Ethnographies of the global value chain of certified tea (SUSTEIN)
By Hannah Elliott, Martin Skrydstrup and Matthew Archer.
Currently, the world’s tea industry is on a race with time to source tea sustainably before 2020. But what is “sustainable tea” and how do we know if tea is sustainable or not? This project entitled SUSTEIN (SUStainable TEa INfrastructure) will focus on this question by way of looking at localized translations of transnational sustainability standards in Kenya, United Arab Emirates and corporate headquarters in Europe. We aim to advance our understanding of the global value chain of certified tea.
3 Research lines
The theoretical objective is to venture beyond the notion of global value chain by reinterpreting sustainable supply chain management through the concept of infrastructure, a notion anthropologists and other social scientists have deployed in recent years to emphasize the political and temporal aspects of networks such as transnational supply chains. We hope that this concept will allow us to better comprehend how sustainable certification schemes manifest in global value chains. SUSTEIN consists of three sub projects, which each address a core question posed by the project:
How does certification shape agrarian production in the form of cultivation and factory processing, and vice versa? Who benefits from which sustainability standards? (Line A)
How does certification influence the valuation of tea, assessed in terms of taste, grade and price? How is the value of certification performed and capitalized? (Line B)
How do corporate professionals and independent auditors distinguish between “sustainable/unsustainable”? What lines of evidence are recognized? (Line C)
Each of these questions will be answered by the corresponding research line:
Research line A
explores agrarian questions, enquiring into the ways contemporary drives towards sustainability shape and are shaped by modes of tea production in Kenya. The research focuses on the institution of the tea plantation and its associated factories and outgrower farms, all key components of the infrastructure of sustainable tea. The tea plantation has been described as having a “dual character” (Besky 2008: 1); it has its roots in British colonialism while being contemporarily positioned in international markets for certified sustainable commodities. This research line enquires into what ‘sustainability’ comes to mean and materialise within this apparently contradictory setting. How do contemporary measures seeking to ensure sustainable tea production, such as certified standards, affect the way tea is produced in the context of the plantation? And to what extent do longer-standing modes of plantation production endure through the present, in turn shaping contemporary sustainability ideologies and practices? The research line addresses these questions through ethnographic inquiry. The researcher will spend time with the people working on tea plantations and in factories certified by different certification bodies and on the farms of outgrowers contracted to supply the companies owning plantations with supplementary sustainable tea. Through interviews and participant observation, the ethnographer will enquire into the social, political and ethical worlds surrounding sustainable tea production in contemporary Kenya.
Research line B
will follow through on the plantation and factory sites to the auction sites in Mombasa and Dubai. Ethnographic fieldwork will be conducted in the Jebel Ali Free Zone in Dubai with no tax regulations, no strict labor laws nor import/export duties, making it the perfect infrastructural hub to blend and pack tea according to corporate logic. Likely as an outcome of this, the Dubai Tea Trading Centre has since its establishment in 2005 risen to re-export 60% of the world’s tea production. These volumes are predominantly traded on virtual platforms. In contrast, the Mombasa Tea Auction holds two weekly auctions under the auspices of the East African Tea Trade Association (EATTA), which conforms to national regulations (Tea Act of Kenya & Tea Board of Kenya). Recently, this auction site voted “against the mouse and for the hammer,” maintaining the tradition of the Dutch auction style vs. virtual trading. The ethnography for this research line will move between these two sites, following tea blenders who purchase in Mombasa vs. Dubai and investigating tea expertise and technologies as it pertains to the valuation of certified tea.
Research line C
builds on these ethnographies of production and exchange to try and understand the relationship between corporations and standards/certification regimes. There is a tension between these groups of actors whereby standards organizations such as the Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade International need to appear independent in order for their certifications to remain credible while at the same time remaining sensitive to the financial obligations of for-profit corporations in order to promote “buy-in.” This research line will draw on interviews with people working in these organizations and participant observation at sites where they interact, including industry conferences and trade fairs. These are the sites where sustainability is negotiated as both a concept and as a set of practices. With that in mind, interview questions will focus on, among other things, the extent to which specific agricultural and trading practices are integrated into broader definitions of sustainability and their manifestation in different certification regimes, the challenges of maintaining a critical distance between certifiers and corporations, and the way standards govern markets and, crucially, vice versa.
SUSTEIN is made possible by the Sapere Aude Starting Grant (meaning “dare to know”), awarded by the Danish Council for Independent Research (DFF). The Sapere Aude program “is aimed at younger, very talented researchers, who at the time of the application deadline and within the last eight years have obtained their PhD”. The Sapere Aude program targets “top researchers who intend to gather a group of researchers, in order to carry out a research project at a high, international level.”
Besky, S. (2008) ‘Can a plantation be fair? Paradoxes and possibilities in Fair Trade Darjeeling tea certification’. Anthropology of Work, XXIX: 1, pp. 1-9.
Martin Skrydstrup is an associate professor in the Department of Management, Society, and Communication at Copenhagen Business School and is the principal investigator of SUSTEIN. He is also responsible for research line B.
Matthew Archer is an assistant professor in the Department of Management, Society, and Communication at Copenhagen Business School and is responsible for research line C. He recently completed his PhD in environmental studies at Yale University and is interested in corporate sustainability and sustainable finance.
In a year we hope to update BOS readers about how far we are with answering our research questions. In the meantime, we invite you to swing by our offices at Dalgas Have for a cup of tea. The SUSTEIN project runs from 1 July 2018 to 30 June 2020. For further information about the project, please contact the principal investigator, Martin Skrydstrup, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Proponents of reward-based crowdfunding have touted its emergence as an alternative source of innovation finance as an exciting and democratizing event. This democratization is enabled via the unique blend of crowdsourcing (Poetz and Schreier 2012) and micro-financing (Morduch 1999). Fundraising is enabled by a widely dispersed community of users, whose interactions are facilitated by one or more platforms (e.g., IndieGoGo, Kickstarter, Kiva), trading “a small group of sophisticated investors” for “large audiences (the ‘crowd’)” (Belleflamme, Lambert, and Schwienbacher 2014:2). But how does the change in investors really change who is rewarded – basically who are the winners and losers of reward-based crowdfunding? It was with this question in mind that Caleb Gallemore, Kristjan Jespersen and I set out to follow the money and identify exactly where and who benefits from this new source of finance by analyzing data from the large US-based reward-based platform IndieGoGo.
Where does the (crowd) money go and why? Firstly, and perhaps not surprisingly, it appears that it is the already affluent regions that benefit the most from crowdfunding activities, while less well-off areas still receive the short end of the stick. Clearly while crowdfunding may offer an extra opportunity for achieving financing, this does not offset other factors that play an important role in entrepreneurial success e.g. background, education and social network that favour areas already affluent.
More surprisingly we also found that increased competition – i.e. more campaigns – actually increase the likelihood of funding success. For each percentage increase in the number of campaigns in the same neighborhood, we estimate a decrease of about 11% in the odds that each of those campaigns will receive no funding pledges. Indicating the increased competition actually results in a net positive outcome where campaigns rather than leeching of one another, generate momentum for further success. This may be because of increased levels of visibility of crowdfunding activities as a whole at the local level. In other words, people living in areas with more crowdfunding activities might be more aware of the practice, increasing the pool of potential investors. Another possibility is that areas with high levels of crowdfunding activities might generate local communities that can share knowledge and advice about the process, improving the quality of local ventures.
Finally, and still undergoing analysis, we increasingly find that certain people are – naturally – more successful then others at achieving crowdfunding success. Witnessing that for each successful campaign launched by an individual or group the likelihood for future success increases dramatically – hence after five successful campaigns launched by a given person or group they have a near 100 pct. chance of future success. We are perhaps witnessing the birth of the professional crowdfunder.
Crowdfunding as the democratizing agent of innovation? As money seems to coalesce around certain regions and individuals we have to wonder whether this trend will continue. Will we increasingly see certain regions and individuals benefitting while other less well-off or professional lose out? And what does this mean for crowdfunding as the democratizing agent of innovation? It offers opportunity for you and I to drive innovation, but that innovation process itself perhaps unsurprisingly still seems to cluster around certain regions and persons. While this is by no means the final word – this is still early day research of only one sample – these observations nevertheless complicate the idea of relying on crowdfunding as a new mechanism for economic development, poverty reduction, or social action. While crowdfunding certainly provides a new way to access capital, it may not provide such access equitably.
Kristian is Assistant Professor at the Department of Management, Society and Communication and Visiting Researcher at Mistra Center for Sustainable Markets – Stockholm School of Economics. His research explores the potential role that “the crowd” could play in enabling sustainable entrepreneurship and innovation. Follow him on Twitter @RoedNielsen.
