Bath Business and Society

Research, analysis and comment on the role of business in society from Bath's School of Management

Topic: Business and society

Thriving in the cold - the challenge of sustainable development in the Arctic

  , ,

📥  Business and society, Environment

 

Despite the sometimes questionable reputation of the extractive industries, it's possible that mining can contribute to comprehensive sustainable development in the Arctic. Partnerships with host communities can create value for stakeholders and promote inclusive economic growth. In this post by Bath MBA graduate Pernille Moeller, we look at two very different mining projects and examine how their contrasting approaches affected the outcome of their bids.

 

To most, the Arctic offers a window into the effects of climate change - into what may be described as the trailer to the world’s slowest disaster movie. But the Arctic is about more than melting icecaps and polar bears. It is also home to large indigenous groups who are struggling with poverty and lack of economic opportunity.

Sustainability (as traditionally defined by the Brundtland Commission) is a two-legged beast. We need "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". In theory, economic growth, environmental protection, and social equality will promote each other in sustainable development, but practice can at times prove harder than theory. For the Arctic it may seem there is a certain trade-off between what we think of as international sustainability versus inter-generational justice.

As the world is slowly waking up to the fact that melting ice has real and massive consequences for the rest of the world, the knee-jerk reaction has been to conserve and protect the pristineness of the Arctic. We might define this as international sustainability, ie at least a few places are left untouched in the world.  However, conservation tends to only cater to the environmental aspect of sustainability. It rather conveniently forgets about the needs of the present, such as the need for a diversified economy to withstand the increasing pressures from climate change.

Greenland holds significant amounts of natural resources: oil, gas, iron, diamonds, rubies, zinc, hydropower. The list is long and large parts of the island are still only superficially mapped. Mining is likely to be the key that can unlock economic sustainability for the territory. To leverage this sizable potential, foreign expertise and capital is needed. High rewards are often linked to high (operational) risk, and the logistical challenges in Greenland are significant. Infrastructure is lacking at the most basic level: no two towns are linked by road and trained labour is scarce.

To succeed in this challenging, but potentially very rewarding market, requires a particular approach. A comparative analysis of two incoming companies indicates that this success is determined by  partnership, social capital and perhaps just something as simple as genuine respect.

The two companies in the analysis were both early to the market, but different in every other respect.  The first company, one of the world’s largest producers  of aluminum, proposed a £2 billion operation that  would take raw aluminum from Africa and ship it to Greenland. There it would make use of the plentiful cheap energy from hydropower for its highly energy-intensive refinement process. The second company had just one other smallish mine in Arctic Canada, their operational model depended on less than 100 people and their product (red rubies) was local and well-known.

On paper, the large multinational seemed so much more capable than the smaller company. It was the smaller company, however,  that successfully entered the market, while the multinational’s bid failed.  Both companies sought partnership, but did so in significantly different ways. The multinational went in with a state ambassador and negotiated hard for favourable conditions with politicians and high level officials. The smaller project also sought partnerships but on a much more local level.  Its  strongest advocate in the permit process became the small settlement which now hosts the mine. It also chose to establish a local office early in the process, which enhanced the perceived legitimacy of the project.

Close ties to government can be tricky, not least when you seek to extract natural resources in developing economies. There is risk of corruption, and the reputational risk from that may outweigh the initial benefits. Buy-in from local government certainly helped both projects, however it was the real partnership with the local settlement that secured the smaller company a steady supply of workers and the necessary licence to operate. Time, an essential component of social capital, was a vital ingredient.

Local rumour has it that when the first liaison team from the multinational arrived, there was a major storm. Delays meant a chief executive’s luggage had been lost. Local officials offered to help secure the gentleman a new outfit. However, he refused the offer, as he wasn't intending to stay long enough for a change of clothes to be needed. Looking back, that might have been the moment when everyone should have realised that this was not a partnership worth pursuing.

Extractive industries in highly fragile ecosystems are controversial. Most of us have an urge to protect what little pristine nature is left. However, blocking commercial investment may jeopardize sustainable development, because business – when done well – can be such a powerful tool for inclusive growth and poverty alleviation. This case study shows us how understanding the context in which one plans to operate is crucial to a successful bid. Early explorers to the Arctic learned the hard way how incredibly difficult it is to survive on one’s own in a harsh and unforgiving environment. That is still a relevant lesson for the explorers of today.

 

About the author
Pernille has spent the last decade working and living in Nuuk Greenland, focusing on issues relating to climate change, international cooperation and inclusive growth. She worked for the Government of Greenland for a number of years in roles including Head of Office for Climate and Energy. She currently runs a social enterprise in East London, also aimed at marrying inclusive growth and prosperity with environmental sustainability. Originally trained as a political scientist, she is a graduate of the Bath MBA.
Image: Construction of transmission cables near Qorlortorsuaq by Nukissiorfiit

 

Careers in sustainable business: risk consulting in financial services

  , , ,

📥  Business and society, Education, Employers

 

In the first in our series on careers in sustainable business, University of Bath alumnus Joe Hill of FTI Consulting speaks with current MSc students Elliot Johnston and Sanum Jain about how he helps firms tackle the ethical challenges of the financial services industry.

Hi Joe, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Could you tell us a little bit about what you’re doing now?

I’m a consultant in FTI Consulting's Financial Services team. We work with financial institutions of all shapes and sizes, from multinational global investment banks to small wealth management firms in London - there’s a whole spectrum.

We tend to help firms in four areas that are relevant to sustainable practices in financial services. These are: governance, financial crime (prevention rather than participation) regulation, and conduct.

