Monday, 19 December 2016

Filling “institutional voids”? Pharmaceutical multinationals and intellectual property regimes in rising powers

By Rory Horner, University of Manchester

Image by jk1991,
In a recent special issue of Critical Perspectives on International Business Rory Horner observes how established multinational pharmaceutical firms are seeking, with different degrees of success, to alter the intellectual property institutional environment in rising power economies. The contrasting cases of India and South Africa highlight that MNEs’ attempts to fill so-called “institutional voids” may not always fit with societal best interests.

Rising power economies are potentially major growth opportunities for multinational companies. In the pharmaceutical industry, the “pharmerging” markets include the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, China and India) countries as well as Mexico, Turkey and South Korea, are a major focus for expansion.

Established multinationals counter a different institutional environment in emerging economies. Notably, they can encounter different systems of pharmaceutical patent protection – with either shorter duration and/or narrower scope of patentability in the global South.

The rising power economies are currently a key focus of contestation around the setting of IP rules. The dramatic growth of the BRIC countries could potentially challenge the trade rules around patents, including those in pharmaceuticals, which have been mostly driven by firms and countries from the Global North.

Continued business and diplomatic pressure from the Global North has and is being placed to secure and maintain extensive and long patent protection, with rising powers subject to particular attention. This was true in the formation of the World Trade Organisation’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) Agreement, as well as recently with intense debate around proposed recent changes in India, Brazil and South Africa.

The contrasting cases of India and South Africa are explored in this new article. Although both involve MNEs seeking to influence pharmaceutical patent law, South Africa has been quite prolific in granting patents, whereas India has been less so and has long been a thorn in the side of multinationals as a result.

India – MNEs’ struggle for institutional change
India has also been at the centre of contestation around pharmaceutical patent laws. Benefiting from local technological capabilities and restrictions on MNEs, product patents were removed in 1970 and domestically-owned pharmaceutical companies grew rapidly. With the onset of economic reforms in 1991, India has since risen to become the supplier of the third largest volume of pharmaceutical products in the world. In response, multinationals consistently sought and succeeded in securing patent law change in India, and India was even seen as a key motivation for the broader US efforts in relation to patents in the trade negotiations leading to the formation of the WTO and the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) Agreement.

Even since TRIPs was agreed to in the late 1980s, multinationals have continued to seek to influence India’s pharmaceutical patent laws. India has constantly featured in the United States Trade Representative’s annual Special 301 Report, introduced in 1989 to identify trade barriers for US companies due to IP laws. India has never dipped below “Priority Watch List” level on the Special 301 Report in its 27 editions to 2015. This pressure continued after India issued its first compulsory license under TRIPs in March 2012 to Natco Pharma to produce Nexavar.

South Africa – MNEs’ efforts to maintain broad patentability
South Africa is a contrasting case to India, with a much wider degree of patentability. With patent legislation in place as early as 1916 and the current statute since 1978, a later Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Act was passed in 1997 (subsequently amended in 2002 and 2005) to make South Africa TRIPs-compliant. MNEs have engaged in significant efforts to maintain the relatively broad scope of patentability, notably in two quite recent controversies.

South Africa’s pharmaceutical patent laws initially came to global attention in the late 1990s with a high-profile court case over proposed reforms to the Medicines and Related Control Substances Act to allow for parallel importing and compulsory licensing. The Pharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Association (PMA) of South Africa (mainly comprised of multinational or MNE subsidiaries as members) claimed the proposed reforms were in violation of WTO TRIPs obligations and unconstitutional. The MNE campaign however was visibly challenged by civil society organisations, most notably the Treatment Action Campaign (formed in December 1998). Although the lawsuit was eventually abandoned, South Africa has continued to be quite generous in granting of patents, more than international law requires and lacking many of the flexibilities present in the WTO’s TRIPs Agreement.

Recent proposed reforms to South Africa’s laws, in the form of a Draft National Policy on Intellectual Property put forward by the South African Department of Trade and Industry in 2013, have also attracted considerable controversy. Providing for higher standards for patentability, as well as possibilities of pre-grant opposition, the draft policy has attracted concern from international business groups and pharmaceutical MNEs. For example, the proposal was noted in the US Chamber of Commerce’s (GIPC) submission (7 February 2014, USTR– 2013-0040) to USTR’s 2014 Special 301 Report. A campaign coordinated by a firm Public Affairs Engagement, funded by PhRMA and the Pharmaceutical Association of South Africa (IPASA), to derail the reforms, attracted widespread condemnation. This campaign of MNEs attracted criticism from the Director General of the World Health Organisation, from Médicines Sans Frontières and from the South African Health Minister.

Beyond the “institutional void”
Rising powers cannot be accurately characterised as “institutional voids” which MNEs should fill for societal benefit, as some business strategy literature would suggest. Instead, in emerging economies, MNEs encounter a plethora of institutions that may be suited to serving local societal interests, such as the growth of emerging economy firms and serving health interests. Ultimately, rising powers may not be expected to inevitably converge towards or emulate those institutional environments practised in the Global North, but instead are likely to set their own agendas in accordance with their increasingly heterogeneous interests.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

The power of the sewing machine: A masterclass in building alliances for workers’ rights and sustainability in global production networks

By Aarti Krishnan and Corinna Braun-Munzinger

The ESRC project on ‘Rising Powers, Labour Standards and the Governance of Global Production Networks’ and Global Production Networks, Trade and Labour research group at the Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, on 14 October 2016 hosted a talk by Karamat Ali, executive director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education & Research (PILER).

“In life there are a few things worth doing, saving lives is one of them”

Karamat Ali‘s moving words were imprinted in the minds of everyone seated in the room. Based on 40 years of experience as a labour and development activist in Pakistan, Karamat Ali gave his audience in Manchester a masterclass in building alliances for workers’ rights and sustainability in global production networks. The talk focused on Pakistan Institute of Labour Education & Research (PILER) campaign work for compensation for 254 workers families who died and 55 who were injured in the aftermath of one of Pakistan’s most devastating factory fires, at Ali Enterprises in Karachi in September 2012.