Social media has become a battleground where NGOs with global perspectives, corporations and new digital social movements all fight to shape public opinion in the pursuit of social change
Though often criticized for the low quality of online deliberation, social media has become one of the primary avenues for diffusion of information, and increasingly an embedded part of our infrastructure
This calls for more research on how social media is changing various aspects of our lives and how we, through collaborative efforts, may foster change
Approximate Reading Time: 2-3 min.
Social Media for Social Change? The impact of social media on the way we live our lives is undeniable. Recent statistics suggests that there are more than three billion active social media users. This makes social networking sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter some of the most influential contexts regarding diffusion of information and they are, to a certain extent and as many of us would admit, emotionally contagious. This has created a digitalized world where social media has ‘given a voice to the people’, as civil society can use social media to express concerns. However, the debate about whether expressing concerns through social media leads to any substantial change is only just at the beginning.
What is your take on this? Is social media cultivating global collaboration and facilitating a pursuit for a better world, or instead disrupting the debate by cultivating polarization and fragmentation? – And are these two arguments necessarily mutually exclusive? Join me as we explore these two sides a bit further to understand how social media might be the key to pursuing social change.
The two sides of the debate
On the one side of the debate, we have the argument that social media facilitates constructive, powerful and impactful digitally networked action to pursue social change, as for example seen with the Arab Spring and recently the #Metoo movement. This follows the argument that these online platforms are evolving from a tool for social interaction towards becoming an embedded part of our infrastructure and some of the primary contexts for collaborative efforts.
On the other side, we have the argument that simply enabling collaborative efforts is not enough to promote social change, as social media is argued to be “ripping apart the social fabric of how society works” (former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya. The challenge is that social media is heavily criticized for disrupting the pursuit for social change by cultivating echo-chambers, destructive polarization, fake-news and filter bubbles which hinder constructive online deliberation. This critique is further substantiated by critics arguing that social media cultivates non-committal activism (often referred to as slacktivism), which can thwart efforts to achieve social change, as ‘likes’ or ‘shares’ still can’t be eaten, and sharing or liking an image of a starving child doesn’t solve any issues by itself.
Why you shouldn’t disregard social media’s potential The keywords here are “by itself”, because while the isolated ability for social media to cultivate social change is questioned, social media’s ability to connect millions of disparate actors and facilitate engagement in collaborative efforts cannot be denied. Social media has the innate ability to link individual contributions and facilitate large-scale collaboration that leads to a better outcome than what each individual could have achieved on his or her own as for example illustrated by how Change.org and SumOfUs.org use social media to fight social injustice and socially irresponsible corporations. Fostering polarization might very well be destructive, but it can also be constructive and facilitate social change by inspiring stronger commitment within specific groups, which might help ‘fuel’ collaborative efforts towards more substantial change.
These two sides are thus not necessarily mutually exclusive, as the coherent large-scale collaboration potentially benefit from emerging through more polarized communities that can give a ‘voice’ to otherwise squelched and ‘minor’ opinions, as seen with the #BlackLivesMatter-movement and the #Metoo-movement. The key to using social media in the pursuit for social change is therefore to harness the ability for social media to link disparate like-minded actors and facilitate coherent large-scale collaboration, as illustrated by the Occupy Wall Street-movement as well as the Tunisian uprising that sparked the Arab Spring. The ability to connect globally disparate actors based on perceived shared values and some form of collective mind-set is thus one of the primary ways that social media is changing the pursuit for social change.
Social media has become a battleground These examples illuminate that social media has become a battleground where NGOs with global perspectives, corporations and new digital social movements all fight to shape public opinion on the pursuit for social change. The important thing to note is that we are seeing the beginning of change. Implications of business practices are becoming a matter of civic concern, as evidenced by how consumers use social media to express their concerns and continuously attempt to influence corporate behavior in the pursuit for a better world. Social media is thus at the core of pursuing social change, as consumers can circumvent the traditional ‘gate-keeping’ function of traditional media and directly interact with organizations, which to a certain extent have empowered the digitalized civil society.
The critique of social media should however not be disregarded. Echo-chambers can be highly destructive, and social networking sites can create personalized ‘bubbles’ where your exposure to information is determined by the platform, as illustrated by the recent Facebook-data leak suggesting that data was harvested and exploited in an attempt to reshape political deliberation.
However, using the strengths of social media to unite in numbers has undoubtedly created new opportunities for us as consumers to affect public opinion towards an increased emphasis on social responsibility and social change. The next question is then how these collaborative efforts lead to substantial change, potentially by influencing the behavior of organizations, which is something I will continue to investigate in my research going forwards.
Daniel Lundgaard is a PhD fellow at the CBS Governing Responsible Business Research Environment. His research is mainly focused on the impact of the digital transformation, in particular, how social media has ‘given a voice to the people’ as a way to challenge norms and dominating discourses, and thereby changed our world and influenced the relationship between business and society.
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.
Two newly published CBS-authored books look at how public-private collaboration can bring sustainability norms into existence and offer recommendations for civil society, business, regulators and academics. Based on research on the discursive evolution of the Business & Human Rights regime and taking an interdisciplinary social science approach, both volumes target broad audiences of sustainability-concerned practitioners and academics across the social sciences.
The urgency What does a Tesla in space have in common with conflict minerals or labour abuse in the garment supply chain? The question may look like a new school children’s riddle. In fact, it is a strong reminder of the urgency to consider how public and private organisations can collaborate to develop norms of responsible conduct, especially in areas marked by governance gaps; how such processes can avoid capture by particular interests; and what communicative strategies actors can deploy to advance the acceptance of new norms across functions and interests.
When Elon Musk earlier in February 2018 successfully launched a space rocket that carried a Tesla headed for Mars (although in missing that target it was less successful), the project was heralded as a break-through in private space exploration. Some have described Musk’s idea of colonizing Mars as a ground-breaking response to the Earth’s depletion of resources and space (!) for an ever-growing human population. Others have lamented the quest for extra-terrestrial resources, and called for humanity to solve problems on this planet before moving on to (as it has been put: wreck) other planets and their eco-systems. Some have been raising warning signs in regard to private exploration of resources in space at the backdrop of an absent or at best immature Earth-ly system for governance of earthlings’ interests and desires in extra-terrestrial resources, whether explored and potentially exploited by private or public actors.
Unfortunately, issues of territory and governance gaps are not limited to outer space. They are very much a fact of life on Earth. They are the cause of many of the social and environmental sustainability concerns that keep media, corporate watchdogs and CSR consultants busy. They are also the causes of tragedies like the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which killed more than 1000 workers employed in garment factories in the building, and injured more than 2000.
Governance Gaps – not only a matter of state weakness
Governance gaps caused by limited territorial jurisdiction of companies’ home states and limited political will to adopt international rules setting a level playing field for companies without freezing the bar at low levels are also at least partial reasons for abuse of workers in numerous other factories, mines, quarries, infrastructure or agri-industry projects or in the informal industry that form part of global value chains, typically supplying goods made in low-wage countries to buyers or retailers in higher-wage countries. These problems have been argued to be due to states (in capacity of governance phenomena) being absent, weak or ineffective. Academics have been debating so-called political CSR, arguing for private enterprises to fill gaps left by ineffective nation states. However, the reason for governance gaps is not only state weakness. Jurisdictional limitations on states’ powers to regulate and enforce rules outside their territory is also part of the reason, shared by nations across the world and exacerbated by disagreement and lack of political will at the international governance level to adopt international rules pertaining to business.
The issue of nation state jurisdiction and territory can be compared to tedious situations in everyday life that are annoying but hard to change: If your neighbour plays music that you do not like in his or her home, you are not allowed, to access that home and turn down the volume. Unless, of course, the neighbour invites you to do so, or a prior agreement has been put in place. Similarly, you probably would not be pleased if your neighbour trespassed your property to turn off your music. Instead, the solution is to communicate and to do so in a manner that will – hopefully – drive change with your neighbour. Governance of transnational business activity largely depends on similar action, at least until governments agree to adopt and accept strong national rules with extraterritorial application, and/or international rules that apply to business. And as long as Earth’s governments do not agree on such rules for earthlings’ activities beyond our planet, this goes for exploration and exploitation of outer space too.
Beyond CSR guidelines, reporting and codes of conduct
Global sustainability concerns go beyond climate change, often related to economic practices with social and environmental impacts. Excessive natural resource exploitation, land grabbing and sub-standard labour conditions in global supply chains are frequent occurrences that also have high sustainability relevance. Such practices pose risks to the environment and human lives currently as well as in a longer term sustainability perspective of balancing current needs with those of the future. Investments and trade have caused depletion of large stretches of tropical forests, which not only harms the environment and adds to climate change, but also affects the socio-economic conditions of communities. The transnational character of these economic activities often involve or affect numerous private and public actors in several states or regions. This causes challenges for singular or even sector-wide private self-regulatory initiatives, and reduces the effectiveness of self-regulation by individual actors on their own. The enormity and encompassing character of global sustainability challenges have also drawn attention to the limitations of singular initiatives like private or sectoral Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) guidelines, reporting schemes and codes of conduct. Hence, broadly applicable multi-stakeholder-created sustainability governance schemes have emerged to fill gaps left by public as well as private governance.
Breakthroughs in global sustainability governance
The UN Global Compact with its ten principles in the four issue areas of human rights, working standards, environment and anti-corruption, is a prominent example. Yet like the Paris Climate Change Accord offers a general normative framework but leaves much to further detailing of implementation. The UN ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ Framework and Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) offer more detailed guidance that has inspired several other transnational business governance instruments even beyond human rights, thus influencing the evolution of CSR norms and governance in a broader sense (Buhmann 2016, 2015). All these instruments were firsts within their fields, and broke previous stalemates. What causes such breakthrough? How can organisations concerned with sustainability engage with a regulatory process to advance substantive outputs? Understanding this can have far-reaching impacts for future public, private and hybrid governance of sustainability, locally, globally and beyond, and whether private, public or hybrid.
Norms of conduct: the road to the product is as important as the product When we think of normative directives for private or public organisations for actions that conform with global sustainability needs, the focus is often on the substantive content of the rule as such: in other words, what are organisations encouraged or required to do? However, the road that leads to that substantive content of a rule is a condition for what ends up in the rule, whether soft (guiding) or hard (binding). It is therefore crucial to understand what makes some processes progress and deliver results, whereas others stall.
Across the globe, organisations of many types encounter difficulty in adequately meeting environmental and social sustainability challenges. The diversity of processes and outcomes calls for insights on what drives and impedes processes of clarifying what constitutes acceptable conduct. There is a particular need for knowledge on what makes for effective processes for defining norms for such conduct, and for the norms to become accepted with a view to integrate into organisational practice.
The field of business responsibilities for their societal impacts is marked by a diversity of interests that are often not aligned, even within a sector: those of different business organisations and sectors, different civil society organisations with diverse focus issues, and various national or local governments with diverging interests. As result, developing norms of conduct becomes a process of negotiation in which participants often have regard to what is in their own interests. The bumpy road to the 2015 Paris Climate Change Accord is a case in point, but not unique. The evolution of international normative guidance for businesses in regard to human rights leading to agreement on the 2008 UN Framework and 2011 Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights have received less attention and acclaim outside human rights circles, but the processes to those results represent important innovation too and potential lessons for future collaborative regulation.
Studies suggest that while some initiatives to develop norms of conduct for responsible business conduct get weakened in the process, typically as a result of lobbying by certain organisations (Kinderman 2013; Fairbrass 2011; Buhmann 2011), in other cases the key to a strong or weak result is in the capacity of actors at making the effective argument, and linking up with the right partners for that purpose (Hajer 1995; Kolk 2001, Arts 2001).
How are norms on sustainability issues negotiated? At this backdrop, it is highly necessary to understand how norms on sustainability issues are negotiated and how stalemates that mark many such efforts can be broken. Two new books by CBS professor Karin Buhmann deal with this issue, both drawing on the evolution of the emergent regime on business responsibilities for human rights. Of the two monographs, Changing sustainability norms through communicative processes: the emergence of the Business & Human Rights regime as transnational law (Edward Elgar 2017) undertakes an analysis of the discourse that marked the construction of detailed normative guidance for businesses and states in regard to business responsibilities on human rights. It analyses communicative and argumentative dynamics that allowed the multi-stakeholder process launched by the UN to break previous stalemates in several settings, as well as dynamics that caused previous initiatives to fail. It finds that the ability to address other actors in terms that directly speak to their rationality and interests holds big potential for obtaining significant influence on the details of the normative outcome, and its acceptance. The book offers a theoretical explanation of this, and expands the analysis through findings and explanations on how actors in multi-stakeholder regulatory processes may strategically play on the interest of other actors in change and in preserving their interests. It offers insights on argumentative strategies that can be applied by civil society, CSR- and sustainability-committed companies, regulators or others to advance the acceptance of new norms on sustainability with other actor
Collaborative regulation for balancing of power disparities
In recognition that where negotiations take place on issues marked by highly divergent interests and issues of power, legitimacy of the process and output are significant for a normative outcome to be meaningful, the other monograph, Power, Procedure, Participation and Legitimacy in Global Sustainability Regulation: a theory of Collaborative Regulation (Routledge 2017) offers a theory-based proposal for collaborative regulation that takes account of power disparities and continuously manages these. The analysis combines empirical experience on public-private regulation of global sustainability concerns and theoretical perspectives on transnational regulation to offer a new theoretical approach to guide multi-stakeholder negotiations. It sets out detailed suggestions for the organization of multi-stakeholder processes to regulate sustainability issues to avoid capture and ensure the legitimacy of the regulatory process as well as the outcome of that process. In a global legal and political order, in which the private sector is increasingly replacing the public in terms of power and privilege but lacks the democratic legitimacy of the state and international organisations, such issues are of global as well as regional or local pertinence.
By addressing the same overall topic of developing sustainability norm and empirical cases to inform the analysis, the books develop synergy through two separate analyses that are mutually complementary. Both volumes apply theoretical perspectives from organisational and communication studies, political science and sociology to enrich the socio-legal analysis of regulatory strategies and innovative transnational law-making. This makes the volumes speak to the broad audiences that are engaged in the development of sustainability norms in practice and theory.
Focusing on the processes for developing norms of conduct, the analyses leave assessments of the uptake and effectiveness of such norms in organisations to future studies.
Karin Buhmann is Professor with special responsibilities for Business and Human Rights. She is employed at the Department of Management, Society and Communication (MSC) at Copenhagen Business School (CBS). She currently serves as the interim Academic Director of the cbsCSR (CBS Center for Corporate Social Responsibility) and CBS Sustainability.
 Kolk, A. (2001) Multinational enterprises and international climate policy. In Arts, Bas, Math Noortmann and Bob Reinalda (eds) Non-state actors in international relations, Hants: Ashgate: 211-225.
 Arts, B. (2001) The impact of environmental NGOs in international conventions. In B. Arts, M. Noortmann and B. Reinalda (eds). Non-state actors in international relations, Hants: Ashgate: 195-210.
Today the progressive digitalization of the economy is shaping the way in which the fashion industry operates. The overarching discourse often highlights new technical concepts and currents trends of automatization and data exchange in manufacturing (the so-called fourth industrial revolution) as the primary sources of product and process innovation. However, while exploring organizational tensions in ‘local’ textile and fashion production in Norway, we were reminded that the human element of craftsmanship has always lent itself to innovation and the evolution of techniques and applications.
Local Fashion Producers in Norway – An Upstream Miracle? Aiming to explore the way in which organizations manage opposing demands in everyday organizational life, e.g. creating high quality garments at a ‘reasonable’ price point but also produce locally, we visited some of the remaining textile and fashion producers in Norway. Amongst these were Hillesvåg Ullvarefabrikk AS, Oleana and Krivi Vev. Producing textiles and garments in a country which holds some of the world’s highest minimum salaries seems like a lost cause in an industry that over the last decades has been leading the so-called race to the bottom. Nonetheless, the designers and manufacturers with whom we met have managed to stay in business — and over the last few years — received increasing interest in their services and grow their business.
The Creative Potential of Human Craftsmanship Arguably, the reasons behind this turn of events are many. However, during our fieldwork, two things stood out. First, although the textile and garment factories that we visited run on technologies traditional to the industry, they manage to offer services similar to those that in recent discussions have been tied to the promise of 3D printing technologies to re-localize production, enabling “close-to-market mini-factories that allow interaction with customers during localized manufacturing processes” (Ihl & Piller 20016). For example, having a flexible set up and being geographically close, they engage in co-creation, developing products in close collaboration with both designers and customers.
Second, the designers and manufacturers with whom we met continuously create new products (e.g. new fiber qualities), drawing on traditional craft techniques combined with technologies traditional to the industry. Notably, years of training and practical experience are required by craft practitioners before they are able to successfully deliver craft innovation.
New technologies offer great opportunities for innovation, not least in the textile and garment industry. However, a fascination with new technologies should never make us forget or underestimate the exceptional creative potential of human craftsmanship in combination with both old and new technologies.
Kirsti Reitan Andersen is a Post Doc at the Department of Management, Society and Communication, Copenhagen Business School. In her current work, she explores organizational tensions — specifically focusing on challenges and opportunities in local production and sustainability.
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.