Meta-Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives (MSIs)?
  • What is their role and contribution to private governance?
  • How do Meta-MSIs enable the translation of responsible business policies and practices in unique octopus like ways?

Approximate reading time: 4-5 minutes.

Meta-MSIs, octopus arms and brains
What do Meta-multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSI) and octopuses have in common? Through my own PhD research of what I call a ‘Meta-MSI’ (the ASEAN CSR network), a phenomenon similar to the MSI (definition below), I have been investigating the dynamics and interactions between national networks which I liken to an octopus’ eight arms and corresponding eight mini- brains and the headquarters or “global network”. In this blog, I will define the Meta-MSI and briefly discuss how its constitution of networks provides important new insights into national level practices which may enable it to translate responsible business in intelligent, efficient and indeed, octopus like ways.

Towards a definition of the ‘Meta-MSI’
A Meta-MSI is a new type of MSI whose members comprise distinct organizational forms such as foundations, listed companies’ associations, chambers of commerce and industry and MSIs not individual members which usually constitute MSIs. In this regard, it also appears to have some key similarities to the ‘Meta-organization’ (e.g. Ahrne & Brunsson, 2005 & 2008) although I am still exploring the link (blog for another day).

Similar to MSIs, Meta-MSIs promote responsible business policies and practices through collective action, capacity building and shared vision. It includes MNCs, intergovernmental organizations and sometimes government agencies as partners. The members but also the partners are key to its legitimacy and vice versa. Hence, like an octopus, a Meta-MSI has a central brain (headquarters) but also eight mini-brains (national networks) which carry out autonomous activities. Moreover, like an octopus which coordinates with other sea creatures when necessary to achieve its ends, Meta-MSIs collaborate with partners on specific issues at the headquarter and national network level.

One example of a Meta-MSI is the ASEAN CSR network which is comprised of eight networks, including seven national networks and one regional network in Southeast Asia. It includes listed companies associations: CSR Club of Thai Listed Companies Association, MSIs: Global Compact Network Singapore, foundations: Indonesia Business Links; League of Corporate Foundations; ASEAN Foundation and national and international chamber of commerce and industries: Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry; Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers and Commerce and Industry and International Chamber of Commerce – Malaysia. Moreover, it engages corporate partners such as Hitachi and intergovernmental partners such as United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). These four types of member organizations are similar to the three hearts of the octopus which ensure circulation through its organs.

Meta-MSI contributions to private governance
Due to their structure, Meta-MSIs appear to be uniquely tailored to national level contexts and dynamics which provides for efficient functioning of the whole. Below, I briefly highlight three areas which I think enable the translation of responsible business policies and practices in unique and flexible octopus like ways.

First, as mentioned Meta-MSIs incorporation of heterogeneous member organizations provides insights into diverse ‘national business systems’ (Whitley, 1999) and how responsible business is approached in different contexts. In turn, Meta-MSIs operate by allowing policies and practices to be contextualized to these settings. Hence, like an octopus, the Meta-MSI is able to camouflage or adapt its policies and practices to its environment. This may lead the organization to be more efficient in the long-run, given that organizations do not need to defend the implementation of policies and practices which are different from other member organizations. Instead, all organizations are working towards the same goal of responsible business but may achieve them via different means.

Second, important studies (e.g. Rasche, 2012) have shown that the co-existence of loose and tight couplings within global networks provide MSIs with the ability to manage issues related to stability, flexibility and legitimacy, Meta-MSIs appear to navigate these challenges solely through an underlying loose organizational structure. This facilitates the translation of responsible business because it enables national networks to work even more autonomously (similar to an octopus with its eight arms) yet contribute to the whole through best practice sharing etc. The Meta-MSI is hence like the brain of the octopus, it coordinates with its eight mini-brains (it does not command), which allows (national) ownership of the relevant policies and practices. This may be important for promoting effective outcomes in the long-run as national organizations will develop institutions for responsible business which do not require micro-management by the “global” organization.

Finally, Meta-MSIs appear to be more exclusive than MSIs given their small number of member organizations at the “global” level and their corresponding memberships which range from being more exclusive to inclusive at the national levels. How this exclusivity impacts efficiency is another question. For instance, it might be worth considering whether it is more efficient to engage with one set of organizations e.g. SMEs through a national network (e.g. chamber of commerce) rather than SMEs and MNCs in the same network. Meta-MSIs are hence similar to an octopus which has a fixed number of arms and is wily about the other creatures it forms collaborations with.

In conclusion, while Meta-MSIs appear to be similar to octopuses in that they do not like the spotlight, I think it is worthwhile to cast a light on them and their national networks by considering how these global-national network (eight mini-brain- octopus) dynamics influence the governance for responsible business. I look forward to continuing the dialogue with you on octopuses, Meta-MSIs and other creatures in the private governance sea.


Luisa Murphy is a PhD Fellow at Copenhagen Business School and supported by the VELUX Endowed Chair in Corporate Sustainability. Her research examines governance for anti-corruption. She brings a human rights and business background from the University of Oxford and legal experience from the Antitrust Division of the United States Department of Justice.

Pic by Taylor Ann Wright, Unsplash.

Seeing Like a Standard: Sustainable Palm Oil and the Coasian Challenge

By Kristjan Jespersen & Caleb Gallemore.

Approximate reading time: 3-4 minutes.

Go to any supermarket and you’ll see labels, so many labels. Some of them seem reputable: the Marine Stewardship Council, the Forest Stewardship Council. Some of them seem less so, such as Bob’s House of Sustainability standard, which we just created five minutes ago.

One challenge – countless standards
Credible or not, these standards, developed mostly by the private sector and civil society, are growing in number. In Jessica Green’s 2014 book, Rethinking Private Authority, she counts 119 such environmental standards as of 2009, 90% of them created after 1990 – and this without considering Bob’s House of Sustainability. In a way, all these standards attempt something economist Ronald Coase imagined virtually impossible: to convey information about the true social costs and benefits of actions via pricing mechanisms. In this way, complex social and ecological interactions could be made intelligible to stakeholders like customers at the corner store.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil – A Case Study
So how are such illustrious standards as Bob’s House of Sustainability put together in the first place? Like James Scott in his 1995 book Seeing like a State, we are interested in how social systems require the production of certain kinds of information. But we suspect that because the pressures on private standards for sustainability are different from the pressures on state governments, the types of phenomena standards make intelligible will be different. In other words, we are interested in what it means to see not like a state, but like a standard, using a detailed case study of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Working with support from Copenhagen Business School’s Governing Responsible Business Research Environment, we are in the process of collecting data on the internal processes of the RSPO from a range of sources that include webscraping, document analysis, and interviews.

Various Adverse Effects of Palm Oil Production
There are certainly plenty harrowing problems posed by palm oil production that ideally should be readily legible to consumers: palm oil production causes deforestation and attendant greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss, particularly affecting orangutan populations. Because land clearance to plant oil palm often is undertaken with the use of fire, it contributes to local air pollution and the notorious Southeast Asian haze problem. What is more, oil palm plantations often engage in exploitative labor practices, promote tenurial conflict, and can benefit local elites at the expense of others.

Lead by conservation and social justice NGOs, there have been numerous brand attacks against unsustainable and exploitative palm oil production. These have lead to such notable episodes as the successful campaign by two American girl scouts to get the manufacturer of Girl Scout Cookies to purchase certified sustainable palm oil, and the recent awareness campaign launched in Denmark by Freja Bruun, also a successful teenage environmental activist.

Reputation is Key
The founders of the RSPO intended to respond to these challenges by managing a private standard certifying sustainable palm oil production. Because initiatives like the RSPO are private rather than public, decisions about what information needs to be made intelligible are driven primarily by branding concerns. The RSPO’s reputation is critical, as it is the validity of the standard that allows it to differentiate itself from the likes of Bob’s House of Sustainability. While there have been vociferous debates about the RSPO’s on-the-ground requirements, another key concern is the traceability of certified palm oil across the supply chain. Within the standard, certified sustainable palm oil prices tend to be differentiated by the level of traceability, ranging from the Book & Claim mechanism, which acts like an offset, to the RSPO-Next system, which envisions traceability to the source plantation.

Shift in Power Balance within the RSPO
Working with several Master’s students at CBS, we have found that the RSPO has, over time, undergone a noticeable shift in the balance of power between upstream members (consumer-goods manufacturers, investors, and retailers), and downstream members (oil palm growers and palm oil refiners), as the number of downstream voting members has grown considerably (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Composition of RSPO membership, by year (RSPO Website Data). Credit: Mikkel Kruuse and Kaspar Tangbaek.

As downstream members have become a stronger bloc, the RSPO’s intelligibility efforts have shifted from on-the-ground impacts to the traceability of the supply chain. While separate, traceable supply chains have been a stated goal since the RSPO’s founding, a noted shift is apparent. The share of total certified sustainable palm oil sold on the offset-like Book & Claim (B&C) system, for example, is declining rapidly (see Figure 2), and even B&C’s name has been rebranded to PalmTrace.

Figure 2: Percentage of total RSPO CSPO sold via the B&C system, by year (RSPO, various years).

Benefits of RSPO Membership only so good as the Label
Faced with concerted brand attacks, downstream members of the RSPO, in particular, have to overcome a public goods problem. The benefits of RSPO membership are only so good as the label, and downstream firms are understandably nervous about buying from suppliers who are cheating, exposing them to brand attacks. Faced with that risk, raising traceability requirements is one straightforward way to maintain the brand’s integrity. While enhanced traceability encourages downstream firms to police their supply chains, and geographic information systems and remote sensing are making traceability more robust, there is a monetary and policy cost to cutting through the supply-chain haze. The more traceable tiers of certification – which, with the exception of the newly minted RSPO-Next, do not involve more stringent on-the-ground requirements – are prohibitively expensive for smallholders and small businesses that must push those costs onto consumers. The desire for intelligibility, in other words, can strengthen standards, but has its own costs: first, it may focus intelligibility efforts in unproductive directions, and, second, when being intelligible involves transaction costs, only bigger players have the wherewithal to stand up and be counted.


Kristjan Jespersen primary research focus is the growing development and management of Ecosystem Services in developing countries. Within the field, Kristjan focuses his attention on the institutional legitimacy of such initiatives and the overall compensation tools used to ensure compliance. He has a background in International Relations and Economics.

Follow Kristjan on Twitter.

Caleb Gallemore is an Assistant Professor in the International Affairs Program at Lafayette College. A geographer by training, Caleb’s research focuses on land-use teleconnections and international environmental policy and politics.

Pic by JAM Project, edited by BOS.

Bold Businesses wanted for transformative Deep Retrofit – The CBS Student and Innovation House

By Kristjan Jespersen and Anne Marie Engtoft Larsen.

We live in times of change. Society is quickly evolving in every aspect, facing us with global ecological, economic, human and social challenges. To overcome these perils students must play a key role in formulating and developing the necessary solutions needed to curb these complex future challenges. Its is crucial that, during their studies, students are given the tools needed in a thriving, thought-provoking and ambitious framework in which they can question the status quo and develop world-class innovations with long lasting impact.

Why student engagement matters

The Copenhagen Business School (CBS) has a longstanding tradition of such student engagement. Students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels are actively engaged in various ways (internships, community service learning, entrepreneurship, student organisations, research, etc.) with many communities outside the campus. While many activities are formally initiated through university associations, the vast majority of activities are initiated independently. Students build upon the lessons learned in the classroom with such real-world experiences.

The quickly developing student initiative of creating the CBS Student and Innovation House (SIH) builds upon this already established momentum. Emerging from the vestiges of Frederiksberg’s old police station it wishes to solve the grand challenges of our time in a hitherto unseen collaboration between students, researchers, businesses and the public sector. It will challenge conventional thinking and give students the tools to translate their ideas into solutions while giving them the drive and courage needed to take responsibility for the positive transformation of the world we live in.
Central to the house is its engagement with sustainability as practices and outcomes. It aims to extend beyond narrow definitions and in the spirit of the house entail human and societal well being, as well as promoting sustainable practices in business, economics and society. It is intended to supplement existing activities with a set of specific programs to enable students to work with partners, to forge new initiatives and to inspire, support and promote sustainability activities both on and off campus.

The building

Names on the people in the picture are, from left to right, Anne Marie Larsen, Andreas Gjede, Jens Bonde, Christian Refshauge and Anne Katrine Vedstesen.
Names on the people in the picture are, from left to right, Anne Marie Larsen, Andreas Gjede, Jens Bonde, Christian Refshauge and Anne Katrine Vedstesen.

The foundation for the CBS Student and Innovation House is the 97 year old police station designed by the famous Danish architect Hack Kampmann’s, located in the heart of Copenhagen at Frederiksberg at Howitzvej 30. The building is a cultural and historical gem and forms part of an urban space with with a high architectural value. The building has more than 3,100 m2 plus an inward yard and large basement. The beautiful square with the water fountain and the  two colonnades in front of the house creates a peaceful space and ceremonial welcome. From the outside the building represents the students’ great grandparents’ traditional Danish resource: craftsmanship, while on the inside the building will be a testimony of today’s proud Danish resource: creative and smart minds, who dares to think innovatively and challenge conventional thinking.

Building this vessel will be no small feat. The students have to-date raised 52.5 million DKK and they have framed the project as a living laboratory for sustainability.

SIH – an interconnecting test bed for sustainability and innovation

SIH will treat this deep-retrofit project as an opportunity to implement, test, research, and teach sustainability, and in that way contribute directly to the significant transitions required to reach a sustainable future. The unique focus of the SIH’s approach would be its emphasis on the behavioural and business dimensions of the sustainability components and innovative approach to collaboration between private and public stakeholders and students.

To this end, the students propose a retrofit project that supports its sustainability objectives by:

  • Produces a world-renowned building project, that
  • Operates at the frontier of sustainability,
  • Is net positive in both human-well-being and environmental outcomes,
  • Produces a world-renowned building project, that operates at the frontier of sustainability,
  • Is net positive in both human-well-being and environmental outcomes,
  • Contributes directly to the health, productivity and subjective wellbeing of everyone in the buildings, and that
  • Directly supports and is reflected in the social innovation and community engagement activities that go on in the building and the campus community, including
  • An ongoing monitoring and social science research program, that offers the opportunity to implement, test, and teach sustainability,
  • A specific focus on the analysis of behaviour change,
  • The encouragement of innovation for societal benefit,
  • A strong focus on breaking down silos between students, faculty and society,
  • Partnerships with firms and organizations interested in sustainable building and neighbourhoods, that offer the capacity to build a regional scale living lab that focuses on the role of the business sector in the sustainability transition.
  • Exploring possible ways for integrating students drive and commitment in more informal learning ways, such as extracurricular projects, informal collaboration with researchers along with the possibility of internships and for-credit engagement with both on-campus and off-campus partners.

Invitation for collaboration

This project, however, cannot happen without the vision and mission of forward thinking companies, civil society organizations and municipalities desiring to push the limits of sustainability. The SIH calls on the builders, the technology providers, the municipalities, the consultants, the green building civil-society, the innovators and the start-ups to come together and devise the most innovative retrofit solutions for a project that will have lasting and scalable building opportunities. The students place a challenge at the feet of these stakeholders and invite them onboard this transformative task.

For more info, contact Anne Marie Larsen: annemarie@studenthouse.dk


Kristjan Jespersen is Doctoral Fellow at the Dept. of Intercultural Communication and Management at CBS and Anne Marie Engtoft Larsen is Co-Founder of the CBS Student and Innovation House.

Pic by Petra Kleis.

Merken

Merken