Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine reminds us that corporate social responsibility (CSR) is both a reflection of the times we live in and also dynamic! Numerous corporations, acting in response to social and political pressure, are withdrawing from Russia on the grounds that human rights, and a nation’s rights, are being trampled on. This is not to say that these decisions necessarily come easily: there may be ethical, strategic, stakeholder and political tensions. But the point is that perhaps the most basic societal issue of war and peace – and its governance – enters CSR agendas. Ethical investors are even considering the defense industries as suitable for their assets.
In recent decades several challenges have emerged which appear to move CSR from a relative comfort zone of discretionary activities to more core societal governance challenges, some of these manifestly involve some corporate culpability (e.g. the 2008 financial crisis, international supply chain labor abuses, climate change, ecological degradation), others like international pandemics, war and international health and welfare challenges reflected in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, may reflect wider causes. Nonetheless, corporations claim some responsibility for these issues. Even corporate ‘talk’, as well as ‘walk’, contribute to the redefinition of CSR to take in core societal governance challenges.
This is understood as right and proper from some perspectives. Medieval corporations were established precisely to achieve public ends – often of basic infrastructure. Industrial corporations were pioneers of C19th health, welfare and education systems. In many developing countries corporations take responsibility for physical security of their employees and communities.
But in the late C20th a view took hold that this was somehow inappropriate. Milton Friedman’s famous 1970 critique of CSR was precisely on the grounds that corporations are not accountable for addressing such issues: governments are. Many CSR advocates, whether fearing a corporate takeover of government or vice versa, and have advocated a dichotomy between the responsibilities (social and economic) of corporations and those of governments.
Yet the last twenty years have witnessed two related phenomena which challenge the dichotomous view. First, corporations have chosen to engage in social and environmental agendas which are core for national and international governments (e.g. human rights, corruption, access to resources), whether in response to pressure or by virtue of their own ethical or strategic judgement. Secondly, governments have encouraged corporations to enjoin public efforts, through their policies of endorsement and cajoling, financial incentives, partnerships and even mandates (e.g. for energy markets, non-financial reporting, supply chain due diligence).
Governments have recognized the distinctive resources that corporations can bring to governance questions (e.g. to innovate, to experiment, to reach beyond national boundaries, to collaborate). Interestingly in cases of mandate, governments often cede to corporations discretion as to how, rather than whether, to comply. Thus, for example, corporations can choose whether to cynically comply with international weapons sanctions on a country to sell arms by the legal use of third parties to effectively maintain the sales OR to embrace the spirit and intention of the sanctions and uniformly cease the sales to the regime in question.
But Friedman’s critique nags and critics of corporations point to unaccountable corporate power through lobbying and informal influence. Corporations lack a traditional democratic mandate. We elect MPs and governments, but not CEOs. So is engagement with public policy (rather than legal compliance) really the business of corporations?
My short answer is ‘yes’ on the grounds that businesses are members of society and that corporations are afforded particular privileges by the state, and thus have clear public duties. But the situation is not satisfactory. In most democratic jurisdictions corporations’ roles ‘to make’ and ‘to take’ regulation are not clearly specified and thus their accountability is unclear. Moreover, new international multi-stakeholder initiatives which tie corporations in with each other and with civil society often fail to effectively regulate errant organizations.
So we have a challenge which is about CSR and politics: how to better build corporations into political institutions? I suggest that the challenge is shared – for corporations to review their political participation to ensure that it is citizenly; for civil society to engage in defining how corporations can be more accountable and to engage more directly in corporate accountability (perhaps with support from government?); and for governments to review how accountably corporations influence and respond to regulation.
About the Author
Jeremy Moon is Professor at Copenhagen Business School, and Chair of Sustainability Governance Group. Jeremy has written widely about the rise, context, dynamics and impact of CSR. He is particularly interested in corporations’ political roles and in the regulation of CSR and corporate sustainability.
The Sixth IPCC Assessment Report warns that crops are more frequently lost due to extreme weather conditions than ever before. At the same time, communities across the globe are facing increased – and in many cases acute – food insecurity.
Feedback loops in food production may increase future food insecurities
While suffering the consequences of climate change, our food systems also act as major contributors to it by accounting for one-third of the global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by human activity. This potentially creates a feedback loop where food production increases GHG emission, which in turn accelerates climate change leading to more extreme weather events that threaten and damage crops, reducing food availably and increasing food insecurity, which increases demand for food production and takes us back to increased food GHG emission stemming from food systems. Something like the diagram below:
This is, of course, a snippet of much more complex food systems of provision out there. A full assessment of these systems would consider other elements such as biodiversity, water use, mass production and small scale agriculture, health and nutrition, culture, local, regional, and global scale systems, to mention a few.
The chain of actions and reactions shown in the diagram are what we call a feedback loop, where elements of a system interact, amplifying or dampening each other’s effects. This may sound complicated but becomes easier to grasp through examples. Referring once more to the diagram above, it is easy to see how producing more (+) food could lead to increased (+) GHG emissions, while enduring more (+) extreme weather events could damage crops and reduce (-) the availability of food. This is useful when analysing complex systems and especially handy when it comes to developing solutions that can disrupt a link in the system hence leveraging change towards a desired state.
Mainstream food systems are designed to operate in positive feedback loops – and that’s not positive
As illustrated in our diagram, the current mainstream food system is designed to operate in a positive feedback loop, where the word positive (unfortunately) does not mean something nice or beneficial, but instead that the relationships within the loop (and possibly the whole system) create a snowball effect. This is certainly not what we want. To go in the direction of operating within the planetary boundaries, we must work on the links that offer the most leverage for change (preferably with the least use of resources), and ideally operate only with bounded trade-offs.
A previous BoS article on the importance of food systems for building resilient societies highlighted two major behavioural changes that substantially mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from food systems: avoiding food waste and dietary shifts to plant-based nutrition, which can be leveraged by individual choice.
“Because individual choices are the basis of any healthy and sustainable food system, understanding and influencing consumer behaviour is a promising route to achieving sustainability, resilience, and healthfulness of our food systems and society generally”.
In this sense, we envision that nudging people into making more environmentally friendly food choices will lower “GHG emission” stemming from food systems and will have a beneficial impact on the other elements with which it interacts due to the nature of feedback loops and systems.
The BEACON project explores pathways to shift to a sustainable food system
But how can we move consumer-citizens towards more sustainable diets and reduced food waste? Moreover, how can we design a more resilient food system and food environment? These are the questions we seek to answer in partnership with the City of Copenhagen through the BEACON Project (funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation). Here, we work in connection with actors who directly and indirectly shape the city’s food environments to employ interventions in real-life settings, which we expect will enhance the experiments’ validity, yield useful results, and increase engagement and “buy-in”. By finding the answers to these questions, we expect to contribute to developing pathways for change and to harnessing and advancing behavioural insights (nudges) that can inform people-centric food and health public policies as well as mitigation efforts by the private sector. We also expect our findings to apply to other systems of provision beyond food.
Developing a circular society
Ultimately, we aim at further developing the concept of a circular society, which builds on the concept of circular economy but is more far-reaching. Circular societies consider less material forms of value creation, are sustainable, just, resilient, deliver social wellbeing within the planetary boundaries and operate in a balanced state among the biosphere, the sociosphere, and the technosphere (Figure 2).
Given that societies are collectively built, our ambitious goals can only be achieved through open dialogue and collaborative work with practitioners, policymakers, researchers and civil society. If you would like to contribute to this discussion, you are most welcome to write to us here.
Bruna Carvalho is Research Assistant at Copenhagen Business School. She brings research experience in the areas of transformational sustainability entrepreneurship, policy reviews and road mapping for sustainable public procurement, and transdisciplinary research in the field ecosystem conservation in partnership with the Waorani indigenous people (Ecuadorian Amazon). As a practitioner, she founded the Sustainability Commission of the Brazilian Federal Justice (State of Paraná), where she acted as Commission Secretary for three years.
Lucia Reisch is the El-Erian Professor for Behavioural Economics and Public Policy at the University of Cambridge, the founder of the Consumer and Behavioural Insights Group (CBIG) at Copenhagen Business School, Department of Management, Society and Communication, and the principal investigator of the BEACON project. She is a behavioural economist and social scientist and one of Europe’s leading academic experts in behavioural insights-based policies for sustainability. Lucia is an Editor of the Journal of Consumer Policy (SpringerNature) and a founding Editorial Board Member of the Journal Behavioural Public Policy (Cambridge University Press) as well as a member of the Editorial Board of Food Policy (Elsevier), among other editorships.
By Lavinia Cristina Iosif-Lazar, Jens Riemer and Caroline A. Pontoppidan
“Environmental sustainability to be at the core of EU education and training systems” – So reads the latest recommendation from the European Commission to EU education ministers, which highlights that “learning for environmental sustainability is not yet a systemic feature of policy and practice in the EU.” How then do we better inform practice and policy? Where does one even start to look at what has already been achieved and what more needs to be done on environmental sustainability, especially in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs)?
Coupled with the complexities of incorporating sustainability in HEIs and the diversity of methods used by HEIs in advancing these efforts or curriculum overhaul, the task of bringing about systemic change and reaching the targets set on climate mitigation and biodiversity can seem daunting. But this is where a good picture of where we are now and where we want to be, can make a difference.
Global pollution of, among other things, air, soil, and water, increasing exploitation of the resources of the Earth, and global climate change are challenging nature, environment, and public health. Also, Denmark and the world are in the midst of a biodiversity crisis caused by man-made pollution and exploitation of natural resources and habitats, global spreading of invasive species, and climate change. The intensive exploitation of the open land, forests, coastal zones, and marine areas has caused nature to be fragmented and continuously exposed to a number of stress factors, which means that biodiversity is on a constant decline
The EU Context: broadly speaking, all education needs to be green
At the EU level, we do not lack initiatives that have brought into focus the greening of the curriculum and the need to address climate and environmenal issues at all levels of education and training. The European Education Area (EEA) is an initiative aimed at strengthened collaboration between European Union Member States to build more resilient and inclusive education and training systems. One of the five focus topics of the initiative centers on Green Education. GreenComp – The European Sustainability Competence Framework developed by the European Commission was one of the cornerstones in the educational scope of the European Green Deal. Published in January 2022 and aimed at providing a shared competence framework on sustainability to guide educators and learners, the framework can be used by member states as a reference when rolling out educational initiatives on sustainability.
However, even with all the attention given to education initiatives, there is little direct appealing to HEIs at the EU policy levelMost of the time, communication is directed towards the whole sector leaving the specific directionality of the initiatives to the individual Member States and HEIs are most often mentioned together with schools and other training institutions. The GreenComp report mentions Higher Education a few times but only to illustrate that Higher Education has succeeded in creating a focus on competences for environmental sustainability in relation to preparing the students to address sustainability challenges and opportunities in their working life.
The Danish Context: The Danish Ministry of Education and the Green Transition
In September 2020, the Ministry of Higher Education and Science, Denmark, published ‘Green solutions of the Future’,astrategy for investments in green research, technology, and innovation. It also highlighted the important role of close collaborations between knowledge-institutions and the business community. To get things moving, the Danish government decided to allocate research funds to boost green research and also bringing more focus on green study programmes.
And the issue of what was happening in HEIs on green research quickly became a focal point. In December 2021, the Danish Ministry for Education and Science sent a request for data on the work HEIs were doing to integrate green themes in educational programmes. The Ministry asked institutions to submit an overview of seven green themes and the coverage of those themes in their programmes. Among these themes, two were focused on energy production and effectiveness, and the others addressed agriculture, transport, environment, biodiversity and sustainable behaviour.
The CBS Context: Green Themes in study programmes
There are multiple ways in which HEIs can find out what content in their educational offerings addresses the green themes described by the Danish Ministry. The way in which CBS did it, was to build on already initiated course content analysis and expand it to include the seven themes. In the academic year 2021-2022, CBS offered 18 Bachelor (undergraduate) programmes, 36 Master (graduate) programmes, as well as HD, Executive and special Master programmes. This amounts to a lot of data to go through and analyse. Other universities or schools might face the same issue of data being both diverse and difficult to gather, but once it is gathered, the managing the amount of data can become a challenge.
CBS used the qualitative research tool NVivo, to analyse and code data from courses in all CBS’study programmes. This was done by identifying specific key words related to the given seven green themes (see table below). The data collected was derived from study programme competency profiles, course descriptions and learning objectives. For every search result returned, the context was analysed and only relevant hits were then recorded in the respective codes.
Agriculture and Food production
Environment and Circular economy
Nature and Biodiversity
Sustainable behaviour and Societal consequences
How do Green Themes look like in a study programme at CBS?
Once the data was collected and the content analysed, a relatively comprehensive picture emerged of how and where the green themes are present in a study programme at a European business school like CBS.
Case 1 below, illustrates a visualization of an anonymised bachelor programme. It presents how the seven green themes can be visualized so to give an “as is” picture. With this information, study programmes can dive deeper into the green content that they already have embedded in their programmes and/or identify that they are interested in additional integration of the seven environment themes into education.
Bachelor Study Programme A had extensive coverage of Green Themes 5 through 7. The numbers in each cell of the below table represent the number of hits (keywords) per theme. Within the Bachelor Study Programme A, the green themes were identified in both mandatory and elective courses, in their respective course descriptions (CD) and learning objectives (LO). Environment and Circular economy, Sustainable development and Social consequences, as well as Nature and Biodiversity were the themes found represented in the Bachelor Study Programme A courses.
The continuous loop: research, policy, strategy and the classroom
The analysis and reporting of course content on green and environmental themes can function as a basis on which discussions about environmental sustainability in an institution’s educational activities can be taken. Getting this overview can inform further work to advance both content and scope that strengthens the advancement of environmental sustainability competences. These can later also find their way into regional strategies as well as inform policy makers at the International and European level. Having a well-informed stance on how, where and which environmental content and competencies HEI graduates obtain during their education can highlight where efforts need to be targeted. This also means that HEIs become a part of the action on “greening” the curriculum and, in turn, can better inform policy makers and education initiatives.
The business school sector has much to build upon. Pioneering scholars have long focused on issues of the environment and sustainability. There has been a dramatic uptake in the last decade of attention to climate change by business scholars, encouraged by editorial statements and special issues in the leading journals in every one of our disciplines. In the classroom, these issues are increasingly being discussed in core and speciality courses, representing significant curricular shifts, and supported by our accrediting bodies
Lavinia Cristina Iosif-Lazar is a project lead on Principles of Responsible Management Education at the CBS Teaching & Learning Department. Lavinia’s work centres on curriculum development, climate and carbon literacy and systemic thinking in management education, as well as assisting in the development of teaching materials.
Jens Riemer is a Green Transformation Officer at Copenhagen Business School, within Executive Support and Communcations. Jens works with the cross-cutting strategic initiative Green Transition, which focus on bringing together key players in establishing an organizational frame and initiate concrete problem-based research and educational activities.
Caroline A. Pontoppidan, Associate Professor department of Accounting & Academic director CBS PRME. Her research often engages with the institutionalization of global standards into local context – and challenges herein.
The sustainability contributions of business are under increased scrutiny in society. Observations of greenwashing, blue-washing, corporate hypocrisy, and decoupling suggest the existence of an intentional or unintentional gap between espoused CSR strategies and actual sustainability outcomes at the societal level. In other words, there seems to be more “talking” than “walking”.
This has inspired a growing concern in parts of the CSR research community that maybe we have been asking the wrong questions. Is it possible that in some ways we are contributing to this gap between strategy and impact?
Next year, an entire subtheme of the annual European Group for Organisational Studies (EGOS) conference will be dedicated to “Rethinking the Impact and Performance Implications of CSR”. This subtheme will address the tendency in CSR research to focus on outcomes at the organisational level without analysing impacts at the societal level.
There are valid reasons for limiting the scope of CSR research in this way: from an organisational performance perspective, many of the traditional success criteria for CSR policies—such as strengthening legitimacy, market position, and employee satisfaction—do not require data to be gathered on sustainability impact from a societal perspective.
However, the urgency and magnitude of the current global crisis related to climate, biodiversity, and social inequality fuels the expectation that corporations should acknowledge their role in creating these crises and take decisive action to be part of the solution. From this perspective, one would expect CSR research to provide knowledge of how, when, and why CSR policies and practices truly contribute to solving sustainability challenges. Yet, as a review of current CSR literature shows, this is rarely the case .
So what constrains CSR researchers from addressing this impact gap? In the following, I will highlight two interrelated mechanisms that have emerged from my research.
1) Sustainability impact is non-linear, systemic, and complex.
The problem with measuring sustainability impact is that it does not conform to conventional systems of measurement and reporting. Company CSR reports primarily provide key performance indicators linked to resource use per unit of production or list company policies and protocols to ensure compliance with various sustainability standards. In general, companies tend to (self) report on the successful implementation of their (self-imposed) CSR strategy, which happens to align with existing business objectives. However, as dryly noted by former environmental minister and EU commissioner Connie Hedegaard: the need for CO2 reductions is not relative; it is absolute! The melting Arctic poles do not really care that a company has made an effort to reduce its relative emissions if the net result is still more CO2 .
The negative impact on ecosystems is subject to irreversible tipping points where effects compound and accelerate. Thus, the societal impact of a sustainability policy or protocol cannot merely be assessed at the organizational level. It must be traced up and down the value chain and checked for unintended systemic consequences and hidden noncompliance . Think of ineffective emission off-set schemes or families impoverished by bans on child labour. Ultimately, being “less bad” does not necessarily amount to being good.
2) Researchers do not have the necessary information.
Analysing the societal impact of corporate CSR policies and practices is a highly resource intensive task, which requires an entirely different set of research skills and data access than traditional organisational research. Instead, researchers most often opt to evaluate sustainability performance through estimations, perceptions, and narratives offered by company staff in surveys and interviews . This data is context specific and prone to subjective biases, making it difficult to draw objective conclusions about societal impact.
Consequently, because there is so little existing knowledge of the link between CSR initiatives and societal impact, the CSR contribution of corporations is primarily assessed based on compliance with reporting standards and commercial rating initiatives such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. This, for lack of better options, becomes the go-to objective indicator of CSR performance used by CSR researchers. Through this self-fulfilling circular logic, these indicators are used to identify CSR high performers for research on best practice. CSR research thus potentially perpetuates the perception of what successful CSR policies and practices look like—all without examining the societal impact of these practices.
Is this a problem?
Just as corporations increasingly realise that addressing CSR issues is no longer optional, we as CSR researchers may need to move beyond asking how, when, and why corporations engage with sustainability and begin asking how, when, and why corporations contribute to sustainability. If we do not, we risk losing our relevance when corporations look to academia for guidance on how to design and implement CSR strategies based on maximum impact rather than just maximum compliance and minimal risk.
We are challenged to expand our field of enquiry and be innovative when assessing how the observed means ultimately align with desired ends. This will require forging research alliances with new knowledge fields and establishing relationships with new groups of informants beyond company employees. The first step, however, is to rethink the questions we ask.
The shocking 2021 IPCC report on the climate emergency makes clearer than ever that many human systems are in dire need of significant change. Today’s harsh growth-oriented economic systems are particularly implicated in the growing chorus of demands for purposeful system transformation towards a flourishing world for all. Significant systemic transformation is needed to bring human activities in line with both social and planetary boundaries now being breached. That means that the way we think about economics, how our businesses operate, and even how communities and whole societies operate likely need to change – and radically.
But transforming such whole systems – economies, societies, communities, even organizations – is incredibly hard. Transformation inherently involves fundamental changes to core aspects of a given system. Things like purposes, values, goals, important assessment metrics, and even the mindsets or paradigms of people in the system must change, whether the system to be transformed is an organization, economy, or society. Our research suggests that a new type of entity – transformation catalysts – may be able to help.
What is a Transformation Catalyst?
A chemical catalyst brings about a chemical reaction without necessarily changing itself. Used in a social sense, a catalyst is a person or thing that makes something new happen or precipitates change. In the spirit of any catalyst, a transformation catalyst works with the mix of different efforts and activities that already exist and that are geared towards significantly changing a system – transformation. When this mix of change efforts, which is usually fragmented with different activities operating in separate silos, is organized, it can become a transformation system. Organized as a transformation system, these activities can be much more effective at producing desired change.
The transformation catalyst’s role is to bring together an array of efforts so that together they can emerge or develop new ways to do their work more effectively – that is, operationalize the transformation system.
We like to say that transformation catalysts connect, cohere, and amplify transformation efforts that are already underway. Four catalytic actions make this coherence and amplification of efforts possible: seeing, sensemaking, connecting, and radical action and learning.
The Four Catalytic Actions
Seeing means helping change agents figure out what their emerging transformation system is all about and who is doing what, where, and how. Seeing involves various forms of stakeholder analysis – figuring out who is in the system, which can use a variety of approaches, including interviews and mapping tools to identify key participants, resources, and system dynamics. Doing so helps participants identify where gaps and possibilities exist to create more effective action.
Sensemaking means creating a shared and coherent vision among various participants to, quite literally, make new sense of their actions and system, and tell new stories about it. These new, more powerful framings can have broad appeal to draw in other participants, raise funds, and create energy moving forward. Sensemaking also means helping participants understand how to pull together into a coherent transformation system so they can act in new ways to take more effective action.
Connecting is the process by which actors learn about each other and begin to devise new ways of acting more coherently together. Connecting involves aggregating, cohering, and, ultimately, amplifying efforts that may already be underway, but have not been as effective as desired to date. Connecting can mean creating a shared set of aspirations and identity and awareness of their own efforts as part of a broader transformation system. Then they can learn from those actions – the radical action and learning process.
Radical action and learning needs a safe space, so that participants in a transformation system can question, explore, analyze assumptions, and experiment with new ways of doing things that are transformative. Experimentation is crucial, since transformation is unpredictable by its very nature. Mistakes will be made, and things will not always work out as planned. Sometimes creating prototypes can be helpful, too, as a kind of testing ground for further action.
Catalyzing Change through 1000 Landscapes for 1 Billion People
One example that we describe in our paper is that of 1000 Landscapes for 1 Billion People. 1000 Landscapes is an initiative creating sustainable solutions by recognizing that long-term sustainability means emerging a shared foundation of land and water resources for all.
In its early stages, 1000 Landscapes consulted with more than two dozen landscape partnerships globally to figure out who was doing what (seeing). They identified what the barriers were to managing landscapes in new ways were (sensemaking).
1000 Landscapes is now building collaborative capacity for holistic landscape management in many different places, starting with an initial group of 20 and growing the number over time (connecting). Holistic land management means, as the initiative states on its website, “integrating action for food, water and health security, sustainable livelihoods, biodiversity conservation, climate action, and the transition to inclusive green economies” (sensemaking).
1000 Landscapes plans to expand to 50 areas in its second phase (amplifying). Its goal is reaching at least 1000 landscapes “meeting locally defined development and environmental goals, with benefits for over one billion people” by 2030 (amplifying and radical action). 1000 Landscapes even uses the language of catalysis to describe its work: “working in radical collaborations with dozens of organizations to catalyze system change”. It thereby “unlock[s] the transformative potential of inclusive landscape partnerships and to scale their impact”.
The Mantra for Transformation Catalysts
The key to understanding transformation catalysts is knowing that they themselves are not doing the actual transformation work. Instead, they are helping to organize other change agents who are already doing that work in new ways so that they can become more effective. Indeed, they are helping them to become effective transformation systems with the potential to overcome the many inertial forces that hold systems in place.
Small, fragmented, individual efforts cannot achieve that type of scale impact. But the potential that transformation catalysts bring is the ability to bring those actors together in new ways. They can help change agents see and understand new, radical possibilities for transformative change if they can act coherently together. Then they can amplify their own efforts by figuring out where the gaps in their transformation efforts are, filling those, sharing resources when appropriate, and acting more effectively.
Connect, cohere, and amplify. That is the mantra for transformation catalysts.
A social impact bond (SIB) is an innovative model for public service delivery characterized by flexible service interventions and an outcomes-based payment structure. SIBs use private investments to drive new types of welfare activities, shifting the risk from the public to the private sector. Today, several SIBs are emerging in Nordic countries, but do rich welfare states even need these financing mechanisms? And in case they do, for what? These questions were discussed by three leading SIB-experts during the ‘Copenhagen Impact Investing Days’ 2021.
During the last few years, the use of social impact bonds (SIBs) and other social finance-instruments has increased dramatically in Nordic countries. SIBs were originally used as financing tools supporting public organizations in the UK experiencing budgetary restraints. Thus, as the model spread into other contexts, the question begged whether this tool would be appropriate for Nordic countries as well. The following piece summarizes some key reflections from the panel discussion regarding this question at Copenhagen Impact Investing Days 2021 (CIID).
SIBs in the Nordic countries: an emergent but fast-growing field
While more than 200 SIBs have officially been developed worldwide, they are still an emergent phenomenon in most Nordic countries. Currently, 17 SIBs have been initiated in Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway – primarily within employment, preventive health, and social welfare. Also, at least 7 additional SIB-projects have been announced. The first SIB-evaluations are also starting to come up; for example, the assessment of the first Swedish SIB in Norrköping shows promising social effects, despite not creating a financial return for investors. Finnish intermediary-organizations are also planning to develop SIB-projects within environmental areas, including recycling and energy efficiency in housing.
Overall, Finland seems to be on the forefront in the Nordic regions, followed by Sweden, while Denmark and Norway are a few years behind. On the investment side, significant progression is also being made. A Finnish fund-of-funds is currently being developed with an expected capital of 100 million Euro. In Sweden, work is also being done to set up a national outcomes financing structure to ensure the scaling of future outcome-based initiatives. Last, legislative action to ensure social finance practices has been taken – most recently in Denmark with Børnene Først promising more focus on social investment-practices to ensure preventive social welfare.
Emerging practices for Nordic SIBs
Some early experiences regarding the relevance and usage of SIBs in the Nordic countries were discussed during the CIID-conference. First and foremost, SIBs seem to be a part of a much larger trend in public welfare, oriented towards measuring, incentivizing, and resourcing towards long-term social outcomes. While SIBs might constitute effective solutions in themselves, they are also catalysts for evolving social investment practices because they can 1) showcase the benefits of new types of welfare services by linking social and economic outcomes, 2) provide practical solutions for realizing preventive and proactive welfare services, and 3) facilitate cross-sectoral coordination through new procurement frameworks by bringing new stakeholders to the table.
The SIB can be a useful way to show the municipalities, and the government, how to buy the solutions that actually work.
Hans Henrik Woltmann, Investment Manager, The Social Investment Fund (DK)
What seems to be critical is also the perception that SIBs in the Nordic countries should not function as a replacement to or a privatization instrument for public welfare services. Instead, SIBs should be understood as a supplement to these, allowing public actors to change how they buy public interventions while testing new welfare solutions through de-risking strategies. Still, the novelty of the method, and its experimental character, makes it challenging to assess its true potential.
Does the SIB really allow us to scale or is it just a fancy way of financing projects? I think the question is still out there
Tomas Bokström, Project Manager, Research Institutes of Sweden
Looking into the future: necessities for a social finance-ecosystem
Summarizing the points from the debate, SIBs in the Nordics are on the rise and have the potential to become welfare instruments themselves, and a vehicle for promoting a social investment agenda. Looking ahead, three key aspects will be important for enhancing the Nordic social finance ecosystem:
Establishmore evidence from practice and leverage these actively with public organizations to spark discussions.
Insist on experimentation and a methodological openness towards the SIB-model. Its value also resides in its ability to test innovative social interventions to later diffuse them through public practices fitting better into specific welfare situations.
Follow and engage in political discussions regarding the ambitions for SIB-practices. The SIB market is still in its infancy and relies heavily on market-maturement initiatives to develop better infrastructure.
Panelists for the discussion of Nordic Impact Bonds at ‘Copenhagen Impact Investing Days 2021’:
· Tomas Bokström, Project Manager, Research Institutes of Sweden · Hans Henrik Woltmann, Investment Manager, The Social Investment Fund · Mika Pyykkö, Director, The Centre of Expertise for Impact Investing, Finland · Mikkel Munksgaard, PhD Fellow, Department of Management, Society, and Communication, CBS (moderator) · Ferran Torres Nadal, PhD Fellow, Esade Entrepreeurship Institute & Institute for Social Innovation, ESADE (moderator)
About the Authors
Mikkel Munksgaard Andersen is PhD Fellow, at CBS Sustainability, Department of Management, Society and Communication (MSC) at CBS. Through his PhD-project, Mikkel studies the development and implementation of social impact bonds and payment-by-results methods in Denmark. His work centralizes around the distinct characteristics of Scandinavian impact bonds and their role in supporting and financing public services. The research is driven by a participatory research design and is co-financed by Region Zealand. Mikkel has earlier worked in the social finance-field both on an academic and practical level.
Ferran Torres Nadal is PhD Fellow at the Entrepreneurship Institute and the Institute for Social Innovation, ESADE Business School in Spain. His PhD advisors are Lisa Hehenberger and Tobias Hahn. His work is focused on understanding and explaining tensions and paradoxes around complex phenomena. He is particularly interested in studying the challenges and opportunities that come with cross-sector initiatives, such as social impact bonds.
One of the most overlooked and yet promising agents in the fight against climate change and towards realizing a circular society is the maker movement – a cultural trend that was founded on a simple premise: ordinary people manufacturing themselves what they need.
In the previous article, a glimpse of the transformative potential of democratized production for reaching the pressing societal, environmental and economic goals was attempted. The maker revolution, facilitated by the technological collaborative manufacturing capabilities can help citizens with getting access to advanced fabrication tools, skills and knowledge, to meet their own needs, reduce their carbon footprint, while creating new entrepreneurial opportunities for them and their community. For this potential to be realized, it is arguably increasingly important to understand how and why people become makers.
No movement can be successful, no community can be effective without engaging, growing, and sustaining its member base.
This was the organizing idea in the previous article. The empirical results from the Pop-Machina project were presented in overview to show the key motives, barriers and driving forces behind the decision to support and be involved in making. In this follow-up note, we complement this baseline with the next step: what can be done to act upon this knowledge.
We draw this time insights from another running EU project – iProduce. Two large scale studies collected data from regular citizens, makers and manufacturers around Europe and the synthesis of the main quantitative results is taking place to compile some clear and actionable recommendations on how to engage with makers, existing and potential ones. The recommendations below are a preview of the upcoming report on the full findings, so it should be treated as work-in-progress snapshot.
Recommendation 1: Clearly communicate the culture of the community
On the one hand, many new makers seem to be driven by ecological and community progress beliefs and attitudes. The majority of people believe that makerspaces can make a big difference. On the other, respondents reported a lack of information with regard to the exact makerspaces’ scope and actions. Awareness about the maker-movement and its mission and benefits should not be considered a given, yet the alignment can make a considerable (and oftentimes ignored) difference in engagement. Community development and team building should be heavily promoted as in most makers, collaboration with like-minded peers is of highest priorities.
Recommendation 2: Encourage direct knowledge sharing: virtual training and skills exchange
Exchanging knowledge and gaining access to dedicated trainings is very important for makers. Such facilitations can take place digitally in which case users would expect to increase their knowledge and skills. Training could be targeted either to support a specific business venture, a creative project already underway, or for the primary purpose of gaining competencies for later use. Support in terms of direct knowledge sharing and mentorship, peer to peer online learning could be an additional option to allow existing technicians and experts to occasionally serve as mentors and advisors rather than teachers in platform-developed projects.
Recommendation 3: Support matchmaking and professional networking
Participation in makerspaces opens up new horizons, enabling makers to reach out to a wider network which could also yield more professional opportunities. Or at least this is what the majority of the respondents expect. Makers and consumers want to be empowered, not only to depict their ideas for new products but to also be able to find expertise and manufacturing capabilities to implement them. Matchmaking services are deemed essential and at the same time, the analysis of existing roles and collaborations can set the ground for new synergies to be established and new opportunities to be identified.
Recommendation 4: Diversity, inclusiveness, accessibility and empowerment
Makers tend to care a big deal about accessibility; they want to see action to involve groups which are underrepresented in the maker movement, such as women, elderly, low socioeconomic status groups or people with disabilities. They stress the importance of a respectful, inclusive and supportive culture, the unwarranted genderisation of tasks/interests and the need for more female role models in the social manufacturing world. While the maker movement has unique cultural elements, these are all cemented on the principles of diversity empowerment and unfettered access.
Obviously, this list is not exhaustive. There are still so many lessons to learn, angles to explore, and diverse experiences and stories to be shared and studied that one should not treat this as anything more than a humble start. The empirical nature of these insights provides some needed confidence to these results, but as is often the case with self-reported data and online data collection methods, there are some limitations to the transferability and generalizability/representativeness of these results. Nonetheless, the people working in iProduce have put considerable effort to help practitioners, policy makers and makerspace managers better reach out to the maker base. These stakeholders sometimes must face an uphill battle, especially in the covid-era, in keeping things afloat, exploring different tools, triggers and business models. One can hope that such insights can still be useful or bring up more discussion about the way forward.
Assistant Prof. Efthymios Altsitsiadis, PhD (male) is a behavioural economist with a mind for interdisciplinary research. A user-centricity enthusiast, Efthymios is set to help provide evidence-based answers to some of the most persistent and evasive behavioural questions in a variety of areas like sustainability, health, energy and mobility. His Phd was in decision support systems and he is currently teaching Machine Learning and Digital Behaviour at CBS. He conducts research in collaborative production and circular economy, in advanced technological agents (smart apps, avatars, chat-bot services) and has worked as a social scientist in several cross-disciplinary research projects.
Contestations of CSR across time, space, and experience … and a Call for Papers
By Jeremy Moon
◦ 3 min read◦
It is well known that globalization of business has thrown up a host of new governance challenges and new governance solutions. Conspicuous in this regard are the various ‘responsibility remedies’ for challenges posed in the supply chains of multinational corporations.
The growth and transformation of supply chains, particularly in agricultural products and garments has reflected a pattern of business expansion and penetration of host country markets. These have been followed by revelations of short-comings in the treatment of workers and communities, and in environmental responsibility. And in turn, these have been followed by responsibility remedies, often in the form of partnerships, international standards and multi-stakeholder initiatives.
Formerly, if corporations were asked to whom they were socially responsible they might well have answered ‘to their communities’ or ‘to their stakeholders’. The concept of responsibility to communities makes sense in an industrial model of production in which the company, its management and workers are united not only by association with the company but also by the place in which the company had its most obvious impacts. The concept of responsibility to stakeholders is premised on its offer of an alternative to exclusive responsibility to shareholders, combining an ethical and a functional logic. But with global supply chains, the concepts of community and stakeholder responsibility are stretched. In the former case this is to relationships with no face-to-face interaction or even common identity with place and culture. In the latter case it is to corporate relationships with workers who have no contractual relationship with the respective corporation, and may even be unaware that they are working in that corporation’s supply chain.
So we have witnessed numerous alternative models of supply chain responsibility often in the form of partnerships of businesses and civil society organizations, sometimes also involving local, national and international governments. The legitimacy of these partnerships, standards organizations and Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives (MSIs) is usually premised on some reference to, what are taken to be, universal principles, and on the plurality of participants, particularly those reflecting societal voice – ostensibly the surrogates of community and stakeholders.
But notwithstanding the legitimacy that these responsibility remedies initially attracted, research increasingly sheds doubts on their ability to resolve the responsibility question because they tend to obscure conceptions to whom and for what business is responsible for, and specifically by marginalizing representation from the global South – or the production-based economies of the supply chains.
In my own work, I have seen tensions between host governments and international remedies for oppressive labour standards, with the former regarding such ostensibly well-intentioned initiatives as subversive to their own authority. There are tensions between host country suppliers and international brands and retailers with some of the former going out of business for not readily complying with new standards or complaining that they bear disproportionate costs of factory upgrading. And there are tensions experienced by workers whether with their own governments for regulatory failure, with their immediate employers for low wages and poor conditions, or with international supply chains which structure their livelihoods. But these tensions are often not articulated by virtue of the weak labour organization (often compounded by political environments hostile to organized labour).
As a result from global South perspectives the new variants of the social responsibility model look ill-suited to the ‘on the ground’ economic, social and environmental challenges, at best. At worse, they look like a legitimization of a continuing model of exploitation.
How do individuals, groups and communities from various geographic and geo-political contexts experience the imposition of social responsibilities and practices from businesses of all forms?
How are social responsibilities and their related institutions and practices transformed, subverted and/or resisted within, across and outside of organizations and workplaces?
Moreover, the SI editors will also welcome papers on wider issues arising from the social responsibility of business, specifically to highlight perspectives borne of contextual experiences.
A Special Issue workshop will be heldon Thursday 16th September 2021 (applications by Monday 21st June 2021. To be considered for this special issue, full-length papers should be submitted through the journal’s online submission system between February 1st and 28th 2022.
For full details on the call, the workshop and the submission processes please follow this link.
About the Authors
Jeremy Moon is Professor at Copenhagen Business School, Chair of Sustainability Governance Group and Director of CBS Sustainability. Jeremy has written widely about the rise, context, dynamics and impact of CSR. He is particularly interested in corporations’ political roles and in the regulation of CSR and corporate sustainability.
On behalf of the Guest Editors: Premilla D’Cruz, Nolywé Delannon, Lauren McCarthy, Arno Kourula, Jeremy Moon and Laura J. Spence; and the Human Relations Associate Editor: Jean-Pascal Gond.
As Bowie almost made a prediction when he sang in his lyrics from 1981: ‘It’s the terror of knowing what this world is about/Watching some good friends screaming “Let me out!”/’, 2020 proved to be a year of challenges, which however took us to higher grounds of learning and collaboration in many unexpected ways.
The sudden changes and lockdowns across the world led by Covid-19 sparked many initiatives and innovation in various fields. As presented in a previous blog post, it created opportunities for urban spaces to be rethought, experimenting with expanding and further developing various mobility formats.
Beyond urban spaces, the pandemic also became a fuel to push initiatives in other fronts, such as social and local manufacturing.
Makerspaces and local production initiatives were well described in a recent blog post by my colleague Efthymios Altsitsiadis. During the pandemic, makerspaces became more than a niche, through shared content and distributed leadership, these spaces became relevant production resources. Makers collaborated and engaged in locally producing personal protective equipment (PPE), helping cities and countries better cope with the shortages and international supply chain issues during the first lockdown.
CBS has followed this process closely as it is currently a partner in the EU-funded iPRODUCE project. The project started in January 2020 focusing on developing a novel social manufacturing platform that embraces manufacturing companies in the consumer goods sector. In short, the project is committed to bringing closer manufacturers, makers and consumer communities (MMCs) at the local level; to engage them into joint co-creation challenges for the manufacturing of new consumer products and the introduction of novel engineering and production (eco)systems; to fuse practices, methods and tools that both makers and manufacturing companies (SMEs specifically) are employing.
The project, as an innovation action (IA), has formed clusters in six locations, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Spain composed of Fablabs, makerspaces and research institutions. These clusters are defined as Collaborative Manufacturing Demonstration Facilities (cMDFs). In Denmark, CBS is the research institution working closely together with betaFACTORY forming the DK-cMDF.
In the context of this project, social manufacturing can be described as a primary ground to democratise innovation.
The ‘Do it yourself’ (DIY) movement, assisted by makerspaces and fablabs, offers opportunities for real exchange towards solutions to inform the development of many products through an open platform, to not only support, but also to expand these processes and broaden their reach across society.
During the onset of the pandemic, when the project was only in its third month, while project activities required adjustments and re-planning, the fablabs and makerspaces in the distinct locations became important resources for local manufacturing facilities, closing a gap of problems related to international supply chain production and distribution regarding protective medical gear.
The open source community’s umbrella became a key local asset in bridging various groups and bringing makers together towards one goal – manufacturing products that would help save lives.
Spain, which was hit hard by the pandemic early on, spearheaded this movement in Europe. Already in March 2020, DIY groups organised themselves online (primarily WhatsApp and Telegram), sharing questions and designs through these social media platforms. Doctors and other types of stakeholders also joined some of these groups, providing expert information. They shared requests, talked together and developed designs and models, which were then 3D printed widely across in various makerspaces, sparking a local production and distribution supply chain. The distribution, which was initially done by volunteers, was carried out by taxi drivers and local police in an extraordinary mode of collaboration during the most extreme lockdown phases. By June 2020, over one million face shields had been produced and distributed across Spain .
The Spanish face shield design, under the creative commons licence, was picked up by makers everywhere, including in Denmark, where the Facebook group ‘DK Makers mod Corona’ (DK Makers against Corona) was quick to adapt the design to specific Danish regulations and started locally producing the face shields during the first Danish lockdown. Over 63000 face shields were produced and distributed across the country by July 2020 and the Facebook group grew from 50 to over 2500 members during the same period.
In both cases, what stands out is the fact that the expertise, manufacturing capability and human resources are without doubt available everywhere and when a common and purposeful goal is set, fast and impactful results can be achieved.
These civic responses also bring forward questions on how society could make better use of these valuable resources for other distinct local challenges, and how we can positively disrupt mass global manufacturing towards distributed local manufacturing. As the pandemic initiatives have shown, by reorganising and setting common goals, makers and industry can bridge gaps, creating wider societal benefit that challenge the status quo and push new manufacturing opportunities that can define ‘new normals’ also for local production – taking all of it to higher and more sustainable levels in the 21st century.
iPRODUCE – “A Social Manufacturing Framework for Streamlined Multi- stakeholder Open Innovation Missions in Consumer Goods Sectors” (2020-2022) has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Grant Agreement no. 870037. This publication reflects only the author’s view and the Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.
Isabel Fróes is a postdoc at MSC Department at Copenhagen Business School working in three EU projects (Cities-4-People, iPRODUCE and BECOOP). Isabel also has wide industry experience and has worked both as a user researcher and service design consultant for various companies in Denmark and internationally. For more detail please see her Linkedin profile.
How local norms may be able to help drive the spread of voluntary programs – the case of the RSPO in Japan.
By Hattaya Rungruengsaowapak, Caleb Gallemore& Kristjan Jespersen
There has been an explosion in voluntary programs targeting value chains’ negative social and environmental impacts (Green, 2013). Working across boundaries, however, is challenging, and requires bridging different business cultures and moral expectations. Tensions and consequential misunderstandings between members from different countries are common.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm oil (RSPO) is a good example. It has seen a five-fold jump in Japanese membership in just five years, going from under 40 members in 2016 to more than 200 in 2020. This has happened in the absence of meaningful governmental support or even consumer demand, making it a particularly interesting case.
The RSPO was founded in 2004, led by WWF, Unilever, and some upstream players in the palm oil value chain. Its objective is to incentivize sustainable palm oil production using voluntary certification. Although oil palm is one of the most efficient oil-producing crops, its growing consumption has led smallholders and large agribusiness to convert tropical forests to plantations, causing habitat and biodiversity loss, greenhouse gas emissions, and wildfires. While the RSPO welcomed its first Japanese members the year of its founding, it only recently saw memberships skyrocket, despite limited concern among Japanese consumers. These developments took place in three main phases.
Phase 1 – Testing the waters (2004 – 2011)
For nearly the first decade of the RSPO’s existence, Japanese membership growth was sluggish. Japanese companies that joined the RSPO early on mostly relied on international markets for a significant part of their business.
These companies included major trading houses like Mitsui & Co., Ltd, and consumer goods manufacturers like Kao. Multinational companies headquartered in the West, such as Unilever and Walmart, also implemented sustainable palm oil commitments in Japan, but these actions had little impact on their Japanese suppliers.
Some smaller Japanese companies also joined the RSPO in this phase, in response to some niche consumer demand. These niche actors, however, did not scale up demand across the country.
Phase 2 – Setting the groundwork (2012 – 2016)
Between 2012 and 2016, a larger number of Japanese firms joined annually than in the previous period, though never more than ten in any given year. In 2012, when Tokyo became a host city candidate for the ultimately ill-fated 2020 summer Olympics, the RSPO began directing more attention towards the Japanese market.
A central goal was to convince the local Olympic Committee to include the RSPO in their official sourcing code. According to an informant, the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) began to hold corporate sustainable palm oil workshops the same year. Other events helped boost RSPO recognition during this period. For example, in 2015, the Japanese government officially adopted and started to promote Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In the same year, the Consumer Goods Forum, a global network of manufacturers and retailers, issued its Sustainable Sourcing Guideline. T
The period closed with the largest sustainable palm oil event in Japan to date – the RSPO Japan Day 2016 – where RSPO advocates draw on these events and urged more than 350 attendants from major companies in Japan to become members.
Phase 3 – Takeoff (2017 – 2020)
By 2017, many companies using palm oil in their products were aware of the issues associated with oil palm production. Two powerful actors, however, were central in pushing firms from awareness to action. The first was the Tokyo Organising Committee for the Olympics Games (TOCOG), which officially included certified sustainable palm oil in the Games’ sourcing code. The other was AEON, the biggest retailer in Japan and a member of the Consumer Goods Forum, who vowed to procure 100% certified sustainable palm oil for more than 3,500 of its house-brand items by 2020.
These moves forced several suppliers to seek certified sustainable palm oil sources. Thankfully, RSPO advocates ongoing work had led to the creation of various programs to support Japanese firms’ RSPO membership.
The RSPO opened a Japan office in 2019, and at around the same time, the WWF started Japan Sustainable Palm Oil Network (JaSPON). With suppliers already prepared, some downstream firms found it more attractive to join the RSPO at this time. Competitors of existing RSPO members, in turn, started making sustainability commitments for fear of public criticism.
Throughout the RSPO’s development in Japan, end-product consumers’ pressure has had a limited impact on firms’ decisions to join. The pressure to conform to sustainability standards created by the advocates targeting lead firms with vast supply networks, however, appears to have accelerated RSPO’s market growth. One possible explanation for this phenomenon is the Japanese norm of long-term relationships between firms with buyers-suppliers ties, which, in some cases, include cross-shareholdings between them. Such a group of firms is alternatively known as a keiretsu.
Although keiretsu is not well defined, it is generally referred to as personal, capital, and business relationships in relation to business transactions (Yaginuma, 2014). Collective commitments commonly observed in firms within a keiretsu may have made lead firms more likely to support their suppliers’ efforts to get certified, rather than switching to other suppliers.
Even though RSPO memberships in Japan have increased rapidly, it is unclear whether this will translate into substantial increases in certified sustainable palm oil uptake. Many manufacturers’ suppliers are relatively small. They are often sensitive to any additional costs, and limited bargaining power with which to procure certified oil.
Moreover, since end consumer awareness continues to be low, businesses receive no additional remuneration for their sustainability investments, which may force them to cut costs elsewhere.
These problems aside, Japan exemplifies an intriguing model of sustainable business practice adoption resulting from the local business norms. Thanks to the strong ties between Japanese firms, the RSPO was able to establish a foothold in the industry despite the lack of demand for sustainable palm oil from the civil society – a sharp contrast to patterns in the West.
Kristjan Jespersen is an Assistant Professor at the Copenhagen Business School. He studies 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.
Hattaya Rungruengsaowapak is a fresh graduate from Business, Language and Culture at CBS. She has extensive experience in Japan, especially within supply chain and sustainability from a leading consumer goods manufacturer prior to her studies at CBS.
Caleb Gallemore is an Assistant Professor in the International Affairs Program at Lafayette College. He holds a Ph.D. in Geography and within his teaching, he focuses on southeast Asia, global land use, sustainability, research methods and geographic information science.
The word “stakeholder” is ubiquitous in sustainability discourse. We see it in corporate sustainability reports, policy documents, business plans, and sustainable development guidelines. Stakeholders are discussed in parliaments, in corporate boardrooms, at sustainability conferences, and in classrooms around the world.
The stakeholder concept was popularized with the 1984 publication of R. Edward Freeman’s Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach, where the stakeholder was defined as a person or group who are able to affect or are affected by an organization pursuing its goals. Although the term has been hotly debated ever since, it is clear that Freeman’s work has had a huge impact on management discourse, especially when it comes to social responsibility and sustainability.
In my own ethnographic research over the past few years among people I refer to as “sustainability professionals,” I’ve heard the word stakeholder mentioned countless times, in nearly every context, from venues like the COP21 negotiations in Paris to casual conversations with friends and colleagues at the pub.
Students in my classes use it fluently to refer to groups as distinct as shareholders, consumers, and factory workers. They’re able to classify these different stakeholders according to how important they are from the perspective of the company. Sometimes, the stakeholder concept can seem too expansive, with students questioning whether anyone is not a stakeholder.
But in my own research, I’ve found that although it is pretty widely accepted that most people are stakeholders in one form or another, there is a particular imaginary surrounding stakeholders. In a recent article, I found evidence for this by looking at the images that accompany mentions of the word stakeholder in sustainability reports and standards guidelines.
More often than not, these images depict workers in the Global South who are almost always people of color, and who are often women.
Similarly, when people use the word “stakeholder” in interviews, they are typically referring to people in producer countries, with the implication that these distant, marginalized stakeholders are the ones who stand to benefit the most from sustainability projects and, crucially, stand to lose the most if those projects are unsuccessful.
This led me to question the power dynamics that are inherent in the stakeholder concept. There’s a big literature in geography and anthropology on the power to categorize groups of people, drawing on decades of critical research on international development. More to the point, when companies talking about engaging with stakeholders in their corporate sustainability and corporate social responsibility initiatives, most of the time they’re actually treating the people we think of as stereotypical stakeholders as stakes, that is, what stands to be lost in a game of chance.
Given the power differences between people who can affect an organization and people who are affected by it, perhaps it’s time to come up with an alternative to the stakeholder concept.
About the author
Matthew Archer is Assistant Professor at Copenhagen Business School. He is an ethnographer and political ecologist interested in corporate sustainability and sustainable finance. Visit Matthew’s personal webpage.
Worldwide there is now a search for new ideas, business models, and innovations that can help us in rebounding from the global impact of COVID-19 and bring our planet and world onto a more sustainable future trajectory. One of the areas where this is evident is sustainability in global value chains where we have seen a global disruption of world trade in ways that have affected not only global brands but also suppliers and workers around the world. Some observers argue that this will result in a global backlash against attempts at making global value chains, for instance, the global garments and textile value chains, more sustainable. I.e. that COVID-19 will make brands and suppliers sacrifice long-term sustainability considerations at the expense of short-term business survival.
In my understanding,however, what these recent events demonstrate is not so much the need for new innovations and “thinking out of the box” but rather considering how the current organization of global value chains and thinking around sustainability have overlooked the importance of “supplier perspectives” on what social responsibility actually means in these chains. Amongst many practitioners, especially in the Nordic countries, there has been a tendency to assume that global brands’ adopting corporate codes of conduct and sustainability standards, asking value chain partners (i.e. suppliers) to implement these, and then auditing for compliance as well as helping suppliers to build capacity to enforce these guidelines would be sufficient.
The case of Bangladesh illustrates why this approach is insufficient. First, many brands have cancelled their orders with Bangladeshi garment suppliers, leaving local factories at the verge of bankruptcy, and hundreds of thousands, if not millions of workers at risk, potentially without any income to support themselves and their families. Second, even with orders that have been completed, some brands have refused to honor their contracts and either not paid for the goods received, substantially delayed payments, or asked for discounts on present or future orders from suppliers.
Globally, there has been condemnation of these “unfair” trading practices by both suppliers themselves (particularly in Bangladesh but also highlighted via social media) and also international labor advocacy organizations.
And third, the level of outrage is so strong that the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association has allegedly been considering placing a ban on particular brands so that they may not source garments from Bangladesh in the future as they have largely failed to live up to their “buyer” responsibilities towards suppliers and workers in Bangladesh.
To me, a key lesson learned from these events is that global brands, business associations, labor advocacy organizations, NGOs, researchers and students can no longer simply “overlook” supplier perspectives on social responsibility in global value chains.
The only realistic way forward is to take account of the concerns of these suppliers if global value chains are to be more resilient in the long run.
Many of these supplier concerns are already well-documented but tend to be either ignored or discarded by “global North stakeholders” in their policies, practices or discourses more broadly – for instance, in how they conceive and talk of sustainability in sustainability conferences around the world.
Just to recap some of the main points that we have learned from studies of supplier perspectives on social responsibility:
a) The factory manager dilemma – e.g., factory managers and owners – for instance, in the global garment industry – have had been asked for continuous price declines by many of their buyers while the same brands have asked for increased levels of social compliance at the same time.
b) The same dilemma arises when factory managers are asked to provide living wages around the year by their buyers when demand is seasonal and price competition is fierce in the global garment industry. For most suppliers having workers sitting around idle for part of the year is not a viable business option.
c) In addition, there is a general unwillingness amongst most (but not all brands) to co-finance – for instance, 50% – of the necessary social upgrading of factories in countries such as Bangladesh. Hence, brands tend to push “social responsibility” onto their suppliers rather than co-investing in and jointly bearing the costs of these improvements themselves.
d) Profits earned from selling goods sold to end consumers in the global North remain highly unequally shared amongst the (ironically called) value chain partners – often with suppliers winding up with 10-20 percent of the value of final retail price.
e) In addition to this, global North (read: Scandinavian) stakeholders including brands, government representatives, NGOs, students, and others often perceive “sustainability” in value chains as mainly relating to environmental and (to a lesser degree) social responsibility in the value chain. Hence, the general talk often seems to be about how suppliers should make environmental and social investments without considering the need for addressing existing inequalities – i.e. unequal distribution of value in these chains – and the business aspects of running supplier operations. In fact, for many suppliers in countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, sustainability is first and foremost related to “economic” or “financial” sustainability. Only when suppliers are profit-making can they afford to invest in social and environmental improvements. This is not exactly rocket-science but a point that often seems to be completely overlooked by Scandinavian “sustainability” advocates.
f) Finally, what is sometimes considered “social responsibility in global value chains” in the global North might be narrowly defined as the payment of minimum wages, overtime payment, social insurance, and the implementation of occupational health and safety measures in supplier factories. Of course, I am all for supplier factories implementing these measures. However, I also sympathize with many suppliers, NGOs and other stakeholders in the global South that point to other aspects of social responsibility that may be more contextualized.
For instance, in South Asia, many studies have pointed to factory managers helping to finance the education/school fees of the children of some of their workers. Financing the weddings of young workers or the weddings of the sons/daughters of their workers is another sign of social responsibility amongst many factory owners in South Asia.
From a Scandinavian perspective, this may not be related to “social responsibility”.
However, in the sub-continent, where your wedding day is often considered the most important day in your life, and very important for your family’s wider social standing in society, employers’ financial support may be seen a very valid act of practicing “social responsibility”.
Providing tea to your workers may also be
considered an act of “social responsibility”. Again – from a Scandinavian
perspective – this may not be considered a big act of social responsibility.
However, then again, is it really that difficult to understand? How many of us
in Scandinavia do not value it when our own employers provide us with free tea
or coffee? It gives us the opportunity to socialize with our colleagues or take
a much needed break between different work tasks. Why should it be any different
in countries such as India and Pakistan where tea drinking could almost be
considered a national sport?
Moreover, some factory managers in South Asia allow especially young mothers or women with even slightly older children the option of either working part-time (when the kids are in school or someone else is at home to take care of them) or engaging in home-working so that they may look after their kids while engaging in for instance (embroidery) whenever there is a free moment. Of course, I do recognize that home-working is also often associated with receiving very low wages and not having any social insurance.
However, during COVID 19, even in the Scandinavian context, homeworking has become an absolutely essential part of keeping private companies and public institutions afloat crisis under such compelling circumstances. It has also involved many challenges for families with young children who had to engage in home-based work (typically computer-based) and taking care of their children simultaneously.
Yet if homeworking is indeed not only allowed but also encouraged by most employers in Scandinavia, why it is that brands in the global North sometimes impose an outright ban on their suppliers outsourcing particular work tasks to “home-based locations”?
No wonder that many factory owners and managers in the global South believe that global brands practice double standards when it comes to their social responsibility requirements (i.e. ‘do as I say but not as I do’).
In conclusion, there seems to a great need in Scandinavia for raising our own levels of awareness about the commercial challenges faced by suppliers and acknowledge the myriad ways in which “social responsibility” may be thought of and practiced – of course, without throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Compliance with core labor standards remains a key concern, but it is not the only way of conceiving of supplier responsibility in global value chains.
About the author
Peter Lund-Thomsen is Professor at the Department of Management, Society and Communication at Copenhagen Business School. His research focuses on sustainable value chains, industrial clusters, and corporate social responsibility with a regional focus on South Asia.
More about Covid-19 pandemic on Business of Society blog:
What do fresh air, canaries, and research all have in common? Academics often humbly conduct and publish research, hoping but not knowing if it had any impact on society (we hope very strongly!). This becomes even more bewildering when it comes to the advent of research impact metrics, such as with the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF) (UKRI, 2020). It is a rare and wonderful occasion in which one can not only bear witness to impact but actually physically touch it. As an industrial researcher with CBS and the VELUX Group, I am often moving between theory and practice, but the tale of an innovation process stands out. This impact story is the story of how research became related — albeit several steps removed — to the development of an innovative product, AirBird®, co-created by GXN, the VELUX Group, and Leapcraft. Moreover, it is the story of inspiration in practice, a breath of fresh air in the academic realm.
The academic story starts with a group of nine researchers. The ‘Smart Buildings and Cities’ research group is composed of nine industrial PhDs and postdocs employed in diverse Danish organizations and universities, housed in the BLOXHUB Science Forum and supported by Realdania and the Danish Innovation Fund. Some of us are social scientists engaging with engineering (that would be me), some are architects engaging with computer science, and yet others are engineers conducting social research. I’ve never seen such a mad mess of transdisciplinarity, and it’s beautiful (and also very much guided by our Science Forum coordinator, Pernille Berg).
The innovation process parallels the fourth research case I have been building to better understand and theorize business model innovation for smart technology in the building industry. This case concerns indoor climate data-driven building renovations as a potential business model and involves collaboration among CBS and the VELUX Group (the research), Kokkedal Skole (the building), and Leapcraft (the technology). Fredensborg Kommune has allotted nearly 1 billion DKK (120 million euro) to the improvement of its schools in a program called ‘Fremtidens Folkeskoler’ (Primary Schools of the Future); and it is kicking off the program with an investment of over 35 million DKK (4 million euro) in renovations at Kokkedal Skole. Prior to renovations, we needed to answer the questions: How is the building being used now? What is the indoor climate like? How do teachers and students interact with space? And then we can compare the data post-renovation. This kind of research, as it turns out, is especially timely, given the Danish government’s commitment of 30 billion DKK for sustainable housing renovations.
The Kokkedal Skole project is a fascinating one to discuss with others, given the visionary leadership of their principal Kirsten Birkving and excellent building management of their facilities manager Lars Høgh-Hansen. They have in fact been featured on CNN Business for bringing new technology into the classroom, namely Leapcraft’s AmbiNode sensors and SenseMaking tool, the latter having been developed by VELUX based on the Green Solutions House project. Two of the Science Forum group’s companies, GXN and the VELUX Group, started to take discussions at length about the emerging findings on health in buildings, the invisibility of indoor climate, and the need for a simple alert when the situation is dangerous. They posed the question, is it possible to make an indoor health equivalent of the canary in the coal mine, who would start tweeting to coal miners when in contact with dangerous air?
Early in 2019 these talks came to fruition when Realdania invited applications for seed funding to research group members interested in collaborative innovation. This led to the Smith Innovation-coordinated workshop “The Canary in the Goalmine” with the VELUX Group and GXN working on the goal of defining how the ‘canary’ would look like, and – based on the research at Kokkedal Skole and renovation challenges presented by the Student and Innovation House – how it would function. A year later, I am working with VELUX and Leapcraft to finalize the one-year monitoring report from Kokkedal Skole, and AirBird® is ready to hit the shelves. The concept is simple and beautiful, just like the bird: when the CO2 levels indicate unhealthy air, AirBird sings a bird song to let its users know they should bring in some fresh air; which TV2 Lorry featured at Kokkedal Skole on the 25th of May. The AirBird® has been ideated, designed and developed in co-creation between GXN, VELUX Group and Leapcraft.
Although the development of AirBird® does not tell the story of sustainability dynamics within innovation ecosystems (Oskam et al., 2020), nor the story of smart technology-facilitated business models for health and well being (Laya et al., 2018) – two examples of academic work that resonate with my research – it does challenge the idea that business model innovation precedes product innovation. Nudging tools like AirBird® may stimulate awareness and behavioural changes that anticipate business opportunities for a healthy indoor climate. Further, serendipitous product innovations may serve as artifacts embodying value negotiation, the foundations of business model innovation.
But ultimately, the AirBird® story is attractive because it presents impact that is tangible. And whereas the physical product is the most tangible of all, this innovation has had other impacts as well: collaborative innovation experience among the organizations involved; encouragement within the Science Forum of the value of transdisciplinary research; and the need to face directly the tensions between the academic and practice worlds. For my part, it’s uncomfortably different from the impact implied in academic publications and absolutely refreshing — something fresh air, canaries, and research should all have in common.
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Lara Anne Hale – Ph.D., M.Sc., Assistant Professor, Industrial Postdoc Fellow with CBS and VELUX. Lara conducts transdisciplinary research on sustainability in the built environment, including aspects of digital transformations, circularity, user-centered design, and systems thinking. Her current project focuses on business model innovation for smart buildings in the BLOXHUB Science Forum ‘Smart Buildings & Cities’ research group, supported by the Danish Innovation Fund and Realdania.
Covid-19 has dominated policy thinking across the world for several months – highlighting our vulnerability to unexpected threats, the fundamental reality of global interdependence, the critical role of science and data, and the value of collaborative efforts in response to a common challenge. And when the short-term public health crisis abates, the middle-term focus will be on economic recovery. But we should think now about the longer term – and the need to build a sustainable society that steps up to another looming threat: the prospect of destabilizing climate change. Thus, as we rebuild our economy, we must do so in a way that moves us toward a clean and renewable energy future as well as addressing other pressing sustainability issues including air and water pollution, waste and chemicals management, and our depletion of natural resources.
To help launch the conversation about the pathways to a sustainable future, I offer below 10 key elements to consider. These concepts build on the ideas laid out in the recently released book,A Better Planet: 40 Big Ideas for a Sustainable Future, that emerged from a multi-year research and policy initiative at Yale University, where I teach. For more information on the Yale Environmental Dialogue, please see the website.
1 ) End of externalities
A sustainable future requires that we commit to an end of externalities as the foundational principle for environmental policy. This starting point would require that we implement the Polluter Pays Principle, which means that those who release air and water pollution or greenhouse gases would have to stop these harms or to pay for their pollution. Likewise, any user of public natural resources – including water for irrigation, forests for timber, grasslands for grazing, or public lands for the extraction of oil, natural gas, or minerals – would be required to pay full price for the resources they take.
To be clear, making companies pay for the harms they cause will expose some business models as fundamentally unsustainable and only profitable when externalities are not internalized. These enterprises will have to remake their business strategies or go under.
2 ) Change in systems thinking
We must acknowledge that we live in a highly integrated world, as COVID-19 has so painfully made clear. Complex human and ecological systems require moving beyond traditional siloes to systems thinking — and regulatory design that links energy, environmental, and economic policies. More fundamentally, we must accept the fact that we will need to pursue multiple goals simultaneously and learn to do so in an integrated way that accepts the reality that our goals will sometimes be in tension — and thus need to be traded off and balanced.
3 ) Top-down targets & bottom-up implementation
We must recognize that policy frameworks and structures require both top-down targets and bottom-up implementation. This lesson has become plainly evident in the climate change context, where it is now clear that presidents and prime ministers do not control all the levers of society that must be pulled to deeply decarbonize our economy.
To achieve a sustainable future, mayors, governors/premiers, and other subnational political leaders – who often control economic development, transportation systems, and other key points of policy leverage — must play a significant role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and building a more resilient society.
New policy tools must replace the 20th Century command-and-control regulatory model with economic incentives and other market mechanisms. While the government mandates of the past have allowed us to dramatically reduce pollution levels compared to five decades ago, further progress depends on price signals and a commitment to making emitters pay for the harm they cause.
5 ) New roles & various actors
Environmental progress must recognize new roles for various critical actors. Specifically, in decades past, the business world was seen as the source of pollution problems. But today, most corporate leaders recognize the need to be good environmental stewards so as to maintain their company’s social license to operate. They recognize that old notions about the mission of corporations being centered on shareholder primary and the maximization of profits has given way to a stakeholder model in which businesses have responsibilities not only to shareholders, but also to their customers, suppliers, employees, and the communities in which they operate.
Individuals are also advancing sustainability in new and important ways that go well beyond their long-recognized role as voters. Specifically, individuals today can make a difference as green consumers who make choices every day about which products to buy and which companies are selling sustainable goods and services. Likewise, a growing set of sustainability-minded investors are tracking environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance metrics to ensure that their portfolios align with their values – and they hold shares in companies that are showing the way toward deep decarbonization and sustainability more generally.
And some impact investors are putting money directly into sustainability projects and enterprises with an expectation that their funds will make a difference in society as well as a financial return.
Finally, all of us with a smartphone can serve as watchdogs — capturing and sharing evidence of environmental wrongdoing on social media. We are also all positioned to offer comments and participate in public environmental debates in many places and ways that were not possible prior to the Internet era. This expanded access should deepen public participation and improve the diversity of perspectives that get factored into policy decisions.
6 ) Sustainable markets
We need sustainable markets that incorporate new lessons from various emerging fields of science and other emerging academic disciplines. Industrial ecology, for instance, offers new methodologies for mapping the flows of energy and materials across the economy. In this regard, as we rebuild business in the many sectors devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic, we should look sector-by-sector for opportunities to create closed loop production processes that generate zero waste. Such a system would focus on water recapture and the reuse and recycling of other materials.
We might, in this spirit, shift away from plastic packaging that generates greenhouse gas emissions as it is produced and too often accumulates after use in the ocean – and move toward fiber-based materials that can be more easily recycled or composted.
7 ) New tools & Big Data
Policymakers have a set of new tools at their disposal that can be deployed in support of a sustainable future. Big Data, in particular, has abundant applications that can help us to reduce environmental impacts – tracking emissions, identifying best practices in pollution control and natural resource management, and providing metrics that help us to identify policy leaders to emulate and laggards who should be spurred to do better. And while 21st information and communications technologies have transformed how sports teams pick players, businesses market to their customers, and all of us make purchases, technological solutions have done rather little to reshape the environmental realm. But recent advances in data analytics, genomics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning all show significant promise for having important environmental applications.
8 ) Ethical foundation
We must build an ethical foundation for 21st Century sustainability that captures the public’s evolving thinking about core values and fundamental principles. Most notably, the idea of environmental justice and concerns about equity and inequality make it clear that our policy programs must pay attention to who benefits from environmental commitments and who gets ignored.
Indeed, who pays for environmental inaction – including lead exposure from aging water pipes or asthma risk when urban air pollution is not abated – has become a fundamental question.
As we seek to “build back better” after COVID-19, climate change equity issues need to be given a more prominent role – both the intergenerational burden that the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere threatens to leave for today’s young people and the reality that movement toward a clean energy future will dislocate some communities, industries, and demographic groups in ways that will require transition assistance.
9 ) New ways of communication
We need a new approach to environmental communications and a commitment to translate expert guidance and science to the public in a manner that makes sense to everyday citizens. Tony Leiserowitz and the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication have demonstrated, for example, that political leaders must learn to distill and effectively translate scientific concepts and results to the public. And as Thomas Easley makes clear in his Better Planet essay “Hip Hop Sustainability,” we need new strategies that bring the climate change conversation to inner cities and other subsets of society in a way that engages those communities in their own language and on their own terms.
10 ) Innovation
Finally, a spirit of innovation must permeate the push toward a sustainable future. To create an environmental policy framework that is lighter, faster, and more effective than our regulatory programs of the past, we must harness the entrepreneurial capacity and creativity that exists all across the world. Innovation broadly-conceived has already brought us technology breakthroughs in wind, solar, tidal, wave, and fuel cell power. But we must seek innovation beyond the technology domain. We need to be equally committed to fresh thinking and new approaches to finance and investments in clean energy, government policies and incentives, public engagement strategies, and public-private partnerships.
Such innovation can reduce the cost of creating a sustainable future and diminish the perceived tradeoff between environmental progress and economic prosperity.
Despite recent challenges, the promise of a more sustainable society seems ever closer, but still just over the horizon. Progress thus depends on sustainability pioneers who are willing to run out front, innovate broadly, take on risks, accept failures (and redeploy resources quick when unsuccessful pathways are identified), and redouble their commitment to efforts that show promise.
This commentary builds on Dan Esty’s April 2020 virtual lecture at Copenhagen Business School and the University of Copenhagen.
About the author
Dan Esty is Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale Law School
More about Covid-19 pandemic on Business of Society blog:
In the fall of 2019, there was a flurry of news stories in the British media about political events in western Kenya which, according to one article, threatened the future of the nation’s beloved cup of tea. In Kericho, the heart of Kenya’s tea-growing country, the local community are reclaiming vast tracts of land obtained under British colonialism for the large-scale cultivation of tea. Faced with a land shortage that hinders possibilities for sustainable development, local activists are challenging the extensive land acquisitions that took place under colonial rule, many of which constitute the premises of multinational agri-business today. CSR initiatives and the sustainability standards that are increasingly ubiquitous in Kenya’s tea industry fail to address or acknowledge a sustainability issue that is of major concern to local communities on the ground: land.
During the early 20th century, while trying to create an export economy in eastern Africa, the British government identified the highlands of Kericho in Kenya’s fertile Rift Valley as a place of high agricultural potential and gave out land to European settlers. The area was identified as an ideal place for growing tea, a commodity that was already thriving elsewhere in the British Empire. With the entry of two major companies engaged in tea production in India and Sri Lanka, further land allocations were made, providing the premises for the expansive tea plantations that dominate Kericho’s landscape today.
Colonial laws enabled these land allocations: the British government could acquire land and relocate the ‘natives’ who were occupying and cultivating it. The Kipsigis community living in the Kericho area lost large amounts of land, only to be compensated with smaller areas of less agriculturally conducive land in designated ‘native reserves’. Others remained in their home areas but were rendered ‘squatters’ required to work for settlers in return for their continued occupation.
Many today struggle to make a living from diminishing farms in the former native reserve areas as family land is subdivided among children, while others remain landless or forced to purchase land at high prices. Land shortage poses a direct challenge to sustainable livelihoods in Kericho.
These grievances are what the Kericho County Governor seeks to address. Identifying as a victim of historical land injustices himself whose ancestral land lies within the vast tea plantation owned by the multinational giant Unilever, he advocates for reparations that acknowledge the forceful acquisition of his community’s land. This implicates multinational tea companies directly. For the Governor and Kipsigis community activists campaigning for justice, these companies are operating on stolen property that rightfully belongs to the community.
Tea plantations employ large numbers of locals in roles that range from tea plucking to top management and offer opportunities and bursaries for adult and child education. While much of the British media coverage of Kericho’s land politics, including an article in The Economist, has envisaged Zimbabwe-like evictions of British companies in Kenya, the Kericho Governor made clear when I met with him earlier this year that it is not in anybody’s interests for the tea companies to hand over the land and leave.
Rather, following recommendations made by Kenya’s National Land Commission, the Governor asks that tea companies apply to the county government for new land leases, following which the land can be resurveyed. Undeclared acreage, he argues, should then be reverted back to the county government. In addition, the Governor seeks to increase land rent so that the county government is more adequately remunerated for the land.
This, along with demanding mesne profits from multinationals for the use of the land since 1902, is intended to enable more equitable redistribution of the wealth generated from large-scale tea production.
One Kipsigis community activist whom I met envisaged a new model of business: a continuation of plantations’ management and operations, but with the local community, the ‘rightful landowners’, as the major shareholders. This is not to say that all of these proposals are wholly feasible or realistic for tea companies, but to envisage other ways of doing business whereby local communities and authorities are rendered more equal partners.
This goes beyond CSR initiatives which, while valued in Kericho, can be seen as a continuation of colonial paternalism rather than rethinking the very premises of companies’ local engagement. It also goes beyond the certified sustainability standards provided by organisations such as the Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade that seek to ensure economic, environmental and social sustainability in the tea supply chain yet are generic, driven more by the demands of distant buyers in Europe and North America than those of local communities on the ground.
Undoubtedly, community land claims in Kericho are entangled in local politics. The Kericho Governor’s campaigns are part of a populist political strategy that has seen him win two terms in office. Furthermore, judging by Kenya’s postcolonial history, there is no guarantee that relinquished land or funds would be equitably rolled out to the community should he succeed. Another caveat relates to major challenges facing the tea business in recent years with regard to profitability: at the time of my fieldwork earlier this year, the price of tea hit an all-time low.
The coronavirus pandemic will surely further threaten the industry. In this context, local political challenges of the kind we see in Kericho might push companies to reconsider their operations entirely.
However, this shouldn’t preclude reimagining the terms of companies’ engagement, not only in Kenya but across Britain’s former settler economies. If large-scale agri-business is to face up to the challenges of sustainability in the places it operates, it must acknowledge the historical grievances attached to the ground beneath it and engage with local communities beyond the confines of CSR and sustainability standards.
About the Author
Hannah Elliott is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at CBS’ Department of Management, Society and Communication. Her research on the SUSTEIN project critically examines the production of certified sustainable Kenyan tea.
My first memory of the Corona virus, before we became politicized enough to refer to it as COVID-19, or the “new” Corona virus—or for some special politicians, the “Wuhan” virus—was in Tanzania. Enjoying the evening breeze from the Indian ocean in the public area of our workshop hotel, I sat with a couple of our research team members catching up on life via apps on the smartphone. I came across a small shitstorm on my social media about our Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen. Technically speaking, she is not ‘my’ Prime Minister as my citizenship application was denied last year on the grounds of having spent too much time living outside of the country in South Africa, Italy and the US during the past 20 years. The “Wuhan virus” bleach-your-lungs guy, is actually the current head of the nation where I vote.
Yet, our Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen was in the media adamantly refusing to issue a public apology for a Danish cartoon that had been published on January 27th by Jyllands-Posten, a second-rate, nationally distributed newspaper, infamous for publishing the 2005 “Muhammed cartoons” which led to international violence, boycotts and around 200 deaths. The latest cartoon was a drawing of the Chinese flag with its five gold stars replaced by five virions of Corona. China’s embassy accused the cartoonist of insulting China and demanded an apology. The Danish Prime Minister refused and her response is on record as saying ‘we have freedom of expression in Denmark – also to draw.’
Most politicians and many Danes supported the cartoonist, attributing the outrage of many Chinese as ‘cultural difference.’ The newspaper editor defended that the publication was not ‘poking fun of the situation’ stating: ‘We cannot apologise for something we don’t think is wrong. We have no intention of being demeaning or to mock, nor do we think that the drawing does. As far as I can see, this here is about different forms of cultural understanding.’ When the Corona flag was published, 100 deaths from the virus had been documented in the Chinese city of Wuhan and ‘cultural’ understandings of right and wrong ways to portray the virus, to call its name, to recognize its symptoms, to document its death rates, to protect citizens within closed borders were just beginning.
But it was only January, and our international research team starting a five-year project on how people outside of the formal humanitarian sector respond to crises in Tanzania, had no idea the ways that this Coronavirus would come to affect us. We still don’t. We live quite specifically in Copenhagen, Dar es Salaam and London. But many of us are a bit of an Afropolitan/Cosmopolitan mish-mash by parentage— Chagga/Meru, British/Dane, American/Italian, Kenyan/Tanzanian and we have lived across various countries in Africa, Europe and Asia for work, studies, or by the accident of birth. We are all employed by the state in university jobs. For all of us, these are good jobs. We are comfortable. But, now, we are uncomfortable.
We are in different stages of our careers—from doctoral students to full professors—and these days, as the global pandemic settles over all of us in different and forcibly separate parts of the world, we feel differently the burdens of different responsibilities. One of our team wrote to me: ‘I work like hell while managing a family who is also sick and tired of being locked up… I’m trying to manage 200 staff members’ teaching, supervision and examination responsibilities, plus their externally funded research projects, their problems with spouses, kids and dogs… I want my life back…’
Another of us had to travel upcountry to Kilimanjaro to look after her ageing mother who lives alone on a farm. I imagine her weighing the risks of the transport, the confusing messages from the government about whether anyone should travel, or even leave their house, of whether the handful of cases that had been officially reported in Tanzania were exaggerated hyperbole or grossly under-reported with those of your own mother, and getting on the bus. I would have done the same.
But I am getting ahead of the story, back in January when we were planning how to study earthquakes and floods, refugee camps and their communities and perhaps locusts, we had no possible imagination of the new crisis that would consume us. We held our workshops, discussed the academic literature, planned the plans, drafted the MOUs, enjoyed our barbecue and good conversations and parted ways. Since January in Dar es Salaam, our team’s intellectual energy has become professional, intellectual, political and highly personal about whether to hoard supplies or wear medical masks, how much hand washing with which kind of water could be enough, how would people help each other when the most helpful thing they were told to do was to stay apart?
My flight went from Dar es Salaam to Istanbul. When I arrived in the crowded airport, something felt a little different to me, but I couldn’t quite figure it out. As I neared the gate for my connecting flight to Venice, I noticed that about half of the passengers were wearing medical masks. Thinking about our Danish Corona-flag incident, I remembered to check my cultural bias as I noticed the masks around me. Many appeared Asian and I know it is good hygiene to wear masks when in crowded public places, so I thought it mostly a sign of politeness. Yet, many were also Italians, headed on the plane with me. Not checking my cultural bias so effectively when considering a culture that I now also claim as my own, I remember thinking, ‘hysterical, over-reacting Italians.’
About the author
Lisa Ann Richey is a Professor in the Department of Management, Society and Communication at the Copenhagen Business School.
The coronavirus and responses to the pandemic are right now defining human existence inside and outside of organizations. All societal attention and communication are centred on the virus, its day-to-day consequences and possible future repercussions for the people, the economy – and the planet.
Indeed, we are living through a gargantuan social experiment, and these can turn out to be the defining weeks and months of the new decade. Social distancing. Lockdown of public institutions and private businesses. Closing of national borders. No travelling, no tourism. All live entertainment (sports, music, culture) suspended. Places for social gatherings (restaurants, cafés, bars) closed (except for takeaway). Until further notice. The mind boggles.
The closing down of open societies is blocking the blood flow of large parts of the economy, spelling potential disaster for many businesses and cultural institutions – in spite of large relief packages. Meanwhile, waters are clearing and air pollution is going down due to the drop in industrial production. There is an ominous air about these climatic improvements, though. They seem more like a morbid dress rehearsal for life on earth after human civilization than a silver lining.
Is it the end of the world as we know it? Certainly, we can expect – at least in the privileged global north – that life will soon return to something much more normal than the current ‘show responsibility by staying as far away as you can from other people’. In Denmark, the gradual reopening of society is already underway.
However, the question remains whether we will look at each other and on human interaction (particularly in large social gatherings) in the same way as we did before. Will the awareness of ‘the others’ close to us as potential carriers of disease somehow stay with us.
Certainly, the comparisons with war are fitting. Who would have thought that anything except a worldwide war could affect all people’s social lives and the workings of government and business so rapidly and profoundly?
The pandemic constitutes a crisis of public health and health systems of unforeseen magnitude. The noun ‘crisis’ derives etymologically from the Greek krinein (Latin: krisis), which means ‘turning point of a disease’. This point was made repeatedly in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008-9: a crisis constitutes a turning point and thus an opportunity for new things to happen, for things to be different and perhaps better than they were. As the saying goes: ‘never let a good crisis go to waste’.
After sickness, there is newfound health. A crisis is not supposed to persist. However, recent years have taught us new lessons. Crisis has to understood in the plural, as crises, there are many of them (climate crisis, refugee crisis, trust crisis etc.), they are systemic and interconnected and they do not seem to go away.
Thus, we live in an age of perpetual or recurrent crises. We can imagine another side to where we are now, a new and more social normal, but it is becoming more and more difficult to imagine a future without some profound element of crisis.
Speaking of the interconnectedness of crises, what impact will the pandemic have on sustainable development and the green agenda? Will the public health crisis, its resultant need for emergency relief and its immediate and longer-term negative impacts on the economy take the wind out of the sails of green transition for a while? Making us waste precious time.
Or will this crisis and the efforts needed to get the economic wheels turning again turn out to be the greatest of opportunities to invest in green infrastructure and the solutions needed to create a more sustainable future? At this time, it is anyone’s (more or less qualified) guess. Not least because the answer depends on actions not yet taken by government and business leaders. Both narratives are out there.
The pandemic obviously lends itself to many interpretations. Among them faith-based apocalyptic visions of the end of times. Others see potential in this for putting an end to capitalism, as we have known it. Certainly, market-based solutions are taking a backseat to government intervention in our current predicament. It appears that in times of profound crisis we have to rely on big government (federal, local) and political leadership to take care of the common good and sort things out.
Time will tell whether or how the pandemic and all that comes with it will change people’s view of the market economy and of the need for government intervention in the market economy – not to mention people’s proclivities to consume, travel, engage with (many) others in the experience economy etc.
The more moderate take is that we need a regulated market economy and that the current crisis shows the limitations of cost/benefit analysis and the neoliberal urge to subject all things to marketization and economization. In light of the human suffering and the deaths caused by the coronavirus and facing health systems and heroic health professionals in distress, the cost/benefit mindset has come up short. This calls for immediate action and full commitment – even if the odd economist may question the utility of such a course of action.
We should take this lesson with us into the broader realm of sustainable development. Market thinking will not suffice.
Cross-sector partnerships (CSPs) have become a popular form of collaboration to address various sustainability matters, including plastic pollution, fair labor conditions or sustainable forestry. In CSPs, actors from different sectors bundle their resources to address such issues more efficiently than they would do on an individual basis. Most CSPs include a mix of NGOs, governmental organizations and firms.
Oftentimes, CSPs are managed by a single actor or a group of designated actors who are in charge of the partnership’s overall coordination. One of the major challenges for CSP managers is to accommodate the wide variety of ideas and interests that collide in such partnerships, while at the same time ensuring swift decision-making and operational progress.
Three valuable lessons for CSP managers
Based on insights from my latest research project, here are some counterintuitive, yet insightful lessons for CSP managers who find themselves in the position of navigating this challenge:
1. Not every task in the partnership has to be completed collectively
While we tend to believe that CSPs are all about doing everything together at all times, sometimes overall levels if collaboration might suffer by following this recipe only. At times, it can be very effective to have one actor group engage in a particular task that matches their expertise while letting others work on a different issue. Separating actor groups momentarily and where applicable avoids time-consuming conflicts and negotiations, which in turn ensures that things actually get done in the long run.
2. It is legitimate and effective to emphasize individual benefits at times
While the collective effort is what ultimately counts in CSPs, at times it can be worthwhile to also highlight the individual benefits actors may gain from participating in the collaboration. Doing so helps actors remind them of why they are part of the partnership in the first place and makes visible synergies that might not be related to the overall goal directly, but nevertheless ensure its achievement.
3. Late joiners should be welcomed with open arms but integrated carefully
A final thought that often prevails in the CSP context, is the idea that all actors have to be involved from the very beginning to ensure a successful partnership outcome. The opposite is actually true: Late joiners can be extremely valuable as they see the partnership from a fresh perspective which can lead to beneficial insights.
However, for these late joiners to be valuable to the entire partnership, and not be seen as the actors that “sneak in” at the very end, they need to be integrated carefully through a customized onboarding process and doable tasks that can be completed right away. If late joiners are not able to start contributing right away, their value is easily lost.
As CSPs are a promising means of addressing sustainability issues, I hope that these insights are worthwhile to managers in such partnerships.
About the author
Leona Henry is an Assistant Professor of Organisation Studies at Tilburg University (the Netherlands). Her research focuses on multi-stakeholder collaboration around sustainability and the practical relevance of research. This blog post is based on a joint research project with Andreas Rasche (Copenhagen Business School) and Guido Möllering (Reinhard-Mohn-Institute for Management, University Witten/ Herdecke)
Insights into the concerns or needs of communities or individuals who may be affected by planned or proposed private or public energy projects or infrastructure projects is important for those who will eventually decide whether the project will be approved to make an informed decision. Such insights can be gained through consultations carried out as part of assessments of the environmental or societal impacts of projects.
This begs the question: what is a good process for stakeholder engagement of local communities and citizens in impact assessment processes? This is a global issue that in recent years has come to be high on the agenda in countries from the Arctic to the Global South.
Consultations as part of impact assessments
Consultations allowing for stakeholder involvement in impact assessments are common in regard to private projects concerning the establishment of mines, windfarms, sun-power farms and dams for hydro-power. The same applies to public infrastructure projects such as airports, roads and ports, which are often necessary for the transport of the products to be gained from private projects.
Societal impacts of projects are typically assessed through social impact assessment (SIA), environmental impact assessment (EIR), or human rights impact assessment (HRIA), or combined approaches such as ESIA or ESHRIA. All aim at identifying and preventing or mitigating adverse impacts and advance positive impacts, of planned projects or extension of existing ones. It is customary and often mandatory for the impact assessment to involve local stakeholders who are or may become affected by the project.
This typically takes place through consultations, which may take a variety of forms to enable public participation in the identification of the impacts of the planned activities. Consultations are organized by authorities or the organization having applied for a permit to engage in the new activity. In addition to environmental impacts, impact assessments often include the project’s effects on a range of broader societal issues, such as health and safety in the local areas, employment, local business and sources of income generation, etc.
The Nordics and many other countries have introduced mandatory consultations of local communities. Some international development banks, e.g. the World Bank, have made certain loans conditional on impact assessments.
Uncertainty about consultations
Despite the great significance of consultations for stakeholder involvement, there is often uncertainty with local communities and other groups of affected stakeholders in regard to what exactly a consultation is, what it entails and what to expect of the process. Moreover, even when consultations have taken place it is not infrequent that affected communities are unhappy with the process or the extent to which authorities take their concerns or needs into account.
For example, Sami groups living in the High North have complained to authorities in Norway and Sweden because they are concerned that windfarms disrupt the grazing areas of their reindeer and, as a consequence, the traditional way of life of the Sami. Authorities and business enterprises can also be unsure about what constitutes the proper process or ‘best practice’ for consultations with affected stakeholder.
What is a consultation?
Consultations on project activities are carried out to provide an informed foundation for decisions to be made. In providing access to participation in decision-making on activities that will affect one’s life at the everyday level, consultations contribute to a form of very direct democracy and can be argued to be part of the human right to public participation.
Consultations provide citizens with an opportunity to ask questions and express their views on a project. But as is the case for other democratic processes, one does not have a claim to seeing one’s views winning out. This is an important aspect for the appreciation of what to expect of a consultation; how to engage in a consultation process; and the information that authorities, companies and consultants must or should provide when conducting consultations.
It is not infrequent that consultations are conducted by a company involved in the project. A good consultation process marked by sincere dialogue and appreciation of local concerns can build understanding and acceptance of the final design of the project. A process that does not live up to local stakeholders’ expectations of influence can lead to the opposite result.
Accordingly, it is important for involved companies as well as authorities to ensure that stakeholders are given the information necessary to understand and assess how the project may affect them, what their rights are and what they can expect of the consultation process.
Local stakeholders’ expectations and understandings
Our investigations have demonstrated that it is not infrequent for actually or potentially affected stakeholders in a local community to be uncertainty of what a consultation entails or what to expect of the process and result. Others have shown that frustration results when authorities do not seem to take views made during a consultation into consideration in their decisions.
During meetings in northern Scandinavia in June 2019, we met with several inhabitants in Sápmi, who expressed frustration with consultation processes. Sápmi is the cultural region traditionally inhabited by the Sami people, an indigenous people who traditionally live from reindeer herding and fishing. Grazing areas on which the Sami’s reindeer depend are adversely affected by the establishment of windmills and mines.
Sami communities are involved and asked for their views through consultations, but they also see authorities granting permits to put up windfarms and new mines on contravention of the contesting views and concerns presented by the Sami during consultations. Authorities in Norway have granted permission to open a new copper mine in Northern Norway despite the opposing views submitted by the Sami Parliament (Sametinget). The motivation to engage actively in future consultations easily gets reduced, even with those who are aware that a consultation does not equal a claim to one’s views to be granted when central authorities are seen to make decisions affronting local democracy.
Some of our other meetings have shown that when English is a working language or the common ’lingua franca’ in an area that does not have English as its main language, mistranslations may occur and lead to misunderstandings about the process and objectives. For example, the Danish term for consultation, ‘høring’, often gets translated into English as ‘hearing’. This may give unintended associations to the conflict-oriented type of ‘hearing’ that takes place in courtrooms and it’s objective of determinations leading to a winner and a looser, thereby disrupting the understanding of the consultation’s objectives of dialogue and developing workable solutions. Our fieldwork in Greenland and elsewhere offers several examples of this mistranslation.
Consultations and the corporate ’social license to operate’
Consultations can contribute to risks of adverse impacts being identified and addressed before they develop into actual problems because consultations offer opportunities for local stakeholders, including those who are actually or potentially directly affected by the proposed project or project idea to express their concerns.
Because of this consultations not only matter to the longer-term well-being of the local community, but also to relations to the organization that is behind the project giving rise to the consultation.
For example, a consultation concerning a proposed mine matters not only for local stakeholders who are concerned with the mine’s impact on grazing areas or the quality of water, but also for the perception of the company that wants to carry out the project, and for trust in authorities who will be granting the permit or prescribe changes and conditions.
Authorities often delegate the task to conduct a consultation to the company that applies for an exploration or exploitation permit. One the one hand, this may strengthen the consultation process because the company conducting the process knows the project very well and is able to reply to questions of a technical character. On the other hand, participation in the consultation and trust in the process may suffer if local stakeholders, who are worried about contamination or other harmful effects, suspect that the consultation may be influenced by the company’s interests.
‘Fox in the henhouse’
Allowing the company that applies for a permit for the project to conduct the consultation can appear like letting the fox into the hen house.
However, if performed well, the company will obtain a better appreciation of the project’s impacts and will be able to make relevant adaptions. Likewise, authorities often lack both the necessary technical knowledge and other resources to conduct consultations. Companies lack knowledge, for example in regard to local issues are expected to purchase relevant expertise through consultant advice. The company thereby invests in establishing the necessary informed knowledge foundations for the permit to be granted by authorities.
When companies are given the responsibility to conduct consultations that may affect the decisions to be made by authorities, it is important that they carry out a correct and good consultation process that allows local stakeholders to participate at times suitable to them. If a consultation takes place during normal working hours many local stakeholders may decide to stay away because participating would mean a loss of income.
Likewise, participation may be limited if the consultation takes place in a location that requires long transport. Consultations conducted in another language than the local one reduces the opportunity for local stakeholders to engage in a dialogue. Unless technical or health-related issues are explained in a manner that matches the prerequisites of local stakeholders, risks arise that they will not obtain an adequate understanding of the impacts of the project. This will increase risks of misunderstandings and that relevant questions remain unasked, or that relevant concerns are not voiced.
During field workshops in Southern Greenland in August 2018, we were given insights into a diversity of local experience of consultation processes and expectations. The point of departure for our meetings was a proposed mine in Kuannersuit (Kvanefjeld) by the town Narsaq. Greenland’s eight largest towns, Narsaq has a population of around 1,500 and is placed in an area with extensive sheep grazing and tourism based around ruins of the Norse settlers. The mine will produce diverse minerals and rare earth elements, with uranium as a by-product due to high uranium contents at this specific site.
Consultations have been conducted by the company. We met with several sheep-farmers and actors in the emergent tourism sector who expressed concern whether uranium dust from the mine would harm their business, income and human and animal health in the area. Several individuals were frustrated with the process of the consultation, such as meetings taking place at locations or times of the day or year that made it difficult for the sheep farmers to travel to the meetings and take part in them. Moreover, as the Sami noted above, several people in the Narsaq area were basically concerned that the authorities do not seem to take the concerns voiced into account. Several questioned whether the process is accordance with the ideals of a democratic society.
Ups and downs of consultations
When consultations work well they can contribute to a sense of common or including decision-making. Research shows that this underscores the acceptance of the resulting activity, related to what is sometimes referred to as the legitimacy of the activity.
When consultations do not work well they can have the opposite effect and undermine trust, not just in the specific project but also in the company or companies involved. This relates to what is sometimes referred to as the ‘social licence to operate’. The term ’social licence to operate’ relates to the risk of loss, that a company (or companies) run as a result of local protest or opposition to a project for which they have applied for a legal licence.
Even if a company has obtained a legal licence, for example, to undertake the exploration of minerals, local opposition may be present. There are indications that a weak social licence to operate is on the rise in Greenland, thereby affecting the local legitimacy of projects like the Kuannersuit mine in Narsaq (Bowles and MacPhail, 2019).
Greenland is a country based on the rule of law with strong institutions and regulation and traditionally a relatively high level of trust in authorities and their decisions. Observations that in such a society and despite formal requirements, there is lack of trust in consultations and arms-length between authorities and companies conducting the consultations, and that concerns voiced by local stakeholders during consultations are taken seriously and acted upon are severe indications that formal procedures are not sufficient for a good consultation process. Accordingly, it is important to understand what constitutes a good consultation process from the perspective of the individual stakeholder, even if there is still no claim to having one’s way in regard to the final decision.
Bowles, P & MacPhail, F (2019) Coming to the Surface: The Social Licence to Mine in Greenland. Paper submitted for international seminar ‘Problems and Perspectives of social responsibility in natural resources exploration, exploitation, and management’, Pskov State University, Pskov (Russia) 23-25 October 2019 (on file with lead author).
About the authors
Karin Buhmann is Professor at Copenhagen Business School, where she is charged with the emergent field of Business and Human Rights. Her research interests include what makes stakeholder engagement meaningful from the perspective of so-called affected stakeholders, such as communities, and the implications for companies and public organisations carrying out impact assessments.
Sanne Vammen Larsen is an expert in the field of environmental planning and impact assessment, with a focus on integration of climate change in Impact Assessment, local processes and social impacts, and dealing with risk and uncertainty. She is employed as an associate professor at The Danish Centre for Environmental Assessment at Aalborg University, Denmark.
Anna-Sofie Skjervedal is PhD from Ilisimatusarfik – the University of Greenland and Aalborg University, and special consultant in public participation within the Municipality of Sermersooq, Nuuk, Greenland. Anna-Sofie specializes in public participation within impact assessment processes in relation to extractive industry development in Greenland with a focus on meaningful youth engagement.
By Anne Vestergaard, Luisa Murphy, Mette Morsing and Thilde Langevang
Have you ever wondered how SDG 17 is, in fact, delivering on its promise? Does it sometimes cross your mind to what extent cross-sector partnerships are benefitting all parties involved, including those people whose livelihood they are intended to assist and advance? Some years ago, we set out to explore the effectiveness of North-South cross-sector partnerships with a particular focus on providing novel knowledge to understand better the partnerships from the vantage point of its beneficiaries. Some of our main findings have just been published.
Understanding the value of cross-sector partnerships
In research as in practice, there are high hopes for cross-partnerships as the new global governance mechanism. Cross-sector partnerships are presented as particularly well-suited to solve some of the world’s most critical global challenges such as poverty, climate change, and inequality. No one organization, business or institution can do it alone.
It is better to address wicked problems together. It does indeed sound plausible: the more perspectives, the more knowledge, the more resources, the better. However, as we experience the emergence of a great number of cross-sector partnerships, we also see an increasing concern expressed from research and practice about the effectiveness of these partnerships.
Do they really deliver better and more than a government or a business or an NGO could alone? Are they really providing better conditions for the world’s poor? Are cross-sector partnerships more efficient in addressing fundamental problems of inequality?
So far, we have only very little research to substantiate such claims. A large part of current research has so far emphasized the advantages for the (typically North-based) business partner to partake, leaving us with a certain Northern and corporate bias in understanding the value of cross-sector partnerships.
Study of the ‘Best in class cross-sector partnership’
Our study explored what was by the Danish embassy to Ghana assessed as the ‘best in class cross-sector partnership’ involving Ghanaian and Danish actors. Over three years, we visited the cross-sector partnership several times, observed and interviewed the young single mother employees, as well as the Northern business and the Southern NGO partners.
At first glimpse, the ten-year-old partnership looked promising. A number of young mothers had been employed over the years. It was prestigious and competitive to get a job with the partnership. It had its own physical building within the NGO where the women were sitting at a table assembling the jewelry in the designed styles, talking, working and laughing.
When interviewed, the NGO manager or one of their two supervisors were initially present. English conversation was difficult for them. We heard the same kind of appreciation of the partnership as we had heard from their leaders. It was not until next time we arrived that we started to see a potentially problematic pattern arise.
This time, we interviewed the young mothers in their home territory in their villages, where the managers were not present. Also, we had a local translator, so the conversations took place in the women’s local language. All this is just to remind ourselves, how difficult it is to get access to ‘good data’ in such circumstances.
Competence without agency
At this second glance, we found that the cross-sector partnership resulted in what we term ‘competence without agency’ for the beneficiaries. The partnership was found to provide new resources and knowledge to the young single mothers but failed to generate the conditions for these to be transformed into significant changes in their lives.
Only the most capable young women, the ‘viable poor’ were offered a job, excluding the poorest young single mothers in the villages. Women had to travel far to work in the NGO, leaving their children behind in the village and preventing traditional practices of sharing work with family and wider community.
The partnership drew on old craftsmanship from the region which was modified to fit Northern standards – all decided and directed by the Northern entrepreneur, leaving the young mothers with the task of adapting and imitating rather than innovating.
On top of that, income for the young mothers was unstable due to fluctuations in European demand for the product produced, making it impossible for the women to plan ahead and to improve support for their children’s schoolwork.
These were just some of the unexpected, invisible and unpronounced outcomes of the cross-sector partnership which occurred as the entrepreneur and the NGO leaders were focusing on making the partnership work and the Northern government initially supporting the project was happy to see some business result from the collaboration.
SDG 17 through cross-sector partnerships
While the main novel research findings from this study do not deliver an immediately positive tale of ‘how to do partnerships in a few easy steps’, it points importantly to how the whole idea of expecting cross-sector partnerships to work as development agents and to create sustainable development, must take into consideration how to empower those people who the cross-sector partnership is intended to benefit in the long-term.
This implies that instead of assuming that the young single mothers engaged in this cross-sector partnership would inevitably be better off working for the prestigious partnership by having an (infrequent) income, a careful inquiry should be engaged into how the project could potentially empower these young women (and their children) in non-financial ways and in the long-term perspective (fx. education, professional training, health provision, etc).
We argue that when considering the potential of cross-sector partnerships, it is crucial that outcomes are not conflated with impact, that it is acknowledged that resources, be they money or skills, do not necessarily transform the lives of the poor and marginalized.
This research calls for organizations, businesses and governments partaking in SDG 17 through cross-sector partnerships to engage in much more, and deeper consideration for the beneficiaries if they want to provide something more meaningful than the usual ‘North benefitting from inexpensive labor in the South’.
Anne Vestergaard is Associate Professor at Center for Corporate Social Responsibility at Copenhagen Business School. Her research revolves around mainstream discourses of morality with a particular interest in how processes of institutional, technological and semiotic mediation contribute to them.
Luisa Murphy is a PhD Fellow in corporate sustainability at Copenhagen Business School. Her research examines multi-stakeholder initiatives, anti-corruption and human rights.
Mette Morsing is Chair of Sustainable Markets and Executive Director of Misum at Stockholm School of Economics and Professor of CSR and Organization Theory at CBS. Her research focuses on how identity is governed in the interplay of internal and external stakeholders, in particular in the context of CSR and sustainability.
Thilde Langevang is Associate Professor at Centre for Business and Development Studies at Copenhagen Business School. Her research interests are in the area of entrepreneurship and development studies with a particular focus on youth, women, and creative industries in Africa.
Sustainability – a concept that accompanies us every day: whether it is sustainable consumption, sustainable nutrition, sustainable traveling or sustainable management. What does sustainability actually mean and does it only serve as a means to an end?
Meet oikos Copenhagen
A big topic that concerns a student organization. Founded in 1987 in St. Gallen, oikos has ever since grown into an international student initiative with 50 local “chapters”, as we call it, on almost every continent in the world. With the underlying idea of integrating sustainability as one of the core topics in economics and business, this initiative has now been running for more than 30 years.
With its 48 active members, oikos Copenhagen is one of the largest chapters and contributes to the sustainability discussion at the Copenhagen Business School since 2012. By bringing students of different backgrounds together, the six projects are looking at the topic from various perspectives and are aiming at more sustainability in business and management education.
The triple bottom line is at the center of our values. Future leaders should be empowered to take change into their own hands. Integrity is a central component of organizational DNA: members stand behind the core values and actively develop them further. For this, our members are in a constant dialogue with each other and deal critically with the topic.
We see ourselves as representatives of the sustainability movement and each fulfills the role of a moderator in discussions with social environments.
That’s the way it should be. On the way there, oikos regularly encounters hurdles. Not only in management issues but especially on a personal, cultural and financial level. Our core values reflect a way of thinking that is becoming more and more recognized but is still not adequately represented and acknowledged by our educational system. Is it even possible to combine sustainability and business at all or is a system change required first?
What if youcan make a change?
I started my time at oikos in 2018 as the Project Manager ofoikos Impact, one of the six projects of the Copenhagen chapter. The project objective is to improve sustainability on the CBS campus.
Our team was negatively surprised that a university in one of the sustainable Nordic countries does not recycle.
In May 2019, we launched a pilot project with two recycling stations on campus. Recently, the campus management decided to launch recycling stations inspired by oikos Copenhagen at every canteen.
A very central project of our organization – Curricular Transformation – deals with the integration of sustainability topics in the curricula of all degree programs. oikos Copenhagen does not intend to create separate study programs exclusively on the subject of sustainability.
We see sustainability as a relevant topic just like accounting, taxation, innovation, strategy and entrepreneurship.
Our team is in touch with the Dean of Education and would appreciate supporting departments, course coordinators and professors in the shift to a greener curriculum.
oikos Career reflects the typical cycle of a student preparing for a career in the sustainability scene. Initially, students are accompanied by the content design of the curriculum vitae. Afterwards, networking event participants have the opportunity to meet potentially attractive employers. With the Career Fair, we optimally made it easier for some students to enter sustainable businesses.
Social Pioneers offers companies, mostly start-ups but also established smaller companies, a platform to teach students that it is possible to profitably combine entrepreneurship and sustainability. Students gain insights into the day-to-day work of companies, find out which obstacles founders have encountered on their way and can clean up the assumption that one cannot be profitable in running a responsible business.
As one of our most established projects, the annual GreenWeekmarks a week in which the CBS campus and teaching activities are focused exclusively on sustainability. Here we invite guest speakers, representatives of sustainable companies, experts, researchers, and generally interested people to discuss the topic together and to seek mutual exchange. In addition to lectures, keynotes, and panel discussions, we offer workshops on the topic. This year’s GreenWeek will take place from the 10th to the 12th of March 2020.
Since June 2019, I am sitting on the board of oikos Copenhagen with five other members and as the president and head of project management, I am leading the organization.
When requesting more support from decision-makers I often get asked about the competitive advantage the university could expect from oikos’ work. oikos Copenhagen stands for values that are hard to ‘sell’ as a business case.
The general opinion about sustainability is an important cultural barrier for oikos Copenhagen, as it is still considered an annoying side issue for ‘hippie’ students. The challenge is to build and maintain an exchange of ideas and communication about the relevance of the topic. I believe that business schools are an extreme example of this.
Meanwhile, several other organizations are being founded around the topic of sustainability and it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of the various initiatives. Questions like: ‘Who works on which topic?’, ‘How can we collaborate on solving the problem most efficiently?’ and ‘How do we communicate that we are working on something?’ pop up.
Another problem is the lacking overlap with other disciplines outside economics. Currently, our members are mainly CBS students. Although we offer room for students from other universities to be oikos members and to participate in the oikos Case Competition, this is not enough to recruit active members from other universities.
In my opinion, this interdisciplinarity is extremely relevant in all sustainability issues. In addition, it would help us to break away from the typical business thinking so present at CBS and to look at the challenge from several perspectives.
To achieve an effective transition towards a greener Copenhagen Business School, including a sustainable campus and direct as well as indirect education in sustainability for every CBS student, we want to be the bridge to bring all actors together to work on a solution.
As evidenced in places such as Syria and Yemen, humanitarian crises are becoming ever more complex (OCHA, 2017a). In response, international and humanitarian organizations increasingly call upon the private sector to help alleviate human suffering. As we describe in our recent article (Hotho & Girschik, 2019), many companies have answered this call. In the past, the role of companies in humanitarian crises tended to be limited to financial or in-kind donations. Today, more and more companies seek a direct role in the delivery of humanitarian action, often through collaborative partnerships with humanitarian organizations.
Why invest in business-humanitarian collaboration?
that engage in humanitarian initiatives often do so for philanthropic reasons.
However, these companies may fail to appreciate that engagement in humanitarian
initiatives can also provide them with longer-term strategic advantages (OCHA
with, business-humanitarian collaboration likely has reputational and
motivational benefits. Contributions to humanitarian relief efforts send
positive signals to external stakeholders, including customers and governments,
as well as internal employees.
However, companies may also benefit in more tangible ways.
First, engaging directly in the delivery of humanitarian assistance can provide firms with the opportunity to learn about new countries and markets. For example, MasterCard’s payment solutions for humanitarian crisis situations allow the company to contribute to a good cause while developing a more detailed understanding of under-explored areas that may at a later stage become potential markets.
In addition, humanitarian engagement provides opportunities for relationship building with international organizations, governments, and local communities. Such connections can enhance a firms’ competitiveness as they may unlock or facilitate interesting market opportunities down the line.
Humanitarian crisis contexts also provide companies with opportunities to develop new skills and competencies or strengthen existing ones. For example, by participating in the Logistics Emergency Team—a business alliance providing UN agencies with vital logistical support—companies such as A.P. Møller-Mærsk have the opportunity to push their logistical capabilities while providing life-saving support during complex emergencies.
Business-humanitarian partnerships must address three fundamental challenges
Notwithstanding the potential of business-humanitarian partnerships, the extreme conditions of humanitarian crises renders such collaboration especially complicated and risky. Humanitarian assistance is often delivered to vulnerable populations in politically complex and volatile contexts. As a result, partners face three fundamental challenges that they need to be prepared to address if they are to leverage the potential of their collaboration.
challenge is to ensure that private-sector involvement is ethically sound and
aligned with the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality,
and independence. Companies and their humanitarian partners need to uphold
these principles in spite of commercial interests and practical constraints.
Realizing effective engagement
between humanitarian organizations and companies are complex to navigate.
Partners need to find ways to build mutual understanding and trust and create a
favorable climate for mutual problem-solving. In addition, both sides may need
to adjust processes and operations in order to align capabilities and enable
Sustaining business-humanitarian partnerships
and their humanitarian partners often struggle to demonstrate measurable
benefits from their collaborations. Companies need to sustain internal support
for such partnerships even when there is no immediate business case. In
addition, humanitarian organizations need to engage companies in the right
place at the right time; namely, where humanitarian needs are greatest.
Addressing these three challenges is neither quick nor easy. It is through strong mutual commitments and innovative responses that business-humanitarian partnerships can leverage their potential and deliver humanitarian assistance ethically, effectively, and sustainably.
Verena Girschik is Assistant Professor of CSR, Communication, and Organization at the Department of Management, Society and Communication, Copenhagen Business School. Verena’s research focuses on the responsibilities of companies in the contexts of complex societal problems and humanitarian crises. Interested in relations between companies, governments, NGOs, and other societal actors, her research explores how companies negotiate their roles and responsibilities, how they perform them, and to what consequences. Verena’s Twitter: @verenaCPH)
Jasper Hotho is Associate Professor at the Department of International Economics, Government and Business at Copenhagen Business School, and Senior Editor for the top-tier academic journal Organization Studies. Jasper’s research focuses on the opportunities and challenges that arise from private-sector involvement in the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
Romanticized management concepts often seem to fall short in capturing actual management practices in today’s corporate world. Experiences from other types of organisations may help deepen the understanding of the concepts and the phenomena they are trying to portray.
The management literature is full of concepts, which indicate passion, engagement and community. Internally, terms like corporate culture, values, karma, spirituality, passion and even love and religion express a deep symbiosis between the individual and the organization. Externally, corporate communication is soaked in references to sustainability, citizenship, social responsibility, and community engagement.
If we are to believe the “About Us” sections, corporations today are more about benevolence than business.
There is a problem though.
What happens if you compare the rosy picture of business with harsh business realities? One illustrative example is the talk about management commitment. How does it go along with the fact that the average tenure of CEOs is steadily decreasing? And how do you combine talks about commitment with the recurrent discussions about bonus schemes? It seems like an awful waste of money to approve exorbitant compensation packages to CEOs if they were driven solely by an inner sense of duty and dedication to the job.
What all these management concepts have in common is that they try to give business personality, heart, spirit, and soul.
However, if we are interested in concepts like commitment, passion, and loyalty, today’s corporate world is perhaps not always the right place to look. Probably more than ever before, these concepts seem more meaningful in private life and collectives rooted in the local community.
Like community football…
As part of a survey among Danish football clubs (supported by a UEFA research grant), I asked club representatives a simple, open question: – What is the main reason to be engaged in the club? A few quotations are found at the bottom of the text and well illustrate some of the differences between the corporate world and community sport. A few examples:
Stickiness. Commitment means being in it for the long haul. It is not unusual that volunteers are members of football clubs for 20, 30, and 40 years. When managers drift from one company to another, it serves as proof that they are committed to their career. Not the organisation.
Obligation. The quotations from the survey indicate that commitment to community sport is often linked to an obligation to support the local community and paying back for own experiences as active players.
Community. In community sport, commitment has roots. You are committed to something: – the sport, the people, the club, and the community. It is probably no coincidence that local club names usually refer to a city or a region, whereas the corporate names are mostly faceless abstractions referring neither to activity nor geography.
The real motives
The point is not that club volunteers are all saints dedicated to the greater good of society. Most volunteers probably start off with instrumental motives when they become engaged in club life; either because they play themselves and/or have children in the club. However, for some volunteers club life gradually becomes part of one’s identity and network.
The question remains, however, why the management literature seems so eager to wrap business in romantic rhetoric about commitment, loyalty, authenticity etc. when these concepts often seem to reflect what has been lost rather than what can be found in today’s corporate world. Of course, part of the management vocabulary can be passed off as organizational bullshit, but even the disregard of truth may reveal some truths about our society.
Maybe the abundance of romantic management concepts reflects a dream about relationships in a market characterized by transactions.
A seek for passion in a highly professionalized work life. Longing for a community when people have all become individuals. Whatever the reason, a researcher should restrict the use of concepts to organisations where they have not yet become emptied of meaning.
Like community football…
Table 1: Respondents about the main reasons for being active members of the football club (Translation from Danish)
– ”Make a difference in my local community and support my interest in grassroot football. Jeg am a club person and believe voluntary work should be a ”citizen duty” (…)” – ”After a whole life as active in the club, also as trainer and board member, it was natural to continue (…) and give something back. I think it is fun to work with kids and people, who also give me a lot I can use in the work life”. – ”I like the social life in the club and want to help others in getting the same experience”. – ”I have played football from when I was a kid and had wonderful experiences that I like to hand over to the youth” – ”Because I love football and like to give something back for all the years when I was more on the field than outside. Moreover, it is important that somebody do something in the associations in our community”. – ”Because my kids play in the club and because I think you should make an effort in the associations in the city. And not least because I like to be part of making a difference in the local associations. – ”Have been an active football player all my youth, where I met engaged trainers and leaders. So it is probably to give something back” – ”Help our city in having a place where children, young and elderly can play football under good conditions” – ”Funny, I have asked myself the same question:-) I have been an active player from when I was 8-9 years old, to league player, to old boys – so it is simply paid back time for all the experiences (…) to all the people who made it possible.” – ”Always been involved in football. Somebody helped me when I was playing myself. Think that you have to give something back.” – ”Payback to the club which has given me a lot of good experiences. My contribution to Danish associations – the voluntary brigade!” – ”Lifestyle after more than 30 years of voluntary work. Help young athletes to get a good future. This has been my goal throughout the years and has given me a lot of good experiences” – ”Voluntary work helps in creating a well-functioning local community. For children, it is important to promote active living. And it is also developing you personally. Unity and identity” – ”For many years, I had children in the club and therefore I am involved in the work. I have enjoyed playing football and would like to give others the same experience. ” ”As a child, I experienced a lot of good things. Now when I have the opportunities, I feel obliged to give something back.” ”Have always been a volunteer in community sport and for more than 50 years. Nice to see things grow and do something good for a lot of people. Not least the social element of the club. And you get to know a lot of people and build some friendships for life”. – ”Have been involved in football for 45 years. Good friends and good network. Be part of making a difference on a voluntary basis”. – ”For 20 years, I have played football in the same club. To have a good club I also have to take responsibility” – ”The community and the joy of working with other people who love football”.”Football has always meant a lot to me and I think you have an obligation to contribute to the continuation of football. Every community needs a football club. Everyone should have an opportunity to do team sport which can also be a great foundation for your future life.”
Esben Rahbek Gjerdrum Pedersen is Professor at the Department of Intercultural Communication and Management at Copenhagen Business School. He researches CSR, Corporate Sustainability, Non-financial Performance Measurement, Supply Chain Management and Process Management.
Despite a lot of focus on climate change recently, the impact of one ‘hidden climate’ on people’s lives often goes unnoticed – the indoor climate. And the indoor climates in the buildings that we normally feel most comfortable in – our homes – are much worse than we are aware of.
Safe and sound at home?
Our homes are traditionally seen as places where we recharge our batteries. They are where we seek shelter and refuge from the hustle and bustle that we often experience in our everyday lives when away from them. As we wind down at the end of a busy day in the comfort of our homes, we take it for granted that we can relax, knowing that our health is not at risk when inside.
However, there’s increasing evidence that although we might arrive home safe and sound, the time we spend at home might not be safe and sound after all.
As ‘safe as houses’?
The saying ‘it’s safe as houses’, which is used to describe things as being completely safe, cannot be used about many homes in Europe. We know from our Healthy Homes Barometers, an annual research-based report designed to take stock of Europe’s buildings, that one out of six Europeans lives in unhealthy homes. For children in Europe, it’s worse, with one out of three being exposed to health risks in their homes. And the health risks are not just isolated to our homes. The same also goes for the environments inside buildings where we work and learn.
Furthermore, we know that people spend 90 percent of their time indoors, where the air can be up to five times more polluted than outside. The potential risks to people’s health and wider society are not insignificant, with poor indoor climates directly leading to conditions such as asthma or allergies, due to dampness and mould.
Ongoing dialogue and modified solutions
For years we have been using such well-documented research to engage in dialogues with legislators, housing professionals, building owners and industry representatives to push for steps to make buildings healthier. In recent years, we have also modified our solutions, which bring daylight and fresh air through roofs, to be more automated and also compatible with digital technologies and the internet of things, and thereby make creating healthy indoor climates hassle-free.
Using SDGs to push harder for healthier indoor climates
Revealing what’s right under our noses for a more sustainable future
With much of the current climate change and sustainability focus on natural renewable energy sources or companies’ steps to reduce their carbon footprints, the climates inside our homes and other buildings, and their potential negative effects on our health and well-being continue to be ignored. That’s why the VELUX Group will persist with research and activities to boost indoor climate awareness and continually improve our products, to address what’s right under our noses but often overlooked – the indoor or hidden climate. By improving indoor climates to help make buildings healthier, we are confident that we will contribute to a more sustainable future.
About the Author
Ingrid Reumert – VP, Global Stakeholder Communications & Sustainability at VELUX Group
Despite their key role in both national and international affairs, business associations remain strangely absent from academic discourse, teaching and research on corporate responsibility and sustainability. We clearly need to pay more attention to business associations.
The prominence of business associations
Business associations play an important role in promoting corporate responsibility and sustainability. One need to look no further than the events of recent weeks for evidence of their prominence and influence. At the UN summit in Katowice, Poland, national institutional investor associations – representing some of the planet’s largest asset managers, pension funds, and insurers – sent a clear message to the world’s governments: we need to end fossil fuel subsidies and introduce substantial carbon taxes if we want to avoid both environmental and financial calamity [i].
Recent headlines also point to how business associations may work to inhibit progress. Just before the UN summit began welcoming delegates, a number of fossil fuel trade associations, led by the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, were busy lobbying the U.S. government. Their objective? Ensure that the U.S. Senate and Congress kill any hopes of reviving the federal tax credit for electric vehicles (EVs). That’s the same EV credit that helped Tesla grow its market share in the U.S. and is similar to programs that boosted EV usage in numerous other countries [ii]. While the credit program is a tiny fraction of what the fossil fuel industry receives in subsidies, it represents an obvious threat [iii].
Ensure that the U.S. Senate and Congress kill any hopes of reviving the federal tax credit for electric vehicles.
These are just some of the more visible examples of the considerable influence exercised by business associations. Countless other business associations lobby governments, develop self-regulatory programs and engage in a variety of activities that both advance and impede progress on a variety of key social and environmental issues including human rights, labor rights, climate change and inequality. Some have become highly prominent and visible in international circles – take the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD).
What is a business association?
Business associations are membership organizations composed of, funded, and governed, by firms with shared interests. They represent and defend the interests of their organizational members to outside parties and frequently offer services to their membership base (Schmitter & Streeck, 1999; Lanzalaco, 2008; Barnett, 2013). Associative action is distinct from other forms of business collective action such as alliances, business groups, networks and multi-stakeholder initiatives. It is also one of the most common forms of inter-organizational business activity. There are thousands in the U.S. alone. Every industry and sub-industry has one or several associations and most companies are members of one or several associations – a trade or industry association, a chamber of commerce, an employers’ association, a sustainability coalition, a lobby group, an economic club, etc.
The peril and promise of business associations
As the examples in the introduction illustrate, collective action via business associations can serve multiple ends. In some cases, they operate as special interest groups and rent-seekers whose narrow, self-serving objectives benefit only the industries or coalitions they represent… or even a small subset of member firms within the association. As such, business associations may stall or undermine sustainability efforts and capture regulators and legislators. In these cases, they are detrimental to society and must be countered and contained by markets, governments and social movements (“peril”).
In other cases, their interests are aligned with broader social goals, and as such, they serve as powerful, well-resourced advocates for mobilization and pro-social change. Under certain conditions, business associations may also exert normative pressure upon its membership, mediate member interests, and operate as effective self-regulatory institutions, resulting in beneficial social outcomes (“promise”).
The need for more research
The idea that companies who compete in the economic sphere can also collaborate to address social and environmental concerns has taken hold in both academic and practitioner circles. However, scholarship from various disciplines suggests that achieving the institutional conditions conducive to beneficial social outcomes is difficult and that more research on business associations, and the broader topic of collaboration amongst competitors, is required. Depending on the theoretical grounding and audience, the phenomenon is being addressed under a variety of labels: trade associations, green clubs, meta-organizations, pre-collaborative collaboration, coopetition and self-regulation. Clearly, there is a strong need and there are growing opportunities to address the prominence, peril and promise of business associations.
José Carlos Marques is Assistant Professor, Strategy, Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability, at the Telfer School of Management, University of Ottawa, and Visiting Research Fellow (Governing Responsible Business) at the Copenhagen Business School. His research program, at the intersection of strategic management, sustainability and transnational governance, examines the drivers and organizational strategies of inter-organizational coalitions that address social and environmental challenges – these include business associations, multi-stakeholder initiatives and business-state interactions. His work has been published in MIT Sloan Management Review, Organization Studies, Journal of Business Ethics and Journal of World Business. contact: firstname.lastname@example.org twitter: @jcmarqz
Aldrich, H. E. (2017). Trade Associations Matter as Units of Selection, as Actors Within Comparative and Historical Institutional Frameworks, and as Potential Impediments to Societal Wide Collective Action. Journal of Management Inquiry, 27(1), pp.21-25.
Barnett, M. L. (2013). One Voice, But Whose Voice? Exploring What Drives Trade Association Activity. Business & Society, 52(2), 213-244.
Buchanan, S. and Marques, J.C. 2017. How Home Country Industry Associations Influence MNE International CSR Practices: Evidence from the Canadian Mining Industry. Journal of World Business, 53(1): 63-74.
DiVito, L., & Sharma, G. (2016). Collaborating with Competitors to Advance Sustainability: A Guide for Managers. Network for Business Sustainability (NBS). London, ON. Retrieved from https://nbs.net/p/guide-collaborating-with-competitors-to-advance-sustai-a95dc170-b857-49f4-82ba-42033c09b6cc
Grayson, D., & Nelson, J. (2013). Corporate responsibility coalitions: The past, present, and future of alliances for sustainable capitalism. Redwood City, CA: Stanford University Press.
Lanzalaco, L. (2008). Business Interest Associations. In G. G. Jones & J. Zeitlin (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Business History (pp. 293-318). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Marques, J. C. (2017). Industry Business Associations: Self-Interested or Socially Conscious? Journal of Business Ethics, 143(4), 733-751.
Nidumolu, R., Ellison, J., Whalen, J., & Billman, E. (2014, April). The Collaboration Imperative. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2014/04/the-collaboration-imperative-2
Potoski, M., & Prakash, A. (Eds.). (2009). Voluntary Programs: A Club Theory Perspective. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Rajwani, T., Lawton, T., & Phillips, N. (2015). The “Voice of Industry”: Why Management Researchers Should Pay More Attention to Trade Associations. Strategic Organization, 13(3), pp.224-232.
Schmitter, P. C., & Streeck, W. (1999). The Organization of Business Interests: Studying the Associative Action of Business in Advanced Industrial Societies – MPIfG Discussion Paper 99/1. Cologne, Germany: Max-Planck-Institut.
The days of corporate greening are over. Many companies kicked off their sustainability strategies decades ago by picking the low-hanging fruit. But there is nothing left within arm’s reach to pick. Now we expect companies big and small to demonstrate their contribution to broader societal and environmental sustainability challenges beyond firm boundaries.
The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are arguably the most pertinent framework for corporations to demonstrate commitment to broader sustainability goals. The SDGs were adopted in September 2015 by 193 world leaders. They offer a comprehensive agenda of pressing economic, social and environmental issues. The goals are for everyone—governments, nonprofits, businesses, universities—everywhere—in all countries.
What are Companies Doing?
Encouragingly, the SDGs are showing up everywhere on corporate websites and reports. However, all this hype around the goals may not necessarily translate into more sustainability action. Many companies are taking advantage of the SDGs to repackage their existing sustainability initiatives. For example, let’s say a beverage company has a water stewardship program to increase access to clean water in the countries that they operate. It is easy for the beverage company to demonstrate a contribution to SDG 6, Clean Water and Sanitation. But this approach does not leverage the full potential the SDG framework nor business contribution to the goals.
“All this hype around the goals may not necessarily translate into more sustainability action.”
More ambitious companies are taking the SDGs as an opportunity to embed sustainability across the firm and improve their sustainability strategy. This goes beyond using the SDGs to highlight existing sustainability efforts. It requires an in-depth analysis of business operations against the goals to identify positive and negative impacts. Then it requires setting ambitious goals and developing a strategy to achieve those goals. It requires radical changes in the way the business operates. Companies that are taking the goals seriously have much to gain. Research by the Business Commission for Sustainable Development finds that there is over $12 trillion in market opportunities created if the goals are achieved by 2030.
Challenges of Implementing the Goals
Despite the potential benefits of engaging, implementing a corporate strategy that truly aligns with the goals is not easy. Many managers express that the SDGs are too complex. With over a 169 targets, it is no wonder that some sustainability managers might feel overwhelmed.
In addition to complexity, another challenge is language. The SDGs are a political framework and working with the framework requires some work to translate them into actionable business strategies and targets. It may be tempting to prioritize and identify a handful of SDGs that are most material for the company without going into much detail. But the goals were designed as a holistic agenda to capture connected economic, social and environmental issues. For the beverage company, that means they have to consider how their operations and supply chain positively and negatively impacts all the SDGs, not just singling out the positive contributions to SDG 6 through their water stewardship program.
Overcoming the Challenges
There are many success stories out there to show that making a meaningful contribution to and aligning corporate strategy with the SDGs is possible. Here are some tips for making it happen:
The goals are broad and complex. To help cut through some of the complexity, managers can collaborate with international organizations or universities. Many international organizations offer services related, helping companies understand the complexity of the SDGs. Collaborating with scientists can give you access to specialized and local knowledge about SDG issues and help set firm specific goals that are based on science.
2. Engage the entire company
The goals are not just for the sustainability department. They are for the entire company. Sustainability managers might take the lead on engaging with the SDGs but involving the entire company helps to create a culture of sustainability and embed sustainability across the firm. Safaricom, Kenya’s largest mobile phone operator, provides a best practice example. They embedded the SDGs into their purpose statement and each one of their business units made a specific commitment to the goals.
3. Use tools
Don’t start from scratch. Luckily, many tools are out there to help managers formulate a strategy to achieve the goals. The SDG Compass offers advice on how to deliver on the goals and is a large database of commonly used business indicators to measure and report on contribution to the goals. Also, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development runs the SDG Business Hub, a large inventory of all the resources related to business and the goals.
Amanda Williams is a Senior Researcher at ETH Zurich in the Sustainability and Technology Group. She recently completed her PhD from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University. Currently, she is a part of Copenhagen Business School’s Governing Responsible Business (GRB) World Class Research Environment Fellowship program.
In the second week of May 2018, the architectural and design worlds were abuzz with reviews of the new green glass giant looming over the Copenhagen harbour – BLOX. There have been critiques of design, urban planning, participation processes, and more, but perhaps less likely to emerge in your social media and news feeds is the nature of organizational development and experimentation designed into the very heart of BLOX.
Physical, organizational and cultural diversity under one roof
BLOX as a physical building is composed of various building elements but is also socially composed of diverse elements. The property is home to the old military storage buildings at Fæstningens Materialgård, still stunning with their yellow-washed walls and currently under renovation for becoming part of the BLOX family of offices and meeting spaces. The new building houses top-floor apartments, a large fitness centre, the Danish Architecture Center (DAC), the Danish Design Center (DDC), and last but not least, BLOXHUB, the new building industry innovation hub.
These last elements are where the organizational potential lies. Firstly, there are the yet-to-be woven together threads that draw across DAC, DDC, and BLOXHUB, opening up for potential co-conferences and exhibitions that not only blend spaces, but blend disciplines. Secondly, BLOXHUB is a non-profit organization of around 150 members (and anticipated to grow) aiming to stimulate innovation for sustainable building and urbanization by facilitating co-working, co-creation, and experimentation. Beyond the potential stemming from sharing working spaces, the hub supports the organization of seminars and conferences and offers access to labs that can serve as platforms for new products or services, including, for example, epiito’s virtual reality (VR) lab and UnderBroen’s maker-space equipment. And thirdly, nested in BLOXHUB is the Science Forum, hosting a suite of built environment researchers.
Smart Building research among industrial researchers
Now the Science Forum is one of my offices-away-from-the-office. Since the start of this year, we are a cluster of nine industrial researchers – seven PhDs and two postdocs – with projects concerning “Smart Buildings and Cities” (read here about the formation of the cluster). Launching from my postdoc project with VELUX and CBS on smart building business model innovation, we have already identified several crossovers and synthesis possibilities within the first months. This begs the question: what happens when you combine companies, universities, and industrial researchers into an innovation hub? How does this change how research, investment, and innovation are done? And how does this change how industry can relate to academia?
With user-friendly tech to better indoor climate
With VELUX, the starting point is smart device automation, but based on the people who live and work in buildings (read: all of us). But even if the indoor climate is ubiquitous and something we all experience, we also take it for granted and may not even notice how we are feeling unless something disturbs us. Even more importantly, the more serious health consequences of a poor indoor environment stem from factors that cannot necessarily be noticed just by paying attention, including for example, high CO2 levels from poor ventilation or off-gassing chemicals from unsustainable building materials. My research investigates both how smart devices can be designed based on an organization’s inquiry into the user experience, but also how the nature of these user-driven digital devices can change the way traditional manufacturing companies do business.
Much more to expect in the future of BLOX
The project has only been running a few months, and BLOXHUB has only been open not even a month – so there will be many more exciting developments and synergies to report in the future. In the meantime, swing by the great glass giant and experience the shifting landscape around Langebro. You can visit the most recent DAC Exhibition “Welcome Home” looking at how the meaning of home has shifted historically and continues to adapt in Denmark, and your kids can have a go at the new playground on the city-side of the building. A new bicycle and pedestrian bridge is planned for 2019, as well, and then the connections will go even further; from connecting industry and researchers to connecting the city on a level we all can meet.
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.
In September 2017, the CBS PRME office hosted a small SDG awareness event at Solbjerg Plads. At the event, the students were asked to answer a brief survey in order to assess their awareness of the SDGs. Out of the 108 students, 67,6 percent indicated that they did not know about the sustainable development goals. From the students who indicated that they knew about the goals, 82,9 % answered that they learned about them outside of CBS.
But let’s zoom out from CBS for a moment and look at some examples from Danish business society. The Danish Global Compact Network was launched on 24 October 2017. This marked an increased focus on the private sector’s crucial role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in Denmark. Another recent event was the launch of the SDG Accelerator, a DKK 3 billion initiative by the UNDP (UN Development Programme) in collaboration with Industriens Fond with the aim to empower 20 SMEs with competencies to work strategically with the SDGs.
Funded by the Carlsberg Foundation, UNLEASH was held for the first time in Aarhus in August 2017, and gathered 1000 talents (students and alumni) from around the world to spend 5 days developing concrete solutions to the SDGs. The list of SDG initiatives in corporate sector could go on, but this is just to state that the corporate sector is mobilizing, we are seeing more investments focusing on SDG activities and even the Danish Parliament now has a Cross-Political Network on the Global Goals.
There is no doubt that the SDGs will be a strong influencer on the strategies and activities of the above-mentioned stakeholders until 2030. In the light of these developments, can universities afford not to take action?
Students do not learn about the SDGs from CBS
It has been two years since the SDGs were launched, but when CBS PRME hosted the SDG awareness event in September 2017, that was the first time the SDGs were present at a public event at CBS. This is while the DANIDA (The Danish International Development Agency), in collaboration with the UNDP, has developed teaching material and platforms for Danish highschool students and teachers. Highschools now host theme weeks on the SDGs providing the students with knowledge, opinions and competencies related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
While we should acknowledge the CBS courses including SDGs into curriculum and teaching, CBS needs to take a much stronger stand and acknowledge the SDGs as a crucial part of all business education. It is time we break down the belief that the SDGs are not part of e.g. finance and accounting and acknowledge that sustainable development are relevant for all discplines and practises if you want a sound and longlasting business.
Universities can benefit greatly from engaging in the SDGs A report developed by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network in collaboration with Monash University, University of Wellington and Macquarie University argues that universities not only have a critical role to play in achieving the SDGs, but will also benefit greatly from doing so. Among the benefits, the report mentions an increased demand for SDG related education, a framework for demonstrating impact, accessing of new funding streams and collaboration with new external and internal partners. Evident of this is PRMEs upcoming SDG Day 11 April with 13 student organizations coordinating a full day of SDG activities and events all funded by Chr. Hansen, VELUX and Ørsted who got engaged when they heard “SDGs in a business context”.
Education is at the core of achieving the SDGs, and universities are with their teaching and research activities of fundamental importance to the implementation of the goals. The SDGs are a global framework and shared language and understanding of the world’s development with strong buy-ins from governments, business, civil society, foundations and other universities. CBS can benefit greatly from this support and use the SDG platform to position itself as a meaningful contributor in the areas of research and education.
Next step – reach, engage and educate the 67 percent of CBS students, who have never heard of the SDGs.
Louise Thomsen is Project Manager for CBS PRME and the VELUX Chair in Corporate Sustainabilityat the Department of Management, Society and Communication, CBS. Her areas of interest are sustainable consumption, innovation, student engagement, education and partnerships for sustainable development. Follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Which groups of actors typically drive the standard development within Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives (MSIs) and why?
Power imbalances between actors within MSIs go beyond the global North/South dichotomy.
There seems to be a trade-off between input legitimacy (via equal participation) and output legitimacy (outcomes) of MSIs.
Approximate Reading Time: 2-3 minutes.
Private governance in a globalized economy While it is difficult to dispute the benefits of globalization, the integration of production and trade has made it increasingly difficult for even highly developed nations to regulate activities that extend beyond their borders. For example, how do we decide who is responsible for the negative externalities of global production, such as emission of greenhouse gasses, when considering that goods often pass through several countries before reaching their final destination? Some of these issues can potentially be resolved through cooperation in intergovernmental organizations that are able to establish extraterritorial jurisdiction, but it is important to keep in mind that the implementation relies on the individual governments that in some cases may not be able or willing to do so.
Resulting from the absence of legally enforceable regulation, there has emerged a great number of non-state market-driven governance systems since the 1980s. However, unlike democracies where the government derives its legitimacy through public elections, this is not an inherent part of private governance. As such, a particular concern is that private governance could essentially be equivalent to corporate self-regulation. In order to avoid this issue, non-governmental organizations are increasingly encouraging companies to participate in so-called multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs), in which different types of stakeholders work together to achieve a common goal, such as the implementation of social and environmental standards for global production.
Stakeholder Participation and Distribution of Power Some of the more well-known examples of MSIs include the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which have both grown considerably since they were established in 1993 and 1996, respectively. Although the membership diversity ideally helps to ensure that MSIs are not being controlled by a single type of actor, this may not always be the case in practice. In particular, it has been suggested in the academic literature that this form of civil regulation is primarily being driven by actors from the global North, while values and knowledge originating in the global South are often marginalized.
Notwithstanding this naturally questions the legitimacy of MSIs, it still seems appropriate to ask why this tendency persists. First, there is a significant cost associated with creating a new initiative and the individual actors must therefore possess sufficient resources to do so. However, as resources are finite there is a trade-off between where to best apply them, and as such it appears reasonable to want something in return. In other words, there must be an opportunity to realize highly valued interests for an actor to spend the resource required to create and maintain an MSI. To be sure, this is not to say that the global South does not share an interest in solving the various social and environmental issues, but when viewed as a single group they have fewer total resources compared to the North. This may offer a partial explanation of why MSIs appears to be dominated by Northern interests, yet it is highly unlikely that there are no actors within the global South group that have the required resources to participate in the various standards-development activities.
Input and Output Legitimacy Returning to the question of legitimacy, it does not really improve the situation to replace the commonly remarked North/South divide with a big/small distinction. Even so, it may help to better understand why actors behave in a certain way and how MSIs function. As noted above, the purpose of MSIs is to provide for a common good when national governments are unable or unwilling to do so, but at the same time it is not free to create and maintain these initiatives. Thus, while all parties may benefit from the common good, the associated cost renders it implausible that actors would be willing to carry the burden of providing it – that is, unless the reward is considered to be proportional.
In summary, it can be argued that having a small group of actors responsible for the majority of standards development will question the input legitimacy of an MSI, in terms of who participates in the process. But at the same time, the issue at hand is likely to remain unresolved if no one is willing to allocate the necessary resources, which ultimately lowers the output legitimacy of the MSI. In this way, some MSIs may present a trade-off between input and output legitimacy when it comes to regulating global production, where some actors gain increased influence over the decision-making in exchange for spending additional resources.
Finally, it is important to mention that there are a great many different MSIs in existence, and that the contents of this post do not apply to every single one. Instead, the purpose is to help advance the discussion of MSI and legitimacy in general, where these insights will hopefully prove beneficial.
Never seen a 3-legged carrot in real life? You might not be alone, because you can’t find crooked fruit and veggies in Danish supermarkets, where all produce has exactly the same size, shape and colour. Give this a thought or two more and you might ask yourself: what happens to all those cucumbers, potatoes and apples that are aren’t big, small, red, green, square, round or straight enough to “pass” the strict retail beauty test?
The Issue with Standardisation Right now, what you get in supermarkets is according to UNECE standards categorized as “first class produce”, which has to be uniform in colour, shape and size. What is being withheld from you is the perfectly edible produce of the second class or even below, which might be visually defective but retains its “essential characteristics as regards the quality, the keeping quality and presentation” – yummy stuff just with marks of life experience, so to speak!
If not sold cheaply to the food processing industry, all too often “ugly” produce never reaches end consumers. Farmers, who are well aware of their demanding buyers, have different options when it comes to dealing with the unwanted produce. It can be left on the fields as natural fertiliser, used to feed animals or to produce biogas, and often it is simply thrown away in a landfill.
In Need for New Understandings of Quality Food waste is a huge problem globally, as about 1/6 of all veggies and fruits grown are lost on farms, where in some cases every second piece is tossed due to cosmetic flaws. EVERY SECOND. In Denmark alone, that amounts to about 100.000 tons of food waste a year during primary production only. Food waste happens in every step of our food supply chain, so globally we use about 21% of the world’s fresh water and 28% of arable land to grow food we never eat.
At the same time we are worried that we don’t have enough food for a growing world population – a narrative I have found particularly prevalent in marketing food items as the “solution” to global health and climate challenges caused by unsustainable food systems, such as quinoa and edible insects. But what this narrative often fails to address is the difficult configuration of ‘how’ to achieve a positive impact in practice. How can we say we are worried about food security while throwing away or misusing food that has been grown with the purpose of feeding people? The narrative about doomsday being just around the corner is not telling the whole story. Something’s rotten here… and it’s not an apple!
It’s Time to Feed “Ugly” Produce back into our Food Systems The whole story describes a reality where each actor in our food systems continues to market and accept flawlessness as an indicator for quality, with the consequence that produce earns its edibility through its looks and not through its nutritional qualities. And while there are several solutions in Denmark tackling food waste at the end of the food supply chain, such as WeFood, YourLocal or TooGooToGo, there are almost none at the beginning of it. Danish farmers are lacking time, resources and channels to connect with consumers while being constantly under price pressure from cheaper producers located down south and the short contractual agreements with buyers.
As a response to this craze, my partner and good friend Petra Kaukua and I founded GRIM, a new Copenhagen food waste business. Our mission is to fight food waste and traditional food industry beauty standards by delivering boxes of ugly, organic & seasonal fruits and veggies of all shapes, colours and sizes right to Your door, which we source directly from awesome farmers located in Denmark.
Petra and I met in the first week of our Master studies in Organizational Innovation & Entrepreneurship at CBS. We are both internationals in Copenhagen and share a love for food and music, so there was no party and no school project we didn’t do together. In that sense, GRIM was really a brainchild of our teamwork in a course in Social Entrepreneurship, where we investigated with a problem-centered approach how food waste is rooted within the Danish society.
Are you the next GRIM Ambassador? Fast forward: Since February 2018, GRIM has been part of the one year start-up incubator InnoFounder run by Innovation Fund Denmark, where we receive funding, mentoring and a desk in one of Scandinavia’s best co-working spaces, Founders House (A little side note: the application round for the next InnoFounder batch just opened, so if you are a recent graduate or about to graduate soon, go apply now!) Last month, we completed our first test run. Soon, we are hoping to come back with a second round of ugly delivery, where we for the first time want to test out pick up locations. But we need YOUR help!
We are looking for GRIM ambassadors who help us make the world an uglier place. So if you are excited about what you’ve just read and you want to be with us in our mission to put a hold on food waste, you can get involved or help us find the next GRIM pick up point location – maybe at your school, your workplace or kollegium? Drop us an email to email@example.com to learn more about what we are looking for and get yourself and your friends some great GRIM rewards.
We believe it’s time for an ugly food revolution – one where we are questioning the current concept of quality and edibility. The future of eating is ugly!
Carolin is the co-founder of the start-up GRIM and former student assistant at the CBS Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility (cbsCSR). She graduated from her Master in Organizational Innovation and Entrepreneurship at CBS in June 2017 and is the co-author of the book chapter “Marketing insects: Superfood or Solution-Food?” in: Edible insects in Sustainable Food Systems (out soon on Springer International Publishing).
How can business, government, and civil society interact to better address societal challenges such as climate change, immigration, social exclusion, and poverty?
The 6th biennial International Symposium on Cross-Sector Social Interactions (CSSI 2018), hosted by Copenhagen Business School (CBS) on June 10-12 2018, will bring together researchers and practitioners to understand and address this question. The event is a meeting point for the fast-growing research community on cross-sector interaction and collaboration.
Under the theme of “Collaborative Societal Governance: Orchestrating Cross-Sector Social Partnerships for Social Welfare”, academics and practitioners will present and discuss new and innovative ideas for organizing and managing cross-sector collaboration. How can current and future approaches, systems and tools foster cross-sector collaboration and create societal impacts?
The event will include keynote speeches, panel debates and workshops related to cross-sector collaboration and partnerships. Topics to be addressed include, but are not limited to the following:
Cross sector collaboration and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
Communicating collaboration and partnerships
The role of partnership brokering
Financing cross-sector collaboration and partnerships
Formal and informal governance of cross-sector collaboration
Tracking the impacts of cross-sector collaboration
Cross-sector collaboration for the circular economy
The changing role of the state in the partnership society
Call for Extended Abstracts and Full Papers The organisers of CSSI 2018 Symposium invite scholars and practitioners to submit papers linked to the overall theme ”Collaborative Societal Governance”. The aim of the Call is to open up collaborative societal governance as a new multi-disciplinary area of research by inviting contributions on the nexus of public administration, social policy, management and sociology. See the full Call text here.
CSSI 2018 Special Issues Papers presented at CSSI 2018 can be submitted to either a symposium issue of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly (NVSQ) on “Collaborative Societal Governance” or to a special issue of Business and Society entitled “Collaborative Cross-Sector Business Models for Sustainability”. More information about special issues and other publications will be uploaded on the CSSI 2018 website.
Doctoral Consortium The CSSI 2018 event will begin with a Doctoral Consortium, where PhD students will present and discuss their research with senior researchers from the CSSI community. Participants will also get new insights on theories, methodologies and tools for research on CSSI-related topics. The Doctoral Consortium will be held Sunday, June 10, 2018. You can read more about the Doctoral Consortium on the CSSI 2018 on the CSSI 2018 website or click here.
Copenhagen Business School Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility (cbsCSR) is responsible for the organization of CSSI 2018. Questions and comments regarding the conference should be sent to: CSSI2018.firstname.lastname@example.org. The CSSI 2018 event is organized with support from The Danish Chamber of Commerce, the GRB Research Environment and The Carlsberg Foundation.
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.
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 (email@example.com) or Kristjan Jespersen (firstname.lastname@example.org). With respect to the road to sustainability, there is likely more than one route or vehicle needed, and we are looking for test drivers.
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.
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.
November 16 – 18, 2017 marked the beginning of a student-driven innovation era at Copenhagen Business School. The Student Innovation House – in collaboration with Oikos and PRME – hosted their first major event, the Sustainable Campus Hackathon 2017.
A Hackathon for more campus sustainability Having received an impressive 120 applications to participate in the event, 66 students from universities across Denmark were invited to join an intensive 2.5-day spree of hacking sustainability ideas in four UN Sustainable Development Goal areas: Green Infrastructure, Healthy and Sustainable Food, Diversity and Inclusion, and Human Well Being and Mental Health. The goal? To come up with an idea that is feasible, implementable, scalable, and imparting a big impact; and the winning proposal will be further developed and implemented on the CBS campus next year.
Not all SDGs are created equally… Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the first challenges was that not all SDGs are created equally, at least not in terms of student interest. Fully half of the students formed groups competing in the Healthy and Sustainable Food area, leaving Human Well Being and Green Infrastructure perfectly fitted with teams, but Diversity and Inclusion completely empty. I can’t help but wonder what this says about what is being integrated into students’ curriculum, especially in regards to sustainable development. Many students, during our “speed dating” for forming teams, remarked to me that they had recently had some courses relating to food systems and circular economy, and that this inspired them to innovate in this arena. Are we not giving gender equality the sustainability context – or even the examples of success and impact – that attract students to think critically and generate solutions for the future? Perhaps this in part is a reflection of Denmark’s rapid slide down the rankings.
Hacking the SDGs – with dedication, creativity & open minds But by and by, teams drew from a hat, and we were sorted out. The next 36 hours involved input from experts, brainstorming, drafting, brainstorming again, and ultimately “hacking” the SDGs. My group’s subject area was Human Well Being and Mental Health, and my teammates hailed from Danish Technical University and Roskilde University. Their approach to the task was impressive: on the one hand they were hard-working and dedicated; and on the other hand they were playful with ideas and throwing around true creativity. It didn’t seem to bother them that the winning proposal would not directly, or at least immediately affect their universities. Rather, they were there to work on inspiration, on their own knowledge, and on collaboration. Beyond opening minds within teams, individuals across teams chatted over breaks, and mentors circled around, getting to know the breadth of people and ideas represented.
A playful approach to raise awareness around gender (in)equality The hackathon was set up so that teams first presented for four minutes in a “heat”, and then were judged if they would be one of four teams proceeding to the finals. Notably, one of my favourite presentations was within the Diversity and Inclusion category. The team proposed circulating a quiz concerning “How much will you earn after your degree?” Respondents would enter their degree programs, age, experience, and so forth, and then be presented with their expected monthly wages. But then a pop-up would ask the user’s gender. If the response was male, the quiz would say “Sorry! We were mistaken. You will actually earn more than those who are not male!” and if the response was female, “Sorry! You will actually earn less than that, and less than your male counterparts.” This quiz idea is indeed a clever way to promote critical awareness, and hopefully more discussions concerning gender equality on campus (especially at CBS, where more than 80% of full professors are male).
And the winner is… Everyone! Ultimately, the winners of the hackathon were Team Supo, who propose a student card-linked electronic point system for registering and incentivising sustainability actions, such as choosing to cycle to campus. Team Supo will be sent on a trip to New York, where they will expand upon their idea to the head office of PRME. Indeed I look forward to the implementation of their idea, but truth be told, the brilliance of a hackathon is the way it cracks open so many ideas, and brings together so many people. Supo will not be the only reason I’ll be back at Student Innovation House, as there are many more hacks – formal or informal – yet to come.
Can companies get CSR efforts “right” by engaging in dialogue with communities, thus improve relations and their impacts?
Reality shows that companies tend to engage with a few selected community leaders only (who normally receive certain benefits), which creates internal tensions
Indeed, consultations processes offer a platform for companies and governments to fragment and divide resistance to their projects
Approximate reading time: 3-4 minutes.
In this post I reflect on the past ten years of working as a practitioner and researcher on the issue of CSR, company – community relations and conflicts. Overall, it is striking to see the gap between the optimism held by practitioners and the pessimism of those affected in communities when it comes to the companies’ socio-economic and environmental impacts. A common response from those working in CSR is that the company’s intentions are good and sincere. Though I have little reason to doubt this point, unfortunately nice intentions from companies, governments, and NGOs carry little currency for communities affected by extractives and natural resources projects.
CSR, Dialogue and Engagement as solutions to territorial conflicts with business The term CSR has lost much credibility within business and practitioner circles, who these days tend to associate the term more with philanthropy. Instead, practitioners have shifted over to preferring terms like sustainable business, sustainability, community investment, shared value and even human rights and business to label their efforts with nearby communities. Nonetheless all these concepts have in common the aim to bring more good than harm whilst creating genuine win-win scenarios with the communities. A key concept, that cuts across all these terms of implementation is that of dialogue and engagement.
Dozens of well written guidebooks and manuals or toolkits have been published in recent years by multilateral institutions such as the UN and World Bank and governments on community engagement, dialogue and investment by business. The theory underpinning this is that by engaging in dialogue with communities, companies can then get it right, meaning improve relations and their impacts. It is this assumption that I have tried to interrogate over the past ten years whilst visiting 11 mining and four hydropower affected communities across Brazil, Chile and Peru in addition to multiple conversations with relevant officials from business, government, civil society and activism.
What does CSR and Engagement look like from those who are Engaged? In short these well intended policies are seen as decisive in nature by those on the receiving end. In every community I have visited the saddening common denominator so far has been the fragmentation of community fabric due to the arrival of these megaprojects armed with their well-meaning CSR strategies. The divisions take place mostly along the lines of those who are willing to accept and engage with the CSR and those who are outrightly opposed to the megaproject on the grounds of the impacts to their culture, spirituality, ecology and livelihoods.
At first communities often start out as collectively opposed to the siting of the project, however, exhaustion and fatigue set in over time as governments and companies stubbornly persist with imposing the project with an increasing number of CSR related carrots. As time passes the dejected phrase I often hear in communities is “we are tired, we just want the conflict to end and make the most of this bad situation. The company has the backing of the state, and we don’t seem to have the power to reject it.” Consequences of these community divisions have included the rupture of relations amongst nuclear family members, neighbours, the eviction of tenants from their rental accommodation and even threats of violence and to personal security.
Next I have found that the group that chooses to give the company a chance and engage with it soon loses its faith and trust in the process as the promised jobs and benefits do not materialize. The companies tend to engage with a few selected community leaders only (who normally receive certain benefits), which creates further internal tensions. I have felt these tensions and mistrust grow with each repeat visit to a community.
The companies are also keen to follow best practice community investment approaches as espoused by leading development practitioners. A key message from this group of professionals seem to be well captured by the mantra “give a man a fish and he eats for a day, but teach him to fish and he eats forever.” This has translated itself in practice into a plethora of training or capacity building courses delivered by companies to communities around entrepreneurship. Typical courses I have encountered include biscuit making, handcraft and beauty/hair salon courses, which community members found of limited worth. Residents stressed they all had immediate needs of having a fish for the day as well as learning how to fish, but that eating for the day mattered most and this is frowned upon by companies and CSR professionals. In short you can imagine the complex internal social and political struggles that now take place between and amongst community residents who are now divided into different groups that have no trust in one another.
What do companies say about this? The corporate response to the abovementioned critique has normally been to refute the level of internal divisions, stating it was worse before they arrived. Practitioners often claim that the CSR standards themselves are not at fault, but they just need to be better implemented. Poor implementation of CSR would explain the gap in its portrayal. Implicit in these responses is that the projects should always go ahead, but in a more responsible manner, one that satisfies all stakeholders. Perhaps it is time for business and authorities to assess whether their projects should be sited in communities where rejection is outright from the beginning.
So what’s the solution? That’s what counts! This is the question I am slapped in the face with by practitioners in the CSR field. The implication here is that, if one has no better solution then we should permit the lesser evil to continue. Of course the role of the state is fundamental in these situations and this cannot be done justice in a short blog post. My main nugget of advice to all those working with or studying CSR would be to view its implementation primarily from the perspective of affected actor. Taking a bottom-up approach will undoubtedly add more complexity for CSR professionals. However, it may also lessen the grievances experienced by communities and workers. In the case of indigenous peoples we should look to international legal instruments from the UN such as the Declaration on Indigenous Peoples from 2007. Here the UN state the importance of self-determination of communities and this affords them the right to veto certain projects in their territory. Unfortunately to date companies together with governments have been able to astutely maneuverer themselves around international indigenous peoples rights by imposing consultations on them where they have the perfect platform to fragment and divide resistance to their projects.
The complexities outlined above need to be taken into account by all those who wish to work and research CSR in the community in natural resource related contexts. I would like to emphasize that this post is not a dismissal of all CSR related attempts. However, I would like to raise the flag that in general the sentiment that CSR is used to manufacture consent is strengthening, and practitioners would be wise to consider real as opposed to reformatory changes to CSR. It would appear there are no more new bottles for the wine.
Rajiv Maher is Assistant Professor in Critical Management Studies at Université Paris-Dauphine and is a current research fellow at the Governing Responsible Business Research Environment, CBS. He researches the impacts of CSR related initiatives in communities affected by extractives and natural resources projects.
Pic by Rajiv Maher, edited by BOS. The community in Los Choros village, Chile are mostly fishermen, farmers or working with eco-tourism. They are highly opposed to the Dominga mine project. The community from Higuera however is very much in favour of the mine. Yet, earlier this year in August 2017, the government rejected the mine due to the impacts it would have on the marine reserve hotspot of Punta de Choros, where most of the worlds humboldt penguins spend time.
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.
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.
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.
In early 2017 CBS accepted an invitation from the Organisation of Economic Collaboration and Development (OECD) to become an OECD Knowledge Partner. As an OECD Knowledge Partner, CBS joins a small group of prestigious universities – including the University of Geneva, the University of Sydney, London School of Economics and SciencesPo (Institut d’études politiques de Paris) – that are invited to share and discuss research based knowledge with the OECD, thus enhancing its ability to deliver on regional and global challenges related to economic collaboration and development. For 2017 CBS was invited to participate in two key ways: scholarly interaction at the annual political OECD Global Forum, and contributing an article to the OECD Yearbook. Both were connected to the topic at this year’s Global Forum: Bridging Divides, with particular focus on inclusive growth, digitalization, and trust.
Three CBS professors (Karin Buhmann (MSC), Kim Andersen (DIG), and Christian Asmussen (SMG) and the CBS Vice-President for International Affairs (Dorte Salskov-Iversen, who is also Head of Department of MSC) participated in the OECD Global Forum, which took place at the OECD Headquarters in Paris on 6-8 June 2017. Presenting and moderating at an ‘Idea Factory’, Professor Kim Andersen shared views on artificial intelligence. Professors Christian Geisler Rasmussen and Karin Buhmann interacted with OECD experts on issues of Inclusive Growth and the Location Choices of Multinational Firms (Geisler Rasmussen) and The role and challenges of OECD’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises for building trust through Responsible Business Conduct in a context of global competition (Buhmann).
Responsible Business Conduct and Competition: OECD’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and responsible supply chain management
By Karin Buhmann, Copenhagen Business School
Surprised looks with colleagues or students are commonplace when I observe that the OECD plays an important part for the promotion of responsible business conduct (RBC), not just in OECD countries but globally. RBC is OECD ‘speak’ for corporate social responsibility, corporate sustainability and other terms indicating an expectation that businesses take responsibility for their impact on society. The OECD’s key normative instrument for RBC, the Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, and the remedy institution that adhering states commit to establishing, the National Contact Points (NCPs), are relevant to help offset some of the social cost that competition causes to employees and communities. The Guidelines provide norms of conduct for MNEs and for how they should act to avoid harmful impact caused by their supply chains. Revised several times since first adopted in 1976, the Guidelines provide normative standards in regard to human rights, labour/employment and industrial relations, environment, bribery, consumer concerns, science and technology, competition and technology. The Guidelines also apply to institutional investors, including minority shareholders. Jurisprudence (‘case law’) emerging through complaints (‘specific instances’) handled by NCPs elaborates the practical implications of the Guidelines for companies and investors, within and beyond the sector and country concerned by each case. Like the Guidelines have extraterritorial reach beyond MNE home states, NCPs may also deal with business conduct arising in non-OECD states or other states having acceded to the Guidelines (provided a connection to that state).
A case that was recently handled by the Danish NCP highlights the pertinence of OECD’s Guidelines at a time when SMEs too have transnational operations, as well as of the evolving guidance developed by NCPs. The case concerned a Danish textile company that sourced from a supplier in the Rana Plaza building at the time of its collapse in 2013.
The Guidelines are recommendations from governments to companies operating in or out of states (whether or not OECD-Members) adhering to the Guidelines. With the 2011 revision, the Guidelines adopted the risk-based due diligence approach. This is a process for companies to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for their impact on society. Whereas corporate legal or financial liability due diligence aims at protecting the company against harm, risk-based due diligence is about protecting society against harm caused by the company or its business relations. Of course, if done well it also protects the company against liability or reputational harm.
The case on the Danish textile company concerned the adequacy of the company’s due diligence to prevent harm directly linked to its operations by a business relationship. The NCP found that the company did not apply processes for due diligence in compliance with OECD’s MNE Guidelines. In particular, the company failed to make demands that its supplier ensure employees’ human and labour rights, including through adequate steps to ensure occupational health and safety. As to whether the company had acted consistent with what it argued to be buyer practice in regard to building inspection, the NCP observed that practice by itself may be indicative, but not conclusive regarding the scope of risk-based due diligence. In other words, a company must think and act for itself in regard to demands on suppliers to take appropriate measures to ensure health and safety in the workplace. Thus, the NCP statement elaborates on the practical implications of the Guidelines and due diligence for companies in the textile and other sectors for the future, in regards to building safety and supply chain management.
The collapse of the Rana Plaza building was a wake-up call in many OECD countries concerning the human and social cost that can be the price for the quest for economic gain that drives much competition. Global companies have long taken advantage of wage differentials and weak regulation to keep costs low. Concerns with labour and human rights have been strong if too often ineffective drivers for corporate change and the conditions for competition. The textile sector is not unique in competition causing adverse social or environmental impacts. Agri-industry and mining are among sectors in which adverse social and environmental impacts of business activity are regularly reported. Enhanced knowledge of OECDs MNE Guidelines may contribute to promoting RBC in such transnational economic activities.
 The term was adopted from the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), United Nations Human Rights Council (2011) UN Doc. A/HRC/17/31.
 Krugman P, Obstfeld M, and Melitz M (2014). International Economics: Theory and Policy, Global Edition. 10th ed. Online: Pearson.
 Ruggie J (2013) Just Business – Multinational Corporations and Human Rights. Boston: W.W. Norton.
Karin Buhmann is professor at Copenhagen Business School (CBS) where she is charged with special responsibilities for Business & Human Rights, and a part-time member of the Danish National Contact Point (NCP) under OECD’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Her academic background is in international human rights law.
Workers and companies from across the globe each play a part in creating our clothes.Yet, it’s unclear who is responsible for addressing the myriad of social and environmental sustainability issues in these global supply chains.
Who is responsible for the social and environmental sustainability of the denims that you’re wearing?
While partnership and collaboration form the foundation of many of these efforts, there remains great confusion about who is and should be responsible for what in supply chains.Looking specifically at ready-made apparel (RMG) supply chains, here’s a glimpse into some of the murky roles and responsibilities.
Consumers. Consumers are held up as king in the world of retail, and may indeed have great (collective) power through purchasing behavior.Yet, it is difficult if not impossible for consumers to make informed choices about how and where a product was made.(Side note: a relatively new NGO has been established to create a consumer-facing scoring system to help combat this issue.)And, even ethically-minded consumers are rarely willing to sacrifice style or price for sustainability.Therefore, consumers often point to the brands and retailers who put product on the shelves as responsible for ensuring the social and environmental sustainability of all of their offerings.
Brands and Retailers. The giants of the RMG world, brands and retailers demand high volumes, quick turn-around times, and low prices in their industry of fast fashion.Even large brands and retailers don’t own many – if any – of their own factories, so instead, opt to purchase goods from a vast network of third-party suppliers.While virtually all buying companies have codes of conduct governing things like child labor and basic safety practices, any one company’s orders may only constitute a small fraction of a factory’s production, making leverage with the supplier to make changes and upgrades difficult at best.This may be even more problematic for small brands and retailers whom may depend upon agents (the industry’s equivalent of your friend who “knows a guy”) to find and contract with suppliers.
Suppliers (Factories). Suppliers simultaneously face downward price pressure and increasing compliance requirements.First, suppliers must be able to produce a quality product within a short period of time for the right (low) price.Then, they must comply with each and every buyer’s code of conduct, some of which include additional third party certification (e.g. Oeko-Tex certification on harmful chemicals and substances, a virtual requirement for any producer of maternity or children’s wear).At the same time they often need to rely upon sub-suppliers to complete orders on time since particularly small factories (under 300 workers) employ enough people to be able to quickly deliver orders for 5,000, 10,000 or more pieces, which adds an additional layer of complexity and transparency. Suppliers often resist worker unionization or other process improvements beyond what is demanded by buyers, in part fearing soaring costs that will make them uncompetitive in the marketplace.
Local Governments. Governments in supplying countries are responsible for setting and enforcing the laws governing the industry.While most countries with significant production levels have reasonable laws in place regarding human rights, child labor, and environmental impact, those countries also often suffer from a great lack of enforcement of said laws for a myriad of reasons: lack of financial resources, insufficient staffing levels, inadequate processes and capabilities, and bribery and corruption, to name a few.
This brief overview of just the major players in global textile supply chains shows how blurred the responsibilities are for social and environmental sustainability.No one person or party is responsible for or can solve the challenges we face.But, if we can all be open to change and accept that we each bear some responsibility for solving the issues, we have a fighting chance to make systemic and meaningful change in the industry.Indeed, in the words of Andrew Carnegie, “do your duty and a little more and the future will take care of itself.”
Erin Leitheiser is a PhD Fellow in Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability at Copenhagen Business School.Her research interests revolve around the changing role and expectations of business in society.Prior to pursuing her PhD she worked as a CSR manager in a U.S. Fortune-50 company, as well as a public policy consultant with a focus on convening and facilitating of multi-stakeholder initiatives.She is supported by the Velux Foundation and is on Twitter @erinleit.
68 pages, 6 principles, one year of data collection and CBS’ 4th report to the UN Global Compact PRME initiative: these are the numbers behind the latest report by the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) .
The report is now out and presents the main responsibility-related research projects, initiatives, publications and activities that have taken place throughout CBS over the course of the last two years. It is also, what we at the PRME office call “The CBS responsible management phone book”.
The paper presents the way in which CBS lives up to and embeds the six Principles for Responsible Management Education (purpose, values, method, research, partnership, dialogue), which constitute the foundation for the work we do on responsible management education. They provide a solid structure to help us excel in important areas that will contribute to improving our curricula and research.
The principle logos are allocated to each activity to indicate which principle(s) are being addressed. It also brings together in one, overreaching document, researchers, faculty and student organizations from across CBS working with responsibility in management education, sustainability, CSR, business and human rights, development studies and green tech to name but a few. Spanning from Green Shipping to Corporate Social Voluntarism, from student-led initiatives to external partners engagement projects, the report encompasses the diversity of CBS’s view on responsible education.
Having been previously granted with an “Excellence in Reporting” award by UNGC PRME, we constantly strive to put together the best possible report, documenting CBS’ work within responsible management, but also, more importantly, to draw special attention to the people behind this work.
Note: Launched at the 2007 UN Global Compact Leaders Summit in Geneva, the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) initiative is the largest organised relationship between the United Nations and business schools. The mission of PRME is to transform management education, research and thought leadership globally by providing the Principles for Responsible Management Education framework, developing learning communities and promoting awareness about the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
Lavinia is project coordinator at CBS PRME. Visit the PRME office at Porcelænshaven 18B, Room 1.123. Follow CBS PRME on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Crowdfunding as phenomenon is strange as it fundamentally boils down to strangers supporting strangers for causes, products or services that have not yet been realized and of which they have little direct oversight or control. Despite this oddity, crowdfunding is growing rapidly. Just between 2013 – 2014, approx. €2.3 billion were raised, enabling a vast number of enterprises to grow and ideas to become reality. As engaged scholars, the question thus becomes: how to utilize this phenomenon as a means to drive sustainable ideas and projects?
Early testbeds for sustainable crowdfunding
The examples of EcoCrowd, GreenCrowd, and Kiva all point to the potential of crowdfunding in driving both environmental, but also social development and innovation. The case of the German crowdfunding platform EcoCrowd is especially interesting as it illustrates how public finances can be used to create platforms dedicated to tackling environmental challenges by co-supporting their development.
The added benefit of these types of platforms is that they, if successful, become self-sustaining resource centers for further sustainable ideas and ventures. More precise, these platform allow citizens to engage directly in driving sustainable change by supporting, for example, community projects. One example of this includes the The Peckham Coal Line urban park that sought to convert the old raised Peckham coal line in London into a raised urban park via an online campaign on the civic crowdfunding website SpaceHive.
The Peckham Coal Line further illustrates how policymakers can draw-upon the strengths of crowdfunding by co-financing community projects if they hit a certain level of financing. The Peckham Coal Line ultimately successfully raising £75,757a of which government funds represented £10,000 in backing. In this way, community projects could be driven via the entrepreneurial ideas of members of the community.
The future of these platforms of course very much depends on many factors, such as the quality of the campaigns hosted. Prior successful campaigns show that people are indeed willing to engage and raise significant amounts of money. But this requires that people see value in the campaigns hosted. If to many campaigns fail or there simply aren’t enough to inspiring further action, then the platforms will slowly decline.
Therefore, I propose that a collaboration between sustainability-oriented organizations – like Sustainia – represent a great opportunity to find these inspiring campaigns. Sustainia with their Sustainia Awards have a huge database of sustainable ideas and projects just waiting to be supported and scaled. One could even imagine a “Peoples Choice” award where individual vote with their valets for the solution, technology or project they found most inspiring and worthwhile. Sustainia could thus create a platform rich with innovative ideas and projects and “the crowd” can offer the support needed to truly bring these ideas to life.
Kristian is PhD-Fellow studying the potential of crowdfunding in driving sustainable innovation. He is home to the Department of Intercultural Communication and Management at Copenhagen Business School. Follow him on Twitter.
Original Pic by Tommy L, Flickr, changes made by BOS
The UN Global Compact continues to “clean up” its participant base. The initiative reported to have 5,332 non-business participants (e.g., global and local NGOs and associations) in its October Bulletin, while its November Bulletin lists 2,983 active non-business participants. Hence, the Compact seems to have expelled more than 2,300 non-business participants for failure to submit the required “Communication on Engagement” report in the beginning of November. This is almost 43% of all non-business participants.
Non-Business Participants Delisted After Three Years
According to the Compact’s own “Communication on Engagement” policy, all non-business participants must submit a report every two years. The policy came into effect 31 October 2013. If participants do not submit such a report, they are labeled as “non-communicating” participants for another year. In other words, non-business participants that fail to submit a report are delisted after three years.
The Compact understands itself as a business-driven initiative, which, however, has clear links to NGOs, associations and also labor organizations. Non-business participants are vital actors, especially when considering the role of partnerships (SDG 17) and the general need for collaboration between business and society. Expelling more than 2,300 participants significantly undercuts the ability of the Compact to initiate and sustain such partnerships on a broader level.
Delisting as an Opportunity and a Problem
The delisting of non-communicating NGOs is a welcome move. It shows that the Compact takes its own integrity measures seriously and hence strengthens the accountability of the initiative. In the long run, the Compact will only thrive if businesses, NGOs, and, most of all, governments, trust it. And trust, as we all know, is not cheap; it must be earned over time.
However, this massive delisting also points to a significant problem: The Compact seems to rely too much on “growth by numbers.” Simply having over 5,300 non-business participants is useless, if 2,300 of them do not even dare to submit a rather basic report that outlines their activities in support of the initiative. I have said it before, and I will say it again: The Compact is too good of an idea to simply throw away. However, the value proposition of the initiative seems to remain opaque to most participants. The high number of delisted business participants (now reaching 7,500) and the impressive number of 2,300 delisted non-business participants (most of them being NGOs) question the “business model” that underlies the initiative. It may be time to rethink this model.
What Bothers Me Most is…
What bothers me most about all of this is: the Compact itself has not yet mentioned this massive delisting with a single word in its News section (as of 21 November 2016). Is such a massive loss of participants not a newsworthy event? We can read about all sorts of success stories in the News section, but the fact that the initiative expelled more than 2,300 non-business participants is not mentioned with a single word. The Compact itself promotes transparency (e.g. through Principle 10 on anti-corruption) and it should live up to its own ambitions by painting a fair and timely picture of the initiative. There is no reason to be ashamed of having to delist a high number of non-business participants, if the Compact learns the right lessons from this. No initiative is perfect and the Compact has come a long way. It has helped to mainstream corporate responsibility and sustainability, but it may also be in need of rethinking what value it creates for its participants…
The October 2016 issue of the Harvard Business Review contains an article by Mark Kramer and Marc Pfitzer called “The Ecosystem of Shared Value.” Positioned as a follow-up to Porter and Kramer’s very successful essay on “Creating Shared Value” (CSV), the authors suggest that to “advance shared value efforts […] businesses must foster and participate in multisector coalitions—and for that they need a new framework. Governments, NGOs, companies, and community members all have essential roles to play, yet they work more often in opposition than in alignment.” This new framework has a nice new label – Collective Impact.
A big (but unoriginal) idea…
My claim here is that this new concept – Collective Impact – is oversimplifying and rather unoriginal (but nevertheless will be successful, at least in terms of corporations trying to reproduce the label and academics citing the paper). Much like its predecessor CSV, Collective Impact is old wine in new bottles; a new label for something we have known, studied, and practiced for many years. Talking about Collective Impact ignores the multi-stakeholder nature of many initiatives and partnerships within the field of sustainability and CSR. For instance, multi-stakeholder initiatives, such as the Forest Stewardship Council and the Fair Labor Association, have practiced collective impact for many years.
Also, partnership-based organizations like the Oxford Health Alliance have practiced many of the elements of what Kramer and Pfitzer call Collective Impact (e.g. a common agenda and mutually reinforcing activities). Even most quite simple NGO-business partnerships have these characteristics. Overall, it is hard to disagree with what Kramer and Pfitzer are writing, but it is equally hard to see any groundbreaking new idea here…
Collective Impact is also unoriginal in another way. My colleagues Andy Crane, Guido Palazzo, Laura Spence and Dirk Matten have convincingly argued in an article in the California Management Review a while ago, that CSV is an unoriginal concept and that its core premises have many similarities with well-known ideas in the CSR discourse (e.g., strategic CSR). They also showed that one of the core avenues for CSV – local cluster development – is neither new nor in any way surprising. Local clusters – which essentially are just a way to create collective impact – have been part and parcel of debates around sustainability in academia and practice. Understood in this way, Collective Impact just reiterates a part of the CSV story (which was unoriginal in the first place).
Why will the idea still be successful?
Considering all this, the important question seems to be: Why can concepts such as Collective Impact or CSV still make such an impact, despite their vague and unoriginal nature? One possible answer to this question relates to the so-called Matthew Effect in science. Robert K. Merton (1968) first observed this effect. The main claim is this: the credit for scientific work is distributed unequally. If similar research findings are communicated by a well-known, prestigious scholar and by one who is less widely known, it is the first who usually gets recognition. In other words, scientists with an existing good reputation receive greater increments of recognition, while the contributions of unknown scholars are rendered less visible. This makes science a “sticky”, path-dependent and self-reinforcing business…
Collective Impact and CSV (as well as other management fashions) are not successful because they offer new and innovative solutions. Rather, a significant part of their success can be attributed:
(a) to the already existing reputation of the people who promote the concept (in the case of Collective Impact we can assume positive legitimacy spillover effects of Porter’s work on CSV),
(b) to the perceived legitimacy of the outlet that the idea is published in (in this sense the Matthew Effect would not only be applicable to people but also to outlets), and
(c) to the short and simplifying nature of the message that is being sent.
All of this is not to say that Collective Impact, as framed by Kramer and Pfitzer, is totally useless or that it should not be published. Nobody has a patent on the idea of multi-stakeholder collaboration. It is even likely to spark interesting discussions among practitioners and will (hopefully) motivate more partnership-based initiatives. What I find worrying is that packing well-established ideas into such simplifying concepts may curb the advancement of knowledge in our field.
Trump may indeed personify the growing divide between who and what information is trusted by the general public. Every year the PR firm Edelman publishes their annual Trust Barometer, a worldwide study which, among other things, tracks the credibility and influence of various categories of “spokespeople” (such as CEOs, NGO reps, and the like). Some of the related findings include:
There is no clear voice of authority. When asked who they would trust to provide news and information about business, about half would find a CEO credible (49%) but only about one-third (35%) would trust the government. NGOs are trusted about half the time (48%), and academics and technical experts fared a bit better with credibility rankings around two-thirds (64% and 67%, respectively). When asked about how much each institution could be trusted to address social issues, government scored even lower than business – 15% versus 26%.
Increasingly, respondents trust their peers as much or more than anyone else. Nearly two-thirds of respondents (63%) would trust information about a business given to them by “a person like yourself”. This is up from less than half just five years ago (43% in 2011). This trend is reinforced by rising rates of news consumption through social media.
Business is increasingly expected to take on a bigger role in promoting the public good. In 2015, 74% of respondents indicated that “a company can take specific actions that both increase profits and improve the economic and social conditions in the community where it operates”. This number rose to 80% in 2016.
What do these trends mean for business?
With fact-fighting figures like Trump looming over the world of politics, it is not surprising that trust in government is low. What may be somewhat surprising, however, is the ever-growing expectation for business to take on a role in tackling societal issues.
Edelman’s Trust Barometer results and several academic studies also point to instrumental benefits for business who engage in societal issues. Employees at companies engaged in societal issues report much higher levels of motivation, commitment and confidence in the company, and have lower turnover. When supply chains are closely managed, reputational and operational risks go down, like the ones we saw with the horrific 2013 garment factory collapse in Bangladesh. And, if that’s not enough, research has shown that socially responsible companies perform better financially in competitive markets than do irresponsible ones.
Trust is shifting and expectations of business are changing as the public’s confidence in governments and politics dwindles. The time is ripe for business to step up to the plate to take a swing at their new role. In addition to societal benefits, business can expect to see positive impacts to its performance, too.
Erin Leitheiser is a PhD Fellow in Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability at Copenhagen Business School. Her research interests revolve around the changing role and expectations of business in society. Prior to pursuing her PhD she worked as a CSR manager in a U.S. Fortune-50 company, as well as a public policy consultant with a focus on convening and facilitating of multi-stakeholder initiatives. She is supported by the Velux Foundation and is on Twitter.
“May you live in interesting times” – so the apocryphal English-language expression goes that people often refer to as ‘the Chinese curse’. Times are certainly interesting. Taken for granted notions of what is up and down and left and right in politics are, if not turned on their head then knocked about in confusing and sometimes frightening ways.
The strange (non-)death of neoliberalism … again?
One of the interesting developments in world politics right now is the crisis of neoliberalism as ideology. A development that some will indeed see as a curse, others as a blessing. It is not the first time that neoliberalism has been declared dead or seen to be in its death throes. Many obituaries of finance capitalism and global free trade were written in the wake of the financial crisis. Nevertheless, neoliberalism has shown itself to be remarkably resilient and has continued – in spite of public criticism – to be a dominant force in public policy around the world. Colin Crouch has referred to this recurring trajectory as ‘the strange non-death of neoliberalism”.
However, Brexit (and the election of Jeremy Corbyn as head of Labour) and the movements surrounding Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the United States are each in their own way symptomatic of a turning of the political tide against hyper-globalization and free market capitalism. The benefits of free trade – of goods, services and capital – and outsourcing of labor to low-cost destinations are now being challenged across the political spectrum. Even the Republic candidate for the presidency is questioning, supposedly (who knows with Trump), fundamental tenets of economic liberalism. The crisis of neoliberalism is both an intellectual and a popular one. Leading economists like Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, Jeffrey Sachs and Thomas Piketty are among its vocal adversaries, and a public/populist movement is revolting against the crises and rising inequality that are associated with it. Even top economist from the IMF have recently acknowledged that neoliberalism has been “oversold”.
CSR as an embodiment of neoliberal ideology?
These developments, seen in isolation, would seem to pave the way for a political climate more attuned to the wants and needs of working people and to social values and democratic inclusion (as opposed to solutions based on the supposed workings of the sacrosanct market mechanism). How does it relate to CSR, then? What is the relationship between CSR and neoliberalism?
Arguably, the CSR literature has suffered from a lack of political-ideological self-reflection (and -criticism). Ideological reflection is often left to scholars and others who position themselves as outsiders to the field. As a result, rough and sweeping generalizations tend to prevail. As when critical sociologists and political science scholars suggest that CSR is simply an embodiment or reflection of neoliberalism (because it supports voluntary corporate self-regulation as opposed to government regulation etc.). Critical scholarship of the CMS (critical management studies) variety tend to strongly emphasize the hegemony of neoliberal capitalism as an all-pervasive and suppressive ideology and to stereotype/debunk the CSR literature as a supporter of this ideology.
Locating neoliberalism within CSR: Porter & Kramer on shared value
It is ultimately misleading, though, to think of the CSR literature in total as a reflection of a neoliberal mindset and of CSR promoters as suffering from false consciousness if they fail to realize this. A more nuanced and less stereotypical view of CSR allows us to distinguish between different forms of liberal thinking in CSR and to single out those instrumental streams of thought that more accurately deserves the label ‘neoliberal’. Here, pride of place goes to the strategic CSR/creating shared value approach promoted by Michael Porter & Mark Kramer in their series of influential Harvard Business Review papers. Porter & Kramer effectively subject all social action to the tribunal of cost-benefit analysis and economic value creation. Their approach is supposed to ensure that it is economic rationality and economic measures of worth, and not personal values or fleeting ethical, social or environmental sentiments (as promoted by more or less knowledgeable and qualified stakeholders), that hold sway over proceedings. In their view, shared value represents an internally driven and innovative way for businesses to address social problems and needs in ways that are also beneficial for themselves.
Collective impact – shared value as collaboration
However, a new paper on shared value by Mark Kramer and Marc Pfitzer suggests a softening of the neoliberal rhetoric and an opening toward a more inclusive and democratic approach to responsibility. The core concept here is ‘collective impact’ and the case is made for companies to engage in trust-building and mutually reinforcing partnerships with NGOs, governments and competing businesses as this will provide the strongest basis for dealing effectively with social problems and create shared value. The authors even concede that companies cannot be the backbone of such projects as they are not neutral players; instead, a separate and independently funded staff is called for. Indeed, collective impact calls for a new brand of leadership, ‘system leadership’ that involves multiple individuals from different constituencies leading together.
The new paper has already been accused of intellectual piracy on social media, and it certainly does not excel in terms of originality. Its significance rather lies in its ceding of ground to democratic adversaries in the CSR debate. The paper may be read as a reflection of the diminished self-confidence of purely neoliberal thinking about business and society. Whether or how this ceding of ground will make a real difference in the real world of business remains to be seen. At this time, we can see that a concept (shared value) that is rooted in neoclassical economics and has otherwise been associated with a clear corporate bias is now being presented as a collective, democratic endeavor. It is certainly interesting.
By Jannick Friis Christensen and Kristjan Jespersen.
Thursday 25 August marked the beginning of Professor John Robinson’s adjunct professorship at CBS. To a packed full auditorium, he gave his inaugural lecture about universities as test-beds for regenerative sustainability with the clear advice for CBS: make sustainability a strategic priority.
The social contract between the university sector and society at large is shifting. It is no longer enough for universities simply to educate students and do research. That was one of the main messages that Professor John Robinson wanted to get across as he last Thursday gave his inaugural lecture as part of his adjunct professorship with the CBS Department of Intercultural Communication and Management.
A university or a business school such as CBS is increasingly expected to contribute directly to the big challenges faced by the society in which it exists and is financed. One such challenge is sustainability, and the world is – in the words of the professor – dying to engage with the university sector because it can do things that are hard to do elsewhere.
The reason for this is the shared set of characteristics of universities that make them uniquely qualified to play a living lab role in the sustainability transition, understood as encompassing both environmental and human wellbeing.
Besides educating and conducting research, universities are, by and large, single decision-makers with respect to a significant capital stock at an urban neighbourhood scale, consisting of multiple academic buildings, energy, water and waste systems, and student housing. Most importantly, universities have a public mandate and are, in a Danish context, public institutions, that can be more forgiving on paybacks, and long-sighted on returns.
No other societal institution has this mix of capabilities. Hence, the sustainability challenge is also an opportunity for universities to become test-beds for sustainability, treating their whole campus as a sand box to implement, test, research, and teach sustainability, and in that way to contribute directly to the significant changes required to reach a sustainable future.
CBS in particular has a unique opportunity due to the role of business in the sustainability transition. Professor Robinson, who shares the Nobel Peace Prize of 2007 for his work on the Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change with Al Gore, talked right into the Public-Private Platform as such partnerships are needed to increase human as well as environmental wellbeing.
Such an approach, however, calls for a reframing of the sustainability agenda from being less bad to doing more good. This is what the professor refers to as regenerative sustainability. Instead of placing limits and constraints by telling people to cut back and reduce consumption; a net zero focus, which turns out not to be a super motivating agenda, his focus is on being net positive.
Treating sustainability as a strategic academic and operations opportunity, which was Professor Robinson’s advice to CBS, will not only help to fulfil the terms of a new social contract of responsibility between universities and society, but is also likely to have real benefits to the university in terms of partnerships, funding, not to mention recruitment of students, faculty, and staff.
In October 2015, the UN Global Compact, the UN’s flagship initiative for corporate responsibility and sustainability, has expelled 130 firms for failure to report on implementation progress. During this month only 116 new businesses joined the initiative. This is third month in 2015 that the initiative had to expel more participants than new participants joined (after January and September). Participation in the Global Compact is voluntary and firms commit to ten broad principles in the areas of human and labor rights, the environment, and anti-corruption. Every participant has to report annually on progress made against these ten principles. Non-communicating participants are expelled from the initiative.
The Global Compact seems to grow much slower than anticipated. From January until October 2015, 1,072 new participants joined the initiative, while 984 companies were expelled for failure to meet the basic reporting requirement. This suggests that the total number of business participants may stagnate soon (or even decline). Some years back, UN Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, set the ambitious target of 20,000 participants by 2020. This vision seems to be out of reach.
The high number of expelled companies also calls into the question the current “business model” of the Compact. How useful is it to have around 100 new business participants each month, while, at the same time, having to delist an almost equal number of companies? The mandatory reporting requirement is a basic commitment that firms enter into once they join the initiative. Many firms do not seem to be able (or willing) to even meet this requirement. Since it inception, the Compact had to expel more than 5,800 businesses from the initiative!
One reason for the high turnover of participants is the Compact’s low entry barrier. Companies willing to join just need to write a letter stating their intention to work towards the ten principles and other UN Goals (such as the recently launched Sustainable Development Goals). As we all know, letters are written quickly, while substantive actions usually require significant resource commitments. Higher entry barriers would attract fewer companies. But isn’t it more desirable to have a small pool of a few highly committed firms, than a large pool of businesses with rather low ambitions, or no ambitions at all?
Without doubt, the Global Compact includes some of the world’s sustainability champions, and we should not lump together all participants. Some firms are highly committed leaders; others are in the process of integrating relevant practices into their operations and strategies; and yet others have just started their journey. There is nothing wrong with having such a diverse participant base and to offer guidance to those who want to ratchet up their commitment. But a voluntary initiative that has to expel around 1,000 participants each year, while at the same time accepting 1,000 new companies, may miss the point.
To delist those firms that do not play by the rules is not a bad thing per se. One could argue that the Global Compact is being “cleaned up.” However, delisting turns into a problem when it is not a temporary development but a constant state of affairs. There are many things that could be done to restructure the Compact. However, I believe three issues are particularly important:
Higher Entry Barriers: Reporting should not be an outcome of participation in the Compact but a precondition for entering the initiative. Instead of allowing all interested businesses to join, it would make sense to require new participants to submit a report that outlines how the ten principles are currently addressed in the organization and what plans exist for the future. Such a policy change would ensure that new participants have some experience with reporting before entering the initiative (e.g. become aware of resources that are necessary to issue a report).
Strengthen Value Proposition for SMEs: The vast majority of delisted firms are small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – i.e. firms with less than 250 employees. Either these companies do not have sufficient resources to launch relevant activities and then report on them, or they do not see enough value in the initiative and hence do not assign relevant resources in the first place. Contrary to larger firms, SMEs do not profit much from “legitimacy gains” that are created by being associated with a UN-driven initiative. SMEs are usually strongly embedded in the local communities that surround them. The Compact’s numerous Local Networks should explicitly engage SMEs into smaller regional clusters. Such clusters are more likely to be of value to SMEs than larger, “nation-wide”, networks in which sustainability issues are discussed at a quite general level. This would require more resources to Local Networks, also to directly assist SMEs in writing sustainability reports instead of just sending them reminders.
Reform Governance: The Compact’s governance framework consists of several entities (e.g. the Local Networks and the tri-annual Leaders Summit). In practice, however, the Board of Directors plays the most significant role, as it needs to endorse all major changes to the initiative. Although the Compact takes much pride in being a multi-stakeholder initiative, the current structure of the Board does not necessarily reflect this: there are 17 business representatives, 4 representatives from civil society organizations, 2 representatives from business associations, and 2 representatives from labor organizations. A more balanced representation of stakeholder groups is needed, especially as the Compact works under the umbrella of the United Nations, an organization that promotes inclusiveness. Without changes to the Compact’s governance framework, it will be hard to reform the initiative (e.g. to install higher entry barriers). As a UN entity, the Global Compact is ultimately accountable to the General Assembly (GA). The GA could take the lead in strengthening the Compact’s mandate, while, at the same time, calling for a more balanced representation of stakeholders.
So, what is the bottom line? The Global Compact needs to find ways to balance quantitative growth with qualitative commitment to the ten principles. The current turnover rate of new participants and delisted participants is not sustainable, and this seems to be an important lesson for an initiative focused on sustainability…
The Compact is too good of an idea to give up on. But, it won’t be this version of the Global Compact that changes the practice of corporate sustainability.