Ali enterprises supplied jeans to German clothing retailer KIK. At the outset, it seemed hard to imagine that it would be realistic to achieve compensation for workers and their families. Would it be possible to hold those responsible locally to account? And was there any way of reaching KIK’s headquarters far away in Germany? Karamat Ali took us all through this emotive and arduous journey of how after four years of struggle, workers’ voices resonated across the country and beyond.

At the start, PILER began to mobilize locally. This was not easy, because unionisation in the apparel industry was low and thus strikes were not an option to make workers’ demands heard. To get around this problem, PILER decided to look for an alternative way to create public awareness about the loss of lives and injuries of workers sustained in the fire. PILER along with family members of the victims teamed up with a famous Pakistani singer (Jawad Ahmad) to create an evocative you tube video that asked workers to unite.

The video was aired by local TV stations and garnered widespread local attention in support for workers’ demands. Parallel to the public campaign, PILER relentlessly pushed for judicial action in Pakistan by calling for a detailed inquiry in court into the causes of the deaths of the workers and to press criminal charges on those responsible for the incident.

PILER also built international alliances to initiate a dialogue with KIK and stakeholders in Germany (where the jeans produced by Ali Enterprises were sold). To start reaching out beyond Pakistan, PILER drew on earlier contacts from the European Clean Clothes Campaign. Building on this cooperation, a range of additional NGOs and trade unions in Germany became active on the issue. Initial success was achieved in December 2012, when KIK signed an agreement with PILER to pay an initial US$1 million into a relief fund for victims and agreed to providing long-term compensation. However, reaching agreement on how this compensation should look like took further scaling up of the initiative, not only involving global unions like IndustriALL, but also the German government (which had just launched a new initiative on sustainable textiles) and the ILO. Thus successful partnerships with the German government, global partners, and effective local mobilisation (including national legal procedures), resulted in the disbursement of not only US$ 1 million but a new negotiated amount of US $5 million by KIK in 2016. Against all odds, PILER provided a platform for workers’ voices, in Pakistan, creating ripple effects from Berlin, to the ILO, to the headquarters of KIK, which 4 years ago seemed unreachable.

Karamat Ali’s talk speaks of hope, of victory in the face of adversity and to never give up fighting for what is right. Heroes really do exist and we were lucky enough to meet one. He showed us that there is a need to build ‘real alliances’ , – alliances in which those who buy the clothes take responsibility for how they are produced and for those who sit at the sewing machines. This stands testament that improving working conditions of workers leads to sustainable, resilient and conflict-free production networks... something every major retailer needs to hear!

Thursday, 24 November 2016

How does India engage with sustainability standards?

By Natalie Langford, PhD researcher at the Global Development Institute, University of Manchester 

In November, the Rising Powers and Global Labour Standards team will be travelling to India in order to jointly host a conference alongside Centre for Responsible Business (CRB), a prominent NGO based in New Delhi. ‘India and Sustainability Standards: International Dialogues & Conference’ (ISS 2016) takes place from the 16-19th November. It presents an exciting opportunity for us to disseminate our research and engage to a broad audience of stakeholders involved in the sustainability field in Asia.

The broader theme of the ISS conference is the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how the corporate sector can contribute towards achieving these ambitious goals. There is a broad consensus that governments alone will not be able to meet these goals. However, our research demonstrates there are key roles that government departments and agencies need to play to ensure that businesses can operate efficiently while contributing towards sustainable development.

Our project, led by Professor Khalid Nadvi at the Global Development Institute has been concerned with how global labour standards affect production processes, and the ways in which various actors have engaged with the shaping of such standards. Our research has important implications for how effective labour standards can foster responsible business practices.

Whilst privately governed ethical standards (such as Rainforest Alliance or Forestry Stewardship Council) have become a key feature of global value chains in which goods and services are sold in Northern markets, there is a growing interest in the ways in which standards may emerge in global value chains across the Global South. Given the huge growth in production and consumption in , Southern markets, it is especially important to understand the extent to which actors in the Global South are also shaping labour standards for local markets.

India is one of the three Rising Powers (alongside Brazil and China) in which the project has conducted extensive qualitative and quantitative research, in order to examine this phenomenon. Given that states, firms and civil society organisations are all recognised actors engaged in standard setting, the core research questions of the project focused upon the ways in which these different sets of actors had been exposed to global labour standards, their perspectives and experiences, and the ways in which they seek to shape (or not) labour standards for markets in the Global South.

As a PhD student on this project, I have been lucky enough to gain a great deal of insight into the ways in which Brazil, China and India have engaged with the standards agenda through my interactions with the senior academics attached to the project. Professor Nadvi has assembled a truly global team of academic experts; from local colleagues at Alliance Manchester Business School through to Professors based in India, China and Brazil who have all contributed their knowledge and experience to the project.

My own research has focused on India in particular, and the conference is an opportunity for me to present my findings on Trustea, a new standard for the Indian tea industry which is specifically focused on the domestic market. I explore the role of both global and national actors within the development of the standard, and how the interactions between state, civil society and lead firms within Trustea has contributed to new forms of governance of social conditions within the Indian tea industry.

We’ll also be presenting our research related to Indian lead firms, civil society organisations and the state in relation to global sustainability standards. Professor Rudolf Sinkovics from Alliance Manchester Business School as well as Professor Peter Knorringa from the Institute for Social Studies (ISS), based in The Hague, Netherlands will all be discussing their latest findings as contributors to the Rising Powers project. The conference has been organised by Dr Bimal Arora, Chairperson for Centre for Responsible Business.

This blog post was originally published on 14 October 2016 on the development@manchester blog.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Call for papers: Workshop on ‘Rising Powers and Labour Standards in Global Production Networks’, 19-20 June 2017, Manchester

The ‘Rising Powers’, especially China, India and Brazil, have now become key players in the global economy. Yet, we still know too little about how these economies are engaging with and potentially shaping, the rules that govern international trade and global production, in particular global labour and social standards. For producers around the world, meeting international standards on social and environmental sustainability is increasingly critical. We are now more aware about the food we eat and how it came to our plates, or whether what we wear implied sweatshop labour. Nonetheless, gains from social compliance – especially for workers and poor producers – remain unclear. Expanding trade between the Rising Power economies, their growing domestic consumer markets and the emergence of leading firms from China, India and Brazil raise questions on how global standards will be shaped in the future, who the key drivers will be, and what implications arise for workers in both these emerging economies and throughout the global economy.