Generally, we help clients to manage their regulatory risk and their reputational risk. Within the perspective of sustainability both of those are crucial, because in financial services it’s all about people’s confidence in the system. People need to have access to financial services, and they need to have confidence in those services. The industry’s lifeblood is people’s trust in these institutions that trade on their behalf.

 

Did your education at the University of Bath play a part in your desire to pursue a career in the sustainability-related parts of financial services performance or was that career goal something you found earlier?

Well, I studied politics and international relations at undergraduate level, and the global governance and accountability module I sat at Bath pointed me towards the space between politics and business as a place I’d like to explore professionally. When FTI came calling after I had graduated, the opportunity offered a perfect marriage of my interests. In that regard, taking part in the global governance and accountability course was important and quite pivotal in leading me toward this profession. It offered something that the rest of my Masters degree didn’t: a focus on the importance of ethical and sustainable corporate performance.

Interestingly though, now I’m in London I’ve found that sustainability is considered an essential part of financial services performance. This is partly due to the proximity of the 2008 crisis as well as the stringent regulation that is now prevalent. While I was at Bath, the reputation of the financial services industry was at its nadir, and this was an issue that was openly discussed on the course. My classmates brought a range of cultural and contextual ideas into the discussion from a sustainability perspective. Such diverse thinking has been crucial in driving sustainability up the financial services agenda, with increasing international collaboration over issues such as money-laundering and tax evasion.

 

You’ve mentioned the damage the financial crisis did to the financial services industry eight years ago. Is the industry still recovering from that damage? And what do you think are the biggest challenges faced by the industry now?

In a post-2008 world, there’s still a big rebuilding job to be done after faith in the industry was shattered. Financial services play an absolutely vital role in everyday lives which means the industry simply can’t afford to keep getting this stuff wrong. Opportunities in the ethical and regulatory space within the industry have opened up since the 2008 crisis and many firms have stepped up to try and rebuild faith in the industry. One of the most immediate challenges in the industry is addressing the disparity between a firm’s espoused culture and the actions of its employees. There is also the wider challenge of ensuring equal access to financial services.

Access to financial services is a sustainability issue that is not easily solved. Everybody should have access to financial services. Sadly, in reality, it can sometimes be difficult for people both in the developing world and even here in the UK to have access.

Ultimately, financial services should be available to everyone, easily accessible and act as a safeguard to ensure that our economic system works effectively. However, lots of different factors continue to play a part in the ability of financial services to achieve these goals. Things like whether people have valid documentation, which isn’t always as straightforward as it sounds, or whether regulations actually discourage banks from taking on certain individuals because they’re deemed to be riskier customers. You can end up in a situation where those on lower incomes are struggling to gain access to proper financial services, yet they are the people who would benefit the most.

 

How does all of this effect what you do at FTI?

While at its heart what FTI's Financial Services team does is management consulting, we know that the issues we’re working on have a wider societal importance. We know that the consequences of the City getting things wrong are pretty severe, which everyone saw play out after 2008, so it is nice to be working on something and knowing that it has a positive impact. The interesting thing about financial services, I guess, is that it had to “switch on” more quickly to the fact that operating in a way that benefits society actually goes hand in hand with being profitable, perhaps more so than in other industries. As we’ve seen with the LIBOR and PPI scandals for example, behaving badly means fines and remedial costs which can have a big impact on bottom line performance.

In terms of the systemic importance of what we do, sustainability and its importance is really integral to everybody who works here. Hopefully that will become more of a factor now because firms are judged so heavily on their sustainability credentials these days. That can only be a good thing.

 

Image by Ken Teegardin

 

Public reasoning and the public intellectual

  , , , , , ,

📥  Brexit, Business and society, Education, Uncategorised

 

In our post-truth times, we are in need, more than ever, of public intellectuals. Sadly, we recently lost one of our own most spirited and courageous free thinkers in the business and society field, Malcolm McIntosh, a Senior Visiting Fellow at the School of Management. Malcolm passed away on 7th June 2017 after a long battle with cancer. In this extract from his forthcoming book, In Search of the Good Society, he speaks of the need for elites such as academics and other experts to reengage meaningfully with society in order to address the world's most pressing social and environmental problems. We shall greatly miss not having Malcolm with us on that journey, but his words shall remain a touchstone. 

We have challenges that must be considered carefully and tackled with quiet and earnest intent: reforming the global financial system to bring it back within our control; developing economies that nurture, rather that destroy our natural capital; managing the development of biotechnology such that it provides solutions, and does not create problems; keeping control of AI, such that, as with the development of writing and printing, we know where we are going and have some control; and, turning our media tech companies into responsible publishers so that they are subject to the sort of social controls that govern our print media and daily libel and slander laws. If democracy is to work, and be more of a viable option for the 50% who don’t currently have it, it must be based on what Edmund Burke, and more recently Amartya Sen, call ‘public reasoning’. Burke said that ‘the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’ - and in this time fake news and ‘alternative facts’.

This requires the empowerment of what Pierre Bourdieu, and more recently Edward Said, call ‘the public intellectual’ who through clear public engagement restore the role of the expert and dispel the propagandists that populated the Nazi regime and drive the Trump administration and the Brexiteers. Those who voted nihilistically against those they thought to be the elite, who were the elite, must be engaged so that they can see the wholeness of society, both locally and globally, or we are doomed. Rather than coasting on our laurels we must reengage with everyone, everywhere. We must win the argument with reason.

This ‘high-opportunity, high-risk’ society is open to everyone, but also only those who have access to education and free information. As Antony Giddens says: ‘knowledge and innovation always cut both ways’. The future does not lie with nativism or isolationism. Indeed such moves defy the tide of history, the interdependent nature of all our lives, what we now know about the science of the planet, and what Karl Jung called our collective unconscious which holds the soul of humanity. At the heart of the good society should be an understanding of what Jung called instinct, for these aspects are central to what it means to be human: hunger, sexuality, activity, reflection, and creativity. And I count both art and science as forms of creativity.

Globalisation, like trade and capitalism its bedfellows, is not dead, it just needs reforming. This is not a binary, it has to be nuanced. A balance must be found on a global basis to forge what Sen calls a ‘democratic global state’ through public reasoning. The forces of financialisation, social media and consumption are out of control and have formed a model of AI such that we are beholden to their algorithmic vicissitudes. As Angus Deaton, 2016 Nobel prize winning economist, has said: ‘I don’t think globalisation is anywhere near the threat that robots are . . . globalisation for me seems to be not first-order harm and I find it very hard not to think about the billion people who have been pulled out of poverty as a result’. Deaton and his wife Anne Case have explained through enormously useful and detailed megadata trawling both the Brexit and the Trump votes: the ruling elites have been completely out of touch with white working class people. For instance, Deaton and Case highlighted the fact that the only demographic group to decline over the last fifteen years in America, because of ‘deaths of despair’, were white, poorly educated, working class men.

This is the same group that in the UK and the US have not only seen zero social mobility, but where the bottom 10% have gone backwards – they are poorer now than they were before. In the US they are now in the same position as the African-American population have always been. Just as it took the Babbage Report in the village of Haworth in Yorkshire a hundred years ago to highlight the appalling toll of poor sewage and the need for clean water so this may be a time for the elites, that’s you and me, to take a look at what really matters for everyone – at the top and the bottom of society. China and parts of Africa continue to pull people up over the poverty line, while the UK, the USA and India continue to oppress working people. Japan and most of Scandinavia have virtually eliminated extreme poverty, while parts of Europe, such as the UK, seem to lack empathy for those who suffer most. In the UK this group voted for Brexit, and in the USA for Trump. In both cases fear and ignorance triumphed. The answer is not xenophobia led by elitists (Trump and the Brexit leadership - Gove, Johnson and Farage – all of whom are rich with elite backgrounds). And the groups that voted for Trump and Brexit shot themselves in the foot, like turkeys voting for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

It is not too late. All the statistics prove that globally we have made good progress over the last seventy years and we will look back and see that 2016 was a moment to take a deep breath and ask what went wrong, and then move forward again. The megalomaniacs, the greedy, those lacking in empathy and many corporate interests will always try to take over, but just as meerkats and bonobos run on cooperation so the best of humanity has been when we collaborate and cooperate. We must work for a feminised future not an avaricious masculine past. The future is liberal, collective and progressive but it requires us not to walk past on the other side or hide in a dark room listening to Beethoven with our headphones on until the world blows over. Art may be the best way forward, for it is through artistic expression in different dimensions that we can see the world afresh.

 

This is an excerpt from In Search of the Good Society by Malcolm McIntosh, which will be published by Routledge on 26th October 2017.

 

Tackling child labour in the fashion industry - why the best firms have the most to lose

  , , , , ,

📥  Business and society, Consumers, Human rights, Modern slavery, Policy, Supply chains

 

New research suggests that firms with a good reputation for ethical sourcing in the fashion industry are judged more harshly than their peers when child labour is discovered in their supply chainMeggan Caddey, a final year PhD student, and Johanne Grosvold and Stephen Pavelin, all from the Centre for Business, Organisations and Society at the University of Bath, explain their findings.

Child labour remains a major societal challenge. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that 168 million children are involved in child labour today, which the United Nations (UN) defines as “work for which the child is either too young – work done below the required minimum age – or work which, because of its detrimental nature or conditions, is altogether considered unacceptable for children and is prohibited”. Many of these children work in the garment and fashion apparel industry.

The drive for child labour

According to the organisation Stop Child Labour, fast fashion has resulted in high demand for children who are willing to work for very low pay and in dangerous conditions. Some have suggested that their employment is tantamount to modern day slavery. Some of our best known high street brands including Adidas, H&M and Nike have relied on manufacturers who have subsequently been exposed as using children to work in unsafe conditions.

Increasingly, global firms are recognising that failure to address the challenge of child labour can seriously impact on their corporate reputation. However fashion supply chains are complex, relying on numerous suppliers, sub suppliers and manufacturers. According to H&M’s Head of Sustainability Helena Helmersson, these supply chain networks are so complex that “it is impossible to be in full control”.

Corporate responsibility and corporate reputation

Prior research indicates that, by going above and beyond the basic requirements for fulfilling their corporate social responsibilities, proactive firms can engender goodwill that acts as an insurance against potential damage to their reputation.  The theory goes that if news of wrongdoing emerges from the supply chain of such a proactive firm, its reputation will suffer less because people will give it the benefit of the doubt - 'surely, this good firm must not be to blame'. Other firms that have no such record of exemplary behaviour would be more readily blamed and, as a result, their reputations would suffer more. According to this theory, H&M would suffer less of a reputational impact if child labour was uncovered in its supply chain, as it is now working strategically to become the most ethical fashion chain on the high street. We set out to test this theory in relation to supply chains in the apparel industry.

Research findings

Our study used an experimental vignette method. This involved presenting study participants with carefully constructed, lifelike scenarios, to evaluate their attitudes, opinions and views of a firm’s actions regarding child labour in the fashion supply chain. Over 800 participants took part in our study, and our initial results are surprising. We found that a firm that had taken steps to address child labour and unsafe working conditions in its supply chain enjoyed a better reputation than a firm that had not. However, when something went wrong, people judged these firms more harshly than they did the firms that had previously behaved less responsibly. So, while firms that are more socially responsible tend to benefit from an improved reputation, such goodwill is accompanied by greater reputational risks - specifically, such a firm experiences greater harm to its reputation if unsafe labour practices are subsequently discovered in its supply chain.

Our findings imply that it is in firms’ interests to address unsafe practices in their supply chains, as doing so results in a better corporate reputation. However, our results also suggest that steps taken to stamp out child labour and poor working conditions tend to strengthen the imperative for a firm to maintain a consistent commitment to responsible sourcing. If they don’t, they risk particularly stringent reputational punishment. In effect, this can create something of a virtuous cycle, which gives momentum to firm's steps towards stamping out child labour and unsafe working conditions. Careful reputation management implies that firms setting high standards must continue to live up to them.

The business case for doing good

There is an increased policy emphasis from both governments and NGOs to reduce the use of child labour and unsafe working conditions in the supply chain. There is also evidence that firms are increasingly taking the problem of child labour seriously, with some estimates suggesting that reliance on child labour was reduced by 30% from 2002-2012. As our research shows, tackling this issue can bring benefits for both children and firms.

We provide distinctive new evidence that guides us towards a more detailed understanding of the business case for being good and doing good. By illustrating the reputational benefits of sustainable supply chain practices, our research findings can help motivate firms not already on board, and inspire those who have already taken action to sustain and expand their efforts. This may in turn encourage them to sign up to independent initiatives such as  GoodWeave, which awards companies the right to carry the GoodWeave label if they can show that no child labour or bonded labour was used in the production of their goods. With 11% of the world’s children still sacrificing school in order to work, this is no time for business to be complacent.

Image by Zoriah

 

 

Going the extra mile at work - good for your career, bad for your mental health

  , , , ,

📥  Business and society, Employers

 

"Going the extra mile" at work - helping colleagues, going beyond the confines of a narrow job description, taking on extra responsibilities - can help people feel more engaged with their work, improve job satisfaction and increase promotion prospects. But as Bruce Rayton explains, this doesn't come without a cost.  

Mental health is becoming a hot topic. Boosted by a high profile awareness campaign fronted by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry,  recent months have seen public figures from the worlds of music and sport as well as Prince Harry himself speak out about the challenges they’ve faced.

Businesses too have joined the conversation, and it makes sense for them to do so. After all, paid work is the primary activity for many people during their waking hours, and the costs associated with employees’ mental health problems are significant.

The UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence estimated the cost of impaired work efficiency associated with mental health problems at £15.1 billion a year. This figure is almost twice the estimated annual cost of absenteeism (£8.4 billion). These costs are associated with loss in productivity because of sickness absence, early retirement, low engagement, and increased staff turnover, recruitment and training.

 The mental health risks of being a good citizen at work

Our recent research helps us understand an important piece of this problem.  Our findings show that employees who work beyond the narrow boundaries of their job roles are at increased risk of mental health problems. We found that going the extra mile at work can lead to higher levels of emotional exhaustion and work-family conflict. We also found that these effects were most pronounced for employees who already performed well in the core elements of their jobs.

We defined ‘going the extra mile’ using well-known academic measures of organisational citizenship behaviour (OCB), with a particular focus on the dimensions of ‘altruism’ (helping colleagues) and ‘conscientiousness’ (going beyond the minimum). We were especially interested in the effects of conscientiousness and altruism because these time-consuming activities have the potential to exhaust employees emotionally and leave less time for family life.

OCB is widely regarded as being beneficial for both employers and employees. We know from earlier work that OCB improves group and organisational performance and influences managers’ decisions on an individual’s performance ratings, promotion and pay. The worker puts in extra time, or takes on extra responsibility, and as a result feels more engaged with their work and positive about their career prospects. The employer gets committed staff, with improved productivity or results. However, our work suggests that there is also a cost to be paid for these benefits. Somewhat surprisingly, these costs are disproportionately paid by those who are doing “the day job” well.

What can employers do?

Managers are prone to delegate more tasks and responsibilities to conscientious employees who are likely to try to maintain consistently high levels of output. We can see the sense in using today’s strengths to solve today’s problems. However, we think that companies should think twice before asking the same ‘good soldiers’ to take on yet more additional tasks and consider how the burden might be shared.  Even the highest performers will eventually run out of emotional energy and the consequences for their mental health will have further consequences for their employers.

We believe that much greater consideration needs to be given to the kinds of behaviours that HR practices are encouraging and how organisations might cope with the consequences. Reviews of practices in three key areas are necessary:

·         A narrow focus of reward and performance management systems on short term goals might encourage the kind of ‘sprinting’ which increases the longer term costs of OCB.

·         Education and training practices for both line managers and employees could aid recognition of situations where employees risk becoming emotionally exhausted.

·         Health and safety practices, especially those associated with mental health and emotional well-being, can help those who suffer from the problems we identified.

An opportunity to “go the extra mile” is something that many employees want employers to provide. The resulting benefits including learning opportunities, skill development and knowledge transfer, can all have a substantial impact on the bottom line for firms and on the career development of individual employees. That said, managers need to keep an eye on the bigger picture if the performance gains associated with providing these opportunities are to be sustained. The human capital developed through OCB can only create value for organisations if the employees are healthy enough to use it to good effect.

Employers should pay attention to more than the quarterly bottom line. They should make themselves aware of both the current state of and potential threats to the mental health of their employees, particularly their high performers. If nothing else, this awareness holds the prospect of helping firms avoid turning today’s solutions into the sources of tomorrow’s problems.

Image: Working late by Victoria Pickering

Trump’s first 100 days have triggered political activism among corporate America

  , , , ,

📥  Business and society, Environment, Human rights, Policy

 

President Trump has introduced a flurry of legislation in his first 100 days. Companies and their CEOs are responding by taking stands on political issues in ways rarely seen before. Andrew Crane asks whether this could end up transforming the way we think about corporate responsibility.

President Trump’s first 100 days have not been good for the planet. While the question of whether he will fulfil his campaign promise of rolling back the US’s commitment on the Paris climate deal is still to be settled, he has stuffed his cabinet with climate change sceptics. Most notably, the appointment of Scott Pruitt to head up the US Environmental Protection Agency met with a storm of criticism. This was hardly surprising given his ties with the energy industry, his denial of man-made climate change, and a long history of fighting the very agency he has been appointed to lead.

Trump and his cabinet have not been slow in rolling back environmental regulation introduced during the Obama presidency. As part of an effort to revive the coal industry, an executive order last month started unravelling Obama’s clean power plan (CPP). As the New York Times reported, the order effectively ceded the US’s leadership in addressing climate change and turned “denials of climate change into national policy”.

While such developments were hardly unexpected, what has been interesting has been the corporate response. Last November, nearly 400 US companies including Nike, Levis Strauss and Starbucks demanded that he leave in place low-emissions policies. In the wake of the CPP announcements in March many companies again took a public stand against the policy reversal. For example, Mars Inc. expressed disappointment at the policy change while tech companies including Apple, Amazon and Microsoft signed a joint statement supporting the CPP.

It is rare to hear companies, and US companies in particular, arguing to keep regulation. They are also usually unwilling to take explicit political stands in the public eye, preferring to use lobbying and more covert forms of political influence to sway governments to act in their interests. But the corporate response to the climate rollback seems to be part of a broader change of heart among senior executives to take public positions against what they see as undesirable policy shifts.

This change was first noticeable following Trump’s immigration ban back in January that saw wholesale restrictions on refugees and others from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the US. As Business Insider reports, “Before the day was over, Facebook's CEO had published a post denouncing the order. By the end of the weekend, Starbucks' CEO had outlined plans to hire 10,000 refugees. And, within a week, Uber's CEO had quit Trump's economic team as thousands deleted their accounts with the ride-hailing app.”

The response by corporate America to the immigration ban was significant and widespread. Rather than the usual caution about taking a political stand on a hot button issue, companies as diverse as Coca Cola, Google, and Ford came out against the policy. The tech industry’s response gained a lot of attention, not only because high profile companies and their leaders such as Sergey Brin at Google actively spoke out against the executive order, but also because regular tech industry employees staged walkouts and protests rarely seen before in the industry. For many in tech, the Atlantic reported, this was the first time they had taken part in political activism in their lives.

 

company-reaction-immigration-ban

 

So what does all this mean? There are a number of ways of looking at this, but the big change for me is that US companies are starting to acknowledge a meaningful role for themselves as explicit political actors. In the past, few company executives would ever admit that their actions were in any way political. “We don’t do politics” was the mantra, despite the billions of dollars spent on lobbying and trying to buy influence in Washington. However, as companies have more openly started addressing issues traditionally thought of as government responsibilities – protecting human rights, providing public goods, enforcing social and environmental standards, and the like – the cloak has gradually slipped.

Scholars of corporate responsibility such as myself have been analysing these developments over the past couple of decades, labelling these new corporate behaviours variously as “corporate citizenship”, “political CSR”, or “private governance”. So the response by corporate America to Trump’s first 100 days is not so much a sudden change in their core corporate responsibility behaviours, more a new found willingness to start acknowledging what has been increasingly apparent all along: corporations do indeed play an explicitly political role.

Acknowledging something is the first step to dealing with it. And the role of business in politics is something that we certainly do need to address as a matter of urgency. Most business leaders may not be completely comfortable yet with admitting their political role, but many do want to start thinking more seriously about their impact on the world, as Mark Zuckerberg’s recent 6,000 word manifesto exemplifies. Further radical announcements from the Trump administration are likely to incite yet more corporate political activism. So while we may not be able to thank President Trump for his impact on the planet, he may yet be responsible for a breakthrough moment in companies’ understandings of their changing role in society.

Header image by Ted Eytan

 

Business students need a new perspective not a new framework

  , ,

📥  Business and society, Education

 

Two current students on the University of Bath’s MSc in Sustainability and Management, Sanum Jain and Elliot Johnston, discuss the impact that business ethics and sustainability modules have had on their business education. They pose the question: can we talk about business ethics being as important as business economics as part of a management degree?

Management students have the opportunity to sit an array of compulsory and elective courses during their time at business school. As sustainability students, the business ethics module was a mandatory requirement for us, whilst few traditional management students saw this course as an attractive elective. However, it soon became apparent that this course would shape the way we navigate business in a way we think is important for every management student, regardless of specialism.

We became well-versed in the theories of business ethics and came to understand how sustainability needs to be considered as integral to strategy rather than a side-lined marketing tool. Furthermore, we were exposed to the factors that could affect our ethical decision making as agents within a company. Now we field questions about profit making in the face of sustainability limitations, as if we are living in a world where ethical decision making and profit making are mutually exclusive. Our peers in other classes may often label us ‘idealists’ for voicing a perspective we have gained through business ethics. We can't help but wonder if this would be the case if business ethics was compulsory across the School.

Within the first week of studying at Bath, we were introduced to a variety of frameworks upon which we were to base our understanding of business. Most notably, in business economics, we were introduced to Michael Porter’s Five Forces Framework and his Theory of Competitive Advantage. The theory of competitive advantage teaches students about low cost strategies and product differentiation strategies to maintain a focus on profit maximisation, with the end goal of achieving a larger market share. This theory provided the backbone of business strategy from which many other concepts have branched. But not for us.

Our module in business ethics introduced us to a deeper perspective, challenged us to ask more existential questions about business and to understand the ‘why and the how’ behind profit. However, this was not a prescriptive course. We weren’t provided with a specific framework to follow. We engaged in case studies that explored the actions of individuals just like us who had behaved unethically for the benefit of their employer. We delved into the problems created by globalisation, analysed the responsibilities of corporations in the modern world, and looked at the theories we might use to understand how complex ethical problems can be approached in a business environment.

We didn’t just gain a perspective through which to view the business world. Business ethics added a dynamic to the content we were introduced to in our other courses. We were encouraged to question our own values and the way we might view decision making in other realms such as marketing and operations. Furthermore, it led us to understand who we are personally, in relation to the corporations who may hire us in the future.

As sustainability students, we are not alone in our way of thinking. Indeed, Michael Porter himself is now an advocate for sustainable development created through business. In his recent TED talk, he called for commercial organisations to address social issues with alternative business models in order to create “shared value”. At the same time, he called competitive advantage seeking differentiation factors “trivial” in the face of greater challenges.

“Shared value is capitalism, but it's a higher kind of capitalism”, Porter said. “It's capitalism as it was ultimately meant to be, meeting important needs, not incrementally competing for trivial differences in product attributes and market share. Shared value is when we can create social value and economic value simultaneously.”

This isn’t a debate as to which framework should be taught in lieu of another. Michael Porter’s business theories are undoubtedly imperative to a management student’s education. However, even Porter recognises the need to change the perspective from which we learn and operate. Knowing what we know, it is the responsibility of business schools to ensure that the next generation of the workforce are equipped to tackle the ethical challenges they might face. We know from research conducted in our own School that this is starting to happen, but more could be done. Conventional management frameworks should be taught through the perspective of business ethics in order to create managers of the future who can successfully contribute to a sustainable world.

Image: businessmen by David Drexler

Are future managers learning enough about sustainability?

📥  Business and society, Education

 

While many business schools claim to be incorporating concepts of sustainability and responsibility within their teaching programmes, they are not always effective in doing so.  In an era where failing to walk the talk carries reputational risks, Annie Snelson-Powell asks what determines whether or not business schools make good on their promises to deliver responsible management education?

A question increasingly asked by society and scholars alike is whether business schools are really doing enough to prepare future managers for the social and environmental challenges facing society today.  Are they merely trumpeting empty rhetoric that seemingly supports these ideas, but delivering little in the way of change?  It is a long-held concern that business schools are failing in delivering on their responsibilities in this regard.  New challenges to business school legitimacy ensue with each corporate scandal, not least following the most recent financial crisis where critics suggested that self-serving, business school-educated managers put profits and self-interest ahead of longer-term responsibilities to their employees, stakeholders and the global economy.

Business schools have not ignored these concerns. They have in ever-increasing numbers pledged to address sustainability and social responsibility by committing to delivering responsible management education.  As illustrated by the growing list of signatories to the UN’s Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME), hundreds of business schools publicly commit to this agenda. Management education, as envisioned by PRME, should be designed to equip future managers to do the right thing when they enter the world of business.  Alongside the traditional corporate objectives, they should be ready to navigate matters of inclusion, sustainability and social responsibility.

However alongside this evident progress come questions over the genuineness of these public claims, given the complexity the associated change implies.  Integrating sustainability and responsibility as core concepts in business schools involves reconciling an underlying tension. To engage with sustainability means thinking of corporate strategy in a way that balances financial concerns with social and environmental issues and impacts: an agenda seemingly at odds with the traditional theories taught in business schools which have historically promoted a profits-first ideology.

This setting provides the context for our research which sought to establish what happens next once commitments like PRME are made.  We tried to identify those features of business schools which are significant in determining whether these promises end up in meaningful activity, or remain the kind of window-dressing that stakeholders are increasingly suspicious of.

We focused on UK business schools and carried out interviews with 68 Deans as well as studying data on rankings and financial performance.  The analysis  revealed that while the presence of sustainability/CSR expertise within the faculty was important, business schools do not require substantial financial resources if they are to make good on their commitment to incorporate sustainability into their teaching in a meaningful way.  Since earlier work suggests that financial resources are a barrier, this is an intriguing and encouraging finding. It suggests business schools across the spectrum of financial means have the ability to meaningfully engage with sustainability through their teaching.

The study also looked at business school prestige and revealed a link between the more prestigious schools and successful implementation.  Since the link was not due to financial resources, it may instead suggest that the enhanced expectation and scrutiny bestowed on those with high prestige creates an impetus to walk the talk.  The implication of these findings provides grounds for hope, since the actions of the prestigious serve as an example to other business schools about how to behave. If prestigious business schools readily engage with sustainability, others may follow.

These findings are important for all business schools wishing to avoid the potential reputational risks associated with claims that do not tally with a fulsome engagement in practice. The insight that it is the expertise of faculty that is critical to efforts to implement sustainability, as opposed to substantial financial resources, means that all business schools are capable of mitigating these risks. This could be by considering how they prioritise specialist sustainability/CSR skills in their recruitment strategies or by developing more of this expertise in-house amongst existing faculty.

An Economist article featuring this research argued that the view of business school graduates as Gordon Gekkos is outdated.  Certainly our findings support a more optimistic view of business schools, which are in many instances making progress in walking the talk on their sustainability commitments and approaching the agenda in a genuine way.  Despite these initial advances, few schools are all the way there: sustainability and responsibility in management education is a continuing challenge, and much work remains to be done.  However our research should serve as encouragement that by seeking to introduce sustainability into the skill-base of business school faculty, schools will be moving in the right direction and playing their part in the solution rather than the problem.

The findings of the study will also be presented at a University of Bath School of Management conference later this month organised to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the University of Bath: ‘The contribution of business schools to inclusive development in Africa and Europe’.

Image by Nic Delves-Broughton

 

Getting women onto the board – why some countries fare better than others

  ,

📥  Business and society, Gender equality, Policy

 

The world over, there are more men than women in corporate boardrooms. This means that business is missing out on the talent and skills of a hugely important group that could make business more competitive. Here, Dr Johanne Grosvold and Dr Bruce Rayton discuss research which shows how four key institutions - family, education, economy, and government - either facilitate or hinder women’s rise to the boardroom.

Following the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, Christine Lagarde of the World Bank questioned whether the bank would have collapsed had it been the Lehman Sisters, rather than the Lehman Brothers. She suggested that insufficient gender diversity in the upper echelons of financial institutions was partly to blame for the financial crisis and corporate collapses.

The continued under-representation of women in corporate boardrooms across the world remains a thorn in the side of big business and politicians alike. Increasingly though, governments and businesses are beginning to consider what can be done to redress the balance. Some countries such as France and Sweden are leading the way with up to 41% of women on the board, while others such as Greece and Malta lag behind with rates of only around 5-10%.

Given such cross-national variation, we set out to understand why it persists and to identify what could be done better to make gender diversity in the boardroom a reality. Taking a sample of 23 countries, including most of Western Europe, the USA, Asia and Latin America, we analysed the role of education, family, religion, economy and the role of the government in influencing board diversity. Our results were both surprising and encouraging.

Out of the five institutions we analysed, four were statistically significant in helping to explain why women do or don’t make it to the boardroom. Family, education, economy and the government all played a role while religion was the only factor that had no apparent effect.

Education - in countries where women and men enjoy similar levels of enrolment in higher education, women are better represented in the boardroom.

Family - in countries where there are fewer incidents of divorce, there are fewer women on the board. In other words, we found that an unintended outcome of higher rates of the divorce over the last few years has been greater labour force engagement and executive ambitions amongst women.

Economy - where women make up a smaller proportion of the managerial labour force, there are fewer women on the board.

Government - in countries where governments back their welfare legislation and family friendly policies with money and, for example, subsidise childcare, women are better represented in the boardroom. Passing legislation and instigating initiatives designed to encourage women to balance family and working life only give the desired results if there is adequate funding to make these initiatives meaningful and effective.

We believe these results may be good news for business and women alike. Increasingly more women than men are pursuing higher education, which means they are giving themselves the best starting point for climbing the corporate ladder. It is important, though, that governments consider the potential effects of their broader policies on women and families, to ensure that these help rather than hinder women to capitalise on the benefits of higher education.

In many countries, women retain the role of primary carer. Governments are, however, increasingly attuned to the need for providing better funded welfare provisions such as subsidised childcare to ensure that women are able to contribute fully to society and economy. This suggests that going forward, business is likely to reap the rewards of even more and better talent. To maximise these benefits, business could play a more active role in complementing government action, for example by including subsidised childcare in remuneration packages in countries where such provisions are not routinely provided by the state.

Welfare provisions of this kind have typically been associated with liberal or social democracies. But the growing acknowledgement of the business case for supporting women's career progression means that governments and employers in all countries should do more to encourage gender balance in the boardroom.

Is this the beginning of the end for Fairtrade?

  , , ,

📥  Business and society, Supply chains

iain-daviesAfter decades of fast growth, a reversal in the fortunes of Fairtrade is apparent. This is particularly so for the Alternative Trading Organisations (ATOs) that spearheaded the movement, but which have become its first casualties. Dr Iain Davies asks what the future holds for Fairtrade.  

I remember cold, wet February mornings standing outside supermarkets and handing out free cups of coffee in an attempt to get the supermarket to stock Fairtrade products from ATOs. I remember walking into classrooms to eager faces waiting to hear how we can change the world through trade. It is now 20 years since those first Fairtrade Fortnights, and this week it is rolling around again with the brash claim that “the Fairtrade movement is made up of ordinary people doing extraordinary things in their communities”. The energy and vigour of this early social movement has however noticeably waned in recent years. This year, it is not just the British weather which is casting a dark shadow over proceedings. The question is being asked – is Fairtrade finished?

Fairtrade’s growth for much of those 20 years was meteoric. The Fairtrade mark not only became almost universally recognised, but inadvertently paved the way for the sustainability certifications that proliferate across fast moving consumables today. The UK led the way in the mass-marketization of Fairtrade, and still represents over 25% of all Fairtrade sales globally. But the future outlook has taken a noticeable turn for the worse.

Fairtrade-dave-crosby

Fairtrade by Dave Crosby

Fairtrade sales in the UK fell for the first time in 2015/16 by 5%. There is one growth area: bananas, a market dominated by one global supplier, Fyffes. Banana sales volumes are equivalent to that of cane sugar, coffee, cocoa, tea and cotton combined - all of which have seen volumes stagnate since 2011. Banana producers also benefit far more from Fairtrade membership, while smallholder-dominated categories like coffee and tea need to rely on other certification marks like Organic or Utz Certified to improve income.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Fairtrade benefits to producers (data from Fairtrade.net 2015 Monitoring and Impact report)

In the shops, growth has been in supermarket own-label products, often produced with reduced standards and limited producer support and development. The casualties are the pioneering ATOs, such as Traidcraft, Cafédirect, Divine and Liberation, who operate to much higher levels of producer support and development, but due to price competition and reduced shelf space, have seen like-for-like sales slump in the last five years. There have also been notable failures as new Fairtrade product categories such as gold, rice and quinoa have struggled to gain traction.

To further compound the issue, one of the biggest Fairtrade brands, Cadbury, has announced its intention to withdraw from the independent certification system in 2017, following others such as Starbucks into predominantly self-verified ethical certification. McDonald's and John Lewis Café have jumped to simpler verification systems such as Rainforest Alliance. 2017 certainly does not look rosy for Fairtrade.

There is also the issue of the consumer. Still largely unable to differentiate Fairtrade from other certification systems, our research suggests that frequent Fairtrade consumption is motivated by habit, self-gratification and peer influence, not a deep affinity with Fairtrade or its producers. These consumers are unlikely to switch brands purely because of a change in certification system.

So is the end of Fairtrade nigh? The idealistic social movement I joined, which believed it could subvert the market system, died some years ago. The Fairtrade which works within the existing market system to highlight issues of social injustice, however, and provides a framework for alternative trading, has nudged many commodity companies to confront their supply chain ethics. Indeed for people of this persuasion it could be argued the job is done. The more advisory role negotiated with Cadbury could offer a future to the certification bodies as they attempt to stay relevant to a corporatized, self-accredited system of supply chain governance.

But there remains a nagging feeling in my mind that the absorption of Fairtrade ideals into mainstream rhetoric has come at a cost. Not only has there been a reduction in the number of Fairtrade standards; one voice which may be noticeably absent this Fairtrade Fortnight is that of the pioneer ATOs that spearheaded this social movement. Increasingly delisted from supermarket shelves and priced out of the market by cheaper alternatives, they are struggling to break even whilst maintaining beyond Fairtrade commitments to producers. Ultimately, with an apathetic consumer and so many rhetorically similar marketing messages, it is these farmer owned, co-operative, or social enterprise pioneers that are likely to be the first casualty of Fairtrade’s demise.

 

We need a new voice in the debate about business and society

  , , ,

📥  Business and society

veronica-hope-hailey1  andrew-crane

Veronica Hope Hailey, Dean of the School of Management, and Andrew Crane, Director of the Centre for Business, Organisations and Society

In our increasingly polarised times, there is fervent debate over whether business is a force for good or bad in our societies. We believe it is high time that university researchers took a more active role in this debate, providing much needed evidence to inform popular opinion. To do so, we need to speak in a new voice.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” So starts Dickens' novel A Tale of Two Cities, a book which describes in stark comparison the cities of Paris and London at the time of the French Revolution. Today, we too live in divided times. We are divided politically, geographically, culturally, into the skilled and unskilled, the 99% and the 1%. Is your daily working life about Sports Direct or Goldman Sachs? About desperate migration or upward economic mobility? About zero hours contracts or business class flights?

Capitalism is over - you want it

Capitalism is over - you want it, photo by Anne Roth

Your answer to these questions will also undoubtedly inform your opinion about whether globalisation is a good thing or not and about whether business is largely to blame for many of the ills of the world. It will also colour your views on whether “sustainable business” is simply a hopelessly optimistic oxymoron or a genuinely realistic prospect in the coming decades. But these are not just matters of opinion. Behind the answers to these questions lie important empirical facts that can meaningfully shape the path we take.

What is clear, however, is that in times of uncertainty, trust becomes more important. But in the aftermath of the global financial crisis and never-ending corporate and political scandals, public confidence has been profoundly destabilised. The result has been a breakdown in trust in government, business, and so-called experts more generally - and a seeming turn to a “post-truth” society where “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.

Irrespective of whether you believe we are really heading down a post-truth path, the message for those of us who might claim some degree of expert knowledge in the debate about business and society is clear. We cannot simply expect to be a trusted source of knowledge. And, to inform opinion, we need to do things differently from how we have in the past.

Most of us in the academic world are in our comfort zone when doing our research and speaking about it to our fellow scholars. A lot of our research is impenetrable to even an informed layperson. Even when it is not, our publications are usually locked behind the paywalls of academic publishers.

Too rarely do we actively bring our knowledge out to the world in a way that truly engages with non-academic audiences. And when we do, the results are sometimes catastrophic. As one recent article put it, “business schools play a significant role in reproducing the values, skills and mindset of much of what is wrong with contemporary capitalism, such as opportunism, greed, a focus on shareholder maximisation, and economic short-termism.”

Things are beginning to change. Our research suggests that the movement to embed sustainability in business school teaching and research is making progress. The Conversation is leading the way in bringing journalistic style to academic research. But in terms of accessible research specifically on business and society, we still have a long way to go. There remains a clear need for a trustworthy source of credible research to inform decisions about how business can best contribute to a sustainable society.

With the launch of the Bath Business and Society blog, we want to bring a new voice to this debate. In fact, we believe that the Bath School of Management is uniquely positioned to bring not just one new voice but a whole range of new voices. Our aim is to inform the conversation in a variety of ways through a variety of lenses. A focus on business and society is a core value of our school and nearly one third of our faculty do remarkable, world-class research addressing this theme.  Our students too, inspired and informed by our research, are impassioned, future leaders, looking to make a difference in the world.

Over the coming months, then, our faculty and students will be drawing on their unique vantage points to bring fresh insight and new knowledge to the debate about business and society. Whether it is climate change, fair trade, inequality, modern slavery, boardroom diversity, food waste, or employee wellbeing, they will have something novel, interesting, and informed to say.  And if they say it in enough different ways, maybe at least something will stick with our post-truth audience out there. Time will tell.