This workshop will present findings from work undertaken in Brazil, China, India and the EU, as part of an ESRC funded project on labour standards and the governance of global production networks. It also aims to bring together a wider community of academics and practitioners working on labour and sustainability standards in the global economy, but with a particular interest on the ‘Rising Powers’ and how they might sustain, challenge, or change the global discourse on labour and sustainability standards. Hence, we particularly invite proposals for papers around the following themes:
  • The emergence of rising power MNCs, their engagement with CSR and social standards, and the implications for global labour and social standards in global value chains
  • The role of innovation, CSR, and human rights in global value chains
  • The engagement of civil society actors in the rising powers with local and/or global CSR initiatives and social standards
  • Public labour regulation in Brazil, China and India and the engagement of these countries in the international institutions where trade rules on labour and social standards are defined
  • The implications of the rise of Brazil, China and India for labour and social standards in OECD and developing economies

  • Full paper submission: 12 May 2017 (max. 8,000 words excl. abstract, notes, references etc.) Papers will be circulated to discussants prior to the workshop.
Accommodation costs in Manchester will be covered for authors of accepted papers.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Giving workers employment rights increases productivity and profitability

By Boni Sones, University of Cambridge
Image by Stuart Miles.

We live in a globalised world and buy products produced by workers’ from all over the World. Increasingly consumers are demanding that those who produce our goods are employed on decent terms and conditions whether they work in Europe, Africa, India, Russia, China or South America. Sweatshop labour used in one continent is often named and shamed in another and these reputational effects can affect demand for goods. But as consumers ask for more fairtrade goods from the developing world, workers in the so called global North are finding that their employment is more insecure, as greater numbers are employed on zero hour contracts, while all workers are finding it harder to access employment tribunals to enforce their employment rights.

The Centre for Business Research at the University of Cambridge has turned conventional wisdom on its head, and through a series of quantitative research projects over a number of recent years, has constructed a new database that reveals how improvements in labour rights can lead to increased productivity and employment as well as greater equality in society. These datasets are now online for others to access and use.

International organisations are taking note of these findings and national governments would do well to consider them. Globalisation, rather than inducing a so called ‘race to the bottom’ as many commentators predicted, is making governments more aware of the need for improved protections for workers, and of the importance of enforcement. Better informed and discerning consumers who are switched on to the web and social media where they can check the sourcing of the products they buy, along with campaigning civil society groups and NGOs, are helping to enforce these values.

The statistical studies carried out by the CBR complement qualitative research carried out by the Global Development Institute at The University of Manchester.

In a recent CBR workshop held in Cambridge in September 2016 researchers from both Universities discussed the findings from ESRC-funded research on labour law reforms, labour standards and corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices in Rising Powers, including China, India, South Africa and Brazil.

Many commentators have doubted that worker-protective labour laws can be made effective in developing countries with high levels of informal work and weak states. This has led to interest in alternative modes of regulation including codes of practice and consumer boycotts focused on global supply chains. But this focus neglects important changes on the ground in low- and middle-income countries in Africa and Asia which over the past decade have been implementing systematic reforms to their labour laws and codes, sometimes after much publicised strikes.

Admittedly the aims of these reforms are diverse: they include promoting industrial peace, encouraging employers to invest in training, and cushioning the effects of labour migration. Often these interventions have had the effect of encouraging formalisation of work and building state capacity. They have also operated in conjunction with, rather than in opposition to, voluntary measures and soft-law initiatives aimed at improving labour governance in value chains.

Encouragingly, while there are still many difficulties associated with the operation of labour standards in emerging markets, empirical work is revealing a more complex and differentiated picture than that frequently presented. There is good reason to be optimistic about these trends.

The two day workshop presented findings of two main types:
  • Results from quantitative research analysing a unique dataset of labour laws around the world, constructed at the CBR in Cambridge. 
  • Research from fieldwork conducted in case study countries, including China, Brazil, India, and South Africa, by teams based respectively at the Universities of Cambridge (Simon Deakin and colleagues) and Manchester (Khalid Nadvi and colleagues). 
The research undertaken by the Cambridge team deploys a unique dataset, the CBR Labour Regulation Index, which codes for labour laws in 117 countries over the period 1970 to 2013 (43 years). It is the first time that the laws of so many countries have been coded in this way and the dataset will be of very considerable interest to research users and policy makers.

The fieldwork research also breaks new ground in offering in-depth analyses of the implementation of labour law reforms in such contexts as Guangdong province in China, and on the interaction of labour laws with private labour standards operating in global supply chains.

The qualitative case studies undertaken by the Manchester team explore how lead firms in the rising powers engage with labour standards and CSR practices in their now increasingly global supply chains, and investigate the influence of civil society actors as well as the state in the development of private regulatory initiatives and in framing the discourse on labour standards.

For more details:

Publications from the two projects are also available here:

Monday, 24 October 2016

How do Rising Powers Shape Global Innovation?

On 6-7 October 2016, the Manchester Institute of Innovation Research and the ESRC Rising Powers and Interdependent Futures programme hosted a thematic workshop to discuss the roles of rising powers in shaping global innovation. Our policy brief summarises the findings and practical implications that come out of different projects under the ESRC programme working on the theme of innovation.

How do Rising Powers Shape
 Global Innovation?

Overall, the research findings discussed at the workshop underline that the Rising Powers, such as China, India, and Russia, represent one of the key drivers of global economic and social change today. Notwithstanding recent short-run fluctuations in economic growth, these Rising Powers are becoming increasingly important players in global innovation. Non-Western models of innovation challenge Western approaches to research and development in some areas, but also offer opportunities for research cooperation and technology transfer.

The emergence of Rising Powers as global players in key technologies, but also the need to look more closely at the differences between them, can be seen from the findings of our project on Innovation Systems Development in China and Russia. Both China and Russia have undergone periods of market reform and developed new strategic goals for their innovation policies that show some parallels, for instance in the field of nanotechnology. Despite these similarities China appears to be more clearly on a path to becoming a world-leading country on innovation than Russia. For the UK, innovation developments in China, as well as in other Rising Powers countries, can present new collaboration opportunities although they also heighten competition for leadership and global market success in emerging and advanced technologies. 

This is also apparent from the research presented by our project at King’s College London on state strategiesof governance in global biomedical innovation in China and India. The emergence of bioinformatics, meaning tools that make biology legible with the help of computer science, is changing the way science works. This opens new opportunities for Rising Power countries to establish themselves in this new territory. Western models of innovation have dominated global research on bioinformatics, but increasing engagement of Rising Powers such as China and India in the area of bioinformatics could challenge established norms and practices of research in Western countries. Effective regulation of biomedical research in the UK needs to take into account stem cell therapy in countries such as China and India, different emerging national and international governance approaches for innovation, as well as data and incentives issues. 

Finally, looking beyond the Rising Powers’ impact on developed country innovation systems, their investment in innovation offers opportunities for South-South technology transfer and addressing key global development challenges such as climate change. Our project based at SOAS explores these dynamics in its comparativestudy of Chinese hydropower dams in Africa and Asia. Findings show that Chinese investment into low carbon energy in developing countries offers opportunities for technology transfer and mitigation of climate change. In addition, its development impact could be further enhanced by strengthening social safeguards and environmental impact assessments. Watch the video on the project's findings here:

As a collection, our projects show that the Rising Powers’ engagement in innovation has a profound impact beyond their borders, both in the UK and globally. Within the UK, policies on research and innovation need to take innovation dynamics in countries such as China, Russia, and India into account to be effective. Globally, innovation and technology transfer from the Rising Powers has the potential to address key policy challenges such as climate change, provided that social and economic side effects of South-South investment projects are dealt with effectively.

For more details, please refer to the full thematic policy brief on 'How do Rising Powers shape Global Innovation?' produced by the ESRC Rising Powers and Interdependent Futures programme. 

For a more general overview of the findings of all 12 research projects under the Rising Powers and Interdependent Futures programme, please have a look at our briefing on 'How do Rising Powers Drive Global Change?'.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Rising Powers at the DSA 2016: China and the rising powers as development actors

By Corinna Braun-Munzinger 

The Rising Powers Study Group of the Development Studies Association (DSA) and the ESRC Rising Powers and Interdependent Futures programme jointly convened a full-day panel at the DSA annual conference in Oxford on 13 September, titled “China and the rising powers as development actors: looking across, looking back, looking forward”. These issues were approached from various angles – ranging from a macro perspective on fundamental shifts in the global world order to the micro-level perceptions of individual development workers in South-South cooperation.

The discussions began from a broad perspective on how the rising powers influence development prospects globally. Rory Horner, University of Manchester, started out by tracing how the traditional distinction between developed and developing countries has become blurred as a result of the emergence of the rising powers, calling for more research on a beginning new era of more universal, global development. Albert Sanghoon Park, University of Cambridge, complemented this forward-looking perspective by taking a look back at the historical geopolitical patterns underlying the developed-developing country dichotomy since the 1940s. Seen from this angle, possible tensions between the ideals and the geopolitics of development are neither new, nor are they likely to disappear with the rising powers taking on stronger roles in shaping global development. Following from these broader thoughts, Anna Wrobel, University of Warsaw focused on trade policy as one specific aspect in which China engages in shaping the global economic order, both through the WTO and through bilateral agreements.

The main theme discussed throughout the day focused more specifically on rising powers’ engagement in South-South cooperation, in particular looking at China and Brazil. One particular strength of the panel was that it brought together diverse primary insights from interviews with individual practitioners engaged in such South-South cooperation projects that again help looking back and looking forward.

Looking back, South-South cooperation continues to be influenced by the past. Susanne Ress, Humboldt University Berlin, and Katia Taela, University of Sussex, showed how transatlantic slavery and the historically complex relations between Brazil and Mozambique still affect Brazilian development workers’ perceptions and discourses today. Juliet Lu, University of California, Berkley, discussed how China’s own development experiences shape Chinese investment in rubber in Southeast Asia.

Looking forward, new principles of international cooperation seem to be emerging with the rising powers. Looking at Brazil and Venezuela’s engagement in Caribbean countries, Bethany Tasker, UCL, found that the rhetoric around new principles of solidarity, respect for sovereignty, mutual benefit and partnership was generally believed and seen in South-South cooperation on the ground, even though frustration could emerge in instances where these principles were not met. Similarly, in Chinese cooperation with Tanzania, Xiuli Xu, China Agricultural University found a new paradigm of South-South cooperation based on mutual learning and sharing of development experiences.

However, despite these new principles of partnership, asymmetries between cooperation partners remain. Examples of these appeared in several presentations on China’s interactions with individual countries and with regional institutions on the African continent. On the one hand, Folashade Soule-Kohndou, Sciences Po Paris, discussed the challenges small African countries like Benin face in negotiations with China as a much larger partner and highlighted how and when smaller partners can nevertheless exert agency in such asymmetric relations. On the other hand, contributions from Georg Lammich, University Duisburg-Essen, and Han Cheng, Cambridge University, both highlighted a shift in China-Africa cooperation from the bilateral to the regional level, in particular through the African Union, potentially creating different types of asymmetries of country-to-continent cooperation.

Finally, another aspect that was apparent throughout several presentations is the wide diversity of actors engaged in South-South cooperation. While public discussions of South-South cooperation often paint a straightforward picture of state-to-state cooperation, a closer look shows that things are much more complex. Not only does cooperation take place between government agencies at regional, national and local levels, but also private sector and civil society are playing an active part. For example, Wei Shen’s, Institute of Development Studies, case study highlights opportunities and challenges of private Chinese investment in the South African renewable energy sector. Adding further to the complexity of actors involved, Timothy Hildebrandt, London School of Economics and Political Science, offered a conceptualisation of government organised non-government organisations (GONGOs), which are important in Chinese development cooperation but may not be unique to China.

Overall, the panel highlighted various way in which the rising powers are actively engaging in shaping the landscape of development globally. Nevertheless, presentations also cast some doubt on whether rising powers are necessarily different from established Western powers in all aspects of development cooperation. On the one hand, paradigms seem to be changing, emphasising the mutual learning and partnership aspects of international cooperation, at a time where the distinctions between developing and developed countries are increasingly becoming blurred and new institutions of South-South cooperation are emerging such as FOCAC. On the other hand, some patterns seem to persist, for example geopolitics seems to be an important driver for international engagement for rising powers and Western countries alike, and rising powers are participating in dialogue on global rules in existing fora such as the WTO. Time and further research may be able to tell to what extent the emergence of the rising powers as development actors changes the nature of development and development cooperation that we have experienced so far.

Many of these issues are discussed further in specific research projects under the ESRC Rising Powers and Interdependent Futures programme and in the framework of the DSA Rising Powers Study group.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Can Bangladeshi suppliers progress and achieve economic upgrading when promised contracts, but never given?

By Samia Hoque, Noemi Sinkovics and Rudolf Sinkovics
Image by anankkml.

In a recent article published in the European Journal of International Management, the authors explore the effects of international outsourcing without legally binding contracts on knowledge transfer and upgrading of suppliers.

This paper is written in the context of a special form of international outsourcing relationship in which suppliers in the Bangladeshi garment industry make recurrent discrete transactions with the same buyers over a long period of time without the existence of any original legally binding written agreement. In this study, we find that the suppliers firms only had access to buyers’ explicit knowledge that they needed to smoothly perform the production function such as, design instructions and published quality and labour standards. The absence of legal contract seems to have discouraged the buyers to share their core knowledge and thus reduce unintended spill-overs to a minimum level.

Nevertheless, the supplier firms had to develop relevant technological and marketing knowledge to maintain economic and other performance-oriented dimensions, which was a precursor to continue the relationship with the buyers and survive in the business. The suppliers had acquired a part of this knowledge from their firm-level experiences of managing buyers’ repetitive purchases. They had also used a range of external sources to acquire technological knowledge, such as, attending training by trade associations, hiring external consultants, recruiting experienced workers and following competitors. Social networks, personal overseas visits, existing buyers’ references, web sources and trade association meeting had been the major sources of information on new buyers. Nevertheless, with their limited resources, the suppliers could only access information-oriented or publicly available explicit knowledge, which only enabled them to improve technocratic or output-oriented dimensions of process upgrading rather than in labour/skill-oriented ones.

The paper highlights that the absence of a legally binding contract enhances the level of uncertainty in buyer-supplier relationship, which in turn limits the possibility of tacit knowledge transfer from buyers to their suppliers. This lack of access, thereof, restrains the likelihood of economic upgrading of higher level by the suppliers. This clearly reinforces the need for legal commitment from buyers’ end in order to stimulate supplier upgrading. The government of Bangladesh can play an important role in pressurising buyers to make legally enforceable contract in order to enhance the level of certainty in buyer-supplier relationship.

For the full paper, see:
Hoque, Samia Ferdous, Noemi Sinkovics, and Rudolf R. Sinkovics (2016), "Supplier strategies to compensate for knowledge asymmetries in buyer-supplier relationships: Implications for economic upgrading," European Journal of International Management, 10 (3), 254-283. (DOI: 10.1504/EJIM.2016.076292)

More details can be found on: Slideshare and Kudos

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Sharing perspectives on labour standards and labour laws in rising powers

Many in Western countries think of emerging economies such as China and India as places with weak labour standards where workers are being exploited. This ignores changes on the ground in many ‘rising powers’ countries, such as China, India, South Africa and Brazil, which have seen systematic reforms in labour laws and codes as well as an emergence of voluntary corporate social responsibility (CSR) standards over the past decade.

A workshop held in Cambridge at 5-6 September 2016 brought together researchers from two projects under the ‘Rising Powers and Interdependent Futures’ programme with practitioners and experts to discuss these trends. Stimulating discussions over the two days not only drew on diverse perspectives across academic disciplines but also allowed policy-oriented exchange between academia and practice.

To investigate the complex changes in labour regulation and CSR in the rising powers, the two projects combine very different disciplinary and methodological approaches. From a law and economics perspective, researchers on the ‘Law Development and Finance’ project at the University of Cambridge explore trends in public labour regulation based on the Centre for Business Research (CBR) Labour Regulation Index, a unique quantitative dataset that documents labour laws in 117 countries over the period 1970 to 2013. The data first of all shows that labour regulation in rising powers is becoming increasingly strict. Another finding that may be surprising for some is that stronger regulation does not necessarily lead to losses in employment and productivity, but can improve economic performance.

Coinciding with these reforms in public regulation, the project on ‘Labour Standards and Global Production Networks’ at the University of Manchester finds an emergence of voluntary standards and local norms around CSR in China, India, South Africa and Brazil. Researchers from Manchester draw on qualitative methods and case study analysis to understand how these local CSR standards interact with state regulation and with global labour standards set by international organisations and Western multinational companies. Discussions during the workshop highlighted the very different understandings of CSR across rising power countries. They also underlined the need to take into account the different ways in which CSR interacts with public regulation in these countries.

Following from the lively exchange around labour reforms, academic researchers and practitioners arrived at the question: How can we bridge the gap between academia and practice better and more often? One key lesson was that closer academia-policy interaction could result in better ‘co-production’ of research, and in ways that might have greater impact. Discussions revealed, however, some challenges around the current debate on the wider impact of academic research. For instance, often practical impact is difficult to measure for a single researcher or piece of work, but becomes clearer for an entire body of literature that changes thinking and policy-making. Another challenge is that communication channels may not be conducive to academic research informing policy, e.g. if academic papers only draw conclusions for the literature, or if media interviews are cut too short to allow a researcher to communicate a differentiated idea. Some of the ideas for moving forward were to highlight policy conclusions also in academic journals and to foster links between media and academics that have become weaker over the past years.

For more details, please refer to the publications from the two projects:

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Why do South African fruit workers feel left behind in global production networks?

By Matthew Alford
Image by Mister GC,

In a recent article in Geoforum, Matthew Alford explains how the concept of trans-scalar embeddedness helps to understand the governance deficit around working conditions in the South African fruit sector.

On face value, the South African workers who harvest fruit for UK supermarkets should be happy with their jobs: They enjoy a local minimum wage and their employers adhere to the Ethical Trading Initiative that sets out comprehensive rules to ensure good working conditions. Yet, in 2012 workers took to the streets demanding higher wages. Actions of largely unorganised casual workers on a handful of farms escalated across the whole Western Cape region. Why did this happen even though workers were apparently protected by both national and global labour regimes?

The issue of working conditions in global production arrangements led by large multinational brands has received increasing public attention over the past decades, for example in debates around sweat shops in developing countries. The literature on global production networks grasps this from an academic perspective and highlights the influence of multinational lead firms on working conditions in their supplier firms around the world. For example, commercial pressure to reduce costs can have a negative effect on wages and working conditions. Research on initiatives to improve working conditions in global production networks (GPNs) has mostly focused on codes of conduct adopted by multinationals, the roles of NGOs or on multi-stakeholder initiatives. In contrast the role of state regulation, e.g. through labour laws in producing countries, has received only little attention by GPN scholars. This is surprising given that an emerging ‘regulatory renaissance’ literature highlights a renewed role for governments in regulating labour in global production, often complementing private codes of conduct.

I argue that the concept of trans-scalar embeddedness is helpful to understand the interactions of different kinds of labour standards within global production networks and their impact on workers. In the context of global production, initiatives to improve working conditions at local, national and global scales often influence each other. This means that national labour laws in a producing country need to be seen in the context of multinationals’ sourcing practices and codes of conduct and of global standards such as the Ethical Trading Initiative or ILO standards. In addition, the role of civil society at local, national and global levels needs to be taken into account. Similarly, the effectiveness of global initiatives is likely to depend on the kind of labour regulation in place in a producing country.

The South African fruit sector illustrates how important it is to consider the ways in which sourcing practices and private standards demanded by multinational buyers interact with national labour regulation. Looking at the trans-scalar embeddedness of labour governance in the sector helps to understand why the most vulnerable workers are losing out. In order to remain competitive under commercial pressures, many South African farms producing fruit for UK supermarkets rely heavily on seasonal workers. These seasonal workers are usually paid the legal minimum wage, which should in theory ensure fair remuneration. However, many workers report that the minimum wage is set so low that they are not able to make a living. Trade unions contribute little to addressing the issue because participation in unions is generally low among farm workers due to historical reasons, with seasonal workers facing additional challenges to organise due to the unsteady nature of their work. Overall, even though a legal minimum wage is in place and is widely implemented, the most precarious seasonal workers are insufficiently protected by national labour regulation.

But what about efforts by UK supermarkets, who claim to be protecting workers’ rights in their supply chain by participating in the Ethical Trading Initiative? The ETI includes a comprehensive set of requirements around working conditions, but does not manage to address the issue of low pay for seasonal workers either. This is because ETI principles state that a supplier needs to comply with national legislation on wages and supermarkets argue that they do not have the legitimacy to interfere with how wages are set in foreign countries. As a result, neither national laws nor private standards by buyers in the global production network served to protect the most vulnerable seasonal workers who went on strike in 2012/13.

Summing up, the South African case shows that trans-scalar interactions between labour regimes are crucial to understand governance deficits in global production networks. For instance, international buyers’ efforts to ensure workers are paid according to local legislation were of little benefit for workers as long as the local minimum wage was set too low. Hence, even though farms were compliant with both the South African minimum wage and the requirements of the Ethical Trading Initiative, seasonal workers felt left behind. Beyond South Africa, such interactions between different kinds of labour regimes at local, national and global scales need to receive more attention by researchers aiming to understand the situation of workers in global production.

For further details, see:

Alford, M. (2016) Trans-scalar embeddedness and governance deficits in global production networks: Crisis in South African fruit, Geoforum, 75, October 2016, pp. 52–63. doi:10.1016/j.geoforum.2016.07.005

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Podcast: John Knight on China’s effective but flawed economic governance

Monday, 4 April 2016

Reversing the international flow of innovation: Interview with Simone Corsi

Simone Corsi, Research Fellow, Dept. of Entrepreneurship, Strategy & Innovation,
Lancaster University Management School and Programme Manager, Lancaster China Catalyst programme, was interviewed after presenting at a seminar hosted by the Manchester Institute of Innovation Research (MIOIR) on 29 February 2016. Listen to his conversation with Dr. Yanchao Li here.

Stepping aside from the International Product Life Cycle Theory (Vernon, 1966) that considered advanced economies as the only loci of innovation, scholars are now looking at the growing role of emerging economies as potential sources of global innovation. Simone Corsi draws on the concept of reverse innovation (Immelt et al, 2009; Govindarajan & Ramamurti, 2011) in its common market-based definition and expands it by adding an R&D perspective, highlighting the importance of where the innovation was ideated (R) and developed (D) as determinants for a reverse innovation. A new typology of reverse innovation is then described, identifying multiple patterns of innovation where emerging economies play an important role and framing the new concept within a global innovation setting.

Recognizing China as one of the most prominent emerging economies, the seminar at MIOIR looked at how the Chinese market can influence the innovative activities of foreign MNCs and become a source for global innovation. Four case studies of foreign MNCs and R&D activities in China were presented and analyzed. These confirm an evolutionary path of foreign R&D activities in China from an exploitative to an explorative nature, although we move away from a framework where host countries affect MNCs’ subsidiaries innovation activity based on their technological richness and diversity (Almeida & Phene, 2004; Frost, 2001) stepping into a context where Chinese subsidiaries can be considered as interpreters of local market characteristics, whose inputs configure unique innovation sources. The results show how the Chinese competitive context can trigger global innovation if stimuli are properly received at both local and corporate levels.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Chinese engagement in African agriculture is not what it seems

Ian Scoones, University of Sussex

In December 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping flew into South Africa for the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation with great fanfare. There were lots of announcements about prospective investments across Africa. Agriculture featured prominently. But what is the real story of China in Africa on the ground, beyond the hype?

As Deborah Brautigam’s investigative research has so effectively shown, the assumptions about China’s role in Africa are often not borne out in reality. The level of investment and linked aid flows are much lower than the high numbers sometimes touted; the numbers of imported Chinese workers are much lower than often suggested; the areas of land “grabbed” for investment are small compared to the vast areas identified by some.

And, as Brautigam’s recent book shows, Africa will not be feeding China or China feeding Africa anytime soon.

Reality on the ground

We set about finding out what was happening on the ground. Working with African, Chinese and European colleagues, our team investigated Chinese engagements in agriculture in four countries – Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. All have featured prominently as priorities for Chinese investment and aid.

Our just-completed project is reported in a new open access special issue of the journal World Development. So what exactly has been going on?

This proved surprisingly difficult to find out. The data on land acquisition, investment flows and aid projects is limited and confusing. It often doesn’t add up. Ghost projects are listed that never happened, and others are missed out.

Our original idea of doing a simple geomapping exercise based on available data was quickly abandoned. Instead, we had to triangulate between multiple sources to find out what was happening where.

Certainly there is a great deal going on, and the Chinese presence in Africa is important. The Chinese role in agriculture – in terms of business investment, technology transfer, demonstration efforts, training and more – is growing, and shaping perceptions.

We chose cases across the four countries to investigate in more detail. The studies aimed to explore the detail of investments, technology projects, training and development encounters more generally.

The central question we asked was: is China reshaping African agriculture?

No singular ‘Chinese model’

The Chinese Agricultural Technology Development Centres are flagship investments. There are now 23 across Africa, funded in their first phase by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce under their aid program. They are run mostly by companies, and are linked to a commercial model for training and technology demonstration and sale.

As Xiuli Xu and colleagues show, the centres’ performance very much depends on who is running them. Different provincial companies have very different characteristics, demonstrating that there is no singular “Chinese model” of development, or state-business partnership.

We also explored a number of cases of business investments in agriculture, primarily led by Chinese state-owned enterprises. Chinese development efforts mix aid with commerce, linking both provincial and central state involvement with different businesses.

For example, as Jing Gu and colleagues explain, in Xai Xai in Mozambique, the Wanbao agricultural development company from Hubei province took over 20,000 hectares on a state farm to farm rice, and develop a contract farming arrangement with surrounding farms.

It has not been easy. There have been a number of changes in company leads, disputes with local communities, and shifting alliances with local elites, as Kojo Amanor and Sergio Chichava set out.

The training of government officials is an important aspect of the Chinese engagement in Africa. More than 10,000 are trained in numerous courses in China each year, many in agriculture. This far exceeds any training initiative of any western aid programme.

Henry Tugendhat and Dawit Alemu explored the impacts of these courses, participating in training in China, and interviewing officials who had returned home to Ghana and Zimbabwe. While there have not been many immediate impacts, the longer-term building of relationships and the exertion of “soft power” diplomacy is important.

The role of informal Chinese migrants

Chinese migrants supply specialist Chinese foods to burgeoning expatriate populations. Reuters/Noor Khamis

Perhaps the most far-reaching but least understood dimension of Chinese involvement in African agriculture is the growing number of informal migrants getting involved in the agri-food sector, from farming to processing to retail to restaurants.

Seth Cook and colleagues investigated this in Ethiopia and Ghana. They discovered a range of activities: relatively few farmers, but growing investment in supplying specialist Chinese foods to burgeoning expatriate Chinese populations.

Those involved are very often migrants who came as part of Chinese government contracts, and have since established business connections and stayed, encouraging others to join them from China.

Through our work, we were able to gain a snapshot of the early stages of Chinese engagement in African agriculture. Our results show successes as well as failures. But Chinese engagement is certainly not yet at the scale sometimes assumed.

In the longer term, activities may accelerate as more opportunities open up. But China is also changing. As its economy restructures to a “new normal”, there are different demands. Food will certainly remain one, but this is not likely to come from Africa.

As a new global power, China will want to maintain business, aid and diplomatic relations with Africa, and sustaining relationships will be important. China plays the long game, and our studies were observing just the opening stages.

The Conversation

Ian Scoones, Professorial Fellow, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Are China and Brazil transforming African agriculture?

china brazil

By Ian Scoones

A new Open Access Special Issue in World Development based on our work on the changing role of China and Brazil in Africa’s agriculture is now available (links to individual articles are below, and also via here).

The work was developed under the ‘China and Brazil in African Agriculture’ project of the Future Agricultures Consortium. The project was supported by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (grant: ES/J013420/1) under the Rising Powers and Interdependent Futures programme.

The research involved studies in Ghana, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, as well as China and Brazil. There were over 20 research collaborators involved, from Africa, China, Brazil and Europe, and it was a massively rich, if sometimes challenging, experience. Our research looked at 16 different case studies, involving a mix of agricultural investments by private and state owned enterprises, tri-lateral development cooperation efforts, technology demonstration initiatives, training programmes, as well as ‘under-the-radar’ involvement in agriculture by Chinese migrants.

There was no single story emerging, but a complex set of engagements, which contrast in important ways with existing patterns of western-led development and investment, and offer important opportunities for reflection and learning. These 8 papers (along with over 20 other Working Papers on the project website) are the result. Do download, read and send us feedback! It’s been a lot of work putting them together!

Xiuli Xu, Xiaoyun Li, Gubo Qi, Lixia Tang and Langton Mukwereza: Science, technology and the politics of knowledge: the case of China’s Agricultural Technology Demonstration Centres in Africa

The papers examine how agricultural technologies, practices and policies travel across the world as part of investment and development cooperation. Technologies and policies always have histories, and emerge in particular social and political contexts. Yet China and Brazil both argue that theirs are perhaps especially relevant to Africa, given common agroecological conditions, and similar histories of agricultural development. We were interested in finding out how things travelled, and what happened during the journey.

Of course the transfer of technologies and policies, as we’ve long known, is not simple or linear. Assumptions are often deeply embedded (such as what a farmer is, what scale is appropriate, and how different sorts of technology are important), but they do not always translate into new contexts. Not surprisingly, despite the claims, not everything generated in Brazil and China has landed easily in Africa. There have been rejections, resistances, and so revisions and recastings; all of which highlight the importance of ‘development encounters’ and the negotiations about knowledge (and technology, practice, policy) that must go on during development cooperation – whether with a western aid agency or with Brazilian and Chinese actors.

Together, the papers show how historical experiences in Brazil and China, as well as domestic political and economic debates, affect how interventions are framed, and by whom, and so influence what technologies are chosen, which investments are funded, and who gets trained. The papers argue for a focus on the encounters on the ground, moving beyond the broader rhetoric and generic policy statements about South-South cooperation. For example, a key feature of Brazilian and Chinese engagements in African agriculture is the role of state-business relations in shaping and steering development; something that other agencies such as DFID interested in the role of the private sector, and public-private partnerships, might usefully learn from.

The special issue asks if a new paradigm for development cooperation is emerging, and argues that we must move beyond the simplistic narratives of either mutual benefit and ‘South-South’ collaboration or ‘neo-imperial’ expansion of ‘rising powers’. As the introductory paper argues, we need a more sophisticated account than this simplistic binary, and to “look at the dynamic and contested politics of engagement, as new forms of capital and technology enter African contexts”.

Do read, share and comment on the papers. We hope they will generate a debate about the role of the ‘rising powers’ in African development, and help us move towards a more nuanced appreciation and away from the rather simplistic frames that have dominated the debate to date.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Professionals from across sectors meet to discuss and deliberate on India and Sustainability Standards

By Centre for Responsible Business (CRB)
Hon’ble Minister for Micro, Small and Medium
Scale Enterprises, Shri. Kalraj Mishra,
inaugurating the conference

The Centre for Responsible Business (CRB) along with its partners organised a three-day international conference on Sustainability Standards at Hyatt Regency, New Delhi, from 18th - 20th November, 2015. With 50 partners, 23 sessions and 500 plus delegates & speakers, India and Sustainability Standards: International Dialogues and Conference 2015, was a landmark event that succeeded in achieving its goal of convening international and Indian stakeholders to initiate dialogue, build understanding, and exchange proposals centered on paths forward on sustainability across a range of industry sectors, commodities and themes. Some of the key partners of the three-day event included the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change, Government of India, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Government of India, ISEAL Alliance, UNICEF, UNDP, C&A Foundation, OECD, GIZ and Alliance for Integrity.

Dr. Bimal Arora, Chairperson, Centre for Responsible Business (CRB) setting the context for the conference said, “Sustainability standards offer the frameworks for businesses to set their sustainability agendas and provide tools to drive sustainable processes within their organization. Business community must play a proactive role and overcome challenges to take leadership roles in supporting these processes. Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS) provide these guiding frameworks to businesses and complement government policies. For Standards to be credible, however, multi-stakeholder engagement is required, especially with businesses which are expected to implement these standards. Hence we found it useful to put together this platform to bring together policy makers, businesses, standard setting bodies, civil society and the academia to address challenges and design way forward for standard setting and their implementation in the Indian context.”
Dr. BimalArora, Chairperson, Centre for Responsible Business, 
welcoming the gathering to the 3-day conference

The conference agenda was meticulously designed and structured in three parts to enable active exchange and learning, as well as space for developing roadmaps across themes and sectors. Plenary Sessions of the conference with high profile Indian and international business leaders and policymakers and international speakers set the context on issues around the development and implementation of sustainability standards in India. A series of thematic and sector-specific Roundtables and Workshops were planned over 19th and 20th November and occupied the majority of the conference agenda. These roundtables and workshops were convened by interested international and Indian organizations and standard setters, as conference partners and co-hosts, to focus on specific issues, opportunities, challenges, and needs for the given sector, theme and topic. The final section of the conference returned to plenary and offered an opportunity to share, learn about and engage on the outcomes of the roundtables and workshops and set the agenda for way forward to be followed through in 2016 and beyond, and take stock in a conference annually.

Chief Guest of the Inaugural function, Hon’ble Minister Shri. Kalraj Mishra lauded CRB and Bimal Arora for the pro-active role being played by the organization in defining the contours of the discussions on sustainability standards in India. The Minister further mentioned that he would extend all possible support to the organization in its efforts to scale up business sustainability in India. Guest of Honour, Hon’ble Minister Shri. Suresh P Prabhu said, “When we talk about sustainability, it means different things to different people and the concept of sustainability has a very important social dimension. Standards should be an ambition that eventually can be codified into something that can be applied in the Indian context.”

Perhaps for the first time, sustainability standards have been perceived and deliberated as a journey to achieving sustainability goals, rather than mere compliances. The perception has moved beyond a mere check-box compliance-based approach. The eminent speakers emphasized the importance of sustainability standards in India and highlighted how India is being continuously watched by the World due to its key role in the global supply chain.

Roundtable on Inidan Multinationationals
 and Sustainability, 

Co-hosted by University of Manchester
University of Manchester and CRB co-hosted a dedicated roundtable on Indian Multinationals and Sustainability during the conference and invited presentations by and conversations with Indian Multinationals on their internationalisation strategies and engagement with sustainability standards and collaborative sustainability initiatives in India and globally. The AMBS and Global Development Institute (GDI) at the University of Manchester are jointly leading an ambitious and exciting research project around globalizing firms from emerging economies and their engagement with Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS) and Collaborative Sustainability Initiatives (CSI). This research project is part of the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) larger research programme, ‘Rising Powers and Integrated Futures’ (see The session convened by Prof Rudolf Sinkovics from the Alliance Manchester Business School (AMBS) and moderated by Prof. Pawan Budhwar from Aston Business School, saw a presentations from senior sustainability managers from companies like Essar, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL), Tata Sustainability Group (TSG) and Ambuja Cement.

The Centre for Responsible Business (CRB) provided a historic opportunity: to promote pathways to sustainability in India and globally. Company executives gathered with government officials and civil society leaders along with Indian and international standard setters, policymakers, businesses and civil society organizations, to look at how sustainability standards can be adopted, implemented or adapted to promote better environmental and social practices in India, including in the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) world as part of the global production networks and value chains.

For more information, please visit the conference website here.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Rethinking How Business Contributes to Society

By Noemi Sinkovics, Rudolf R. Sinkovics, Samia Hoque and Laszlo Czaban
Image by Sujin

In a recent article published in Critical perspectives on international business, 11 (3/4), the authors propose a reconceptualization of social value creation as social constraint alleviation.

Scholars from various disciplines have been pondering about how to grasp the impact of business on society. Most people would agree that it is desirable for business to contribute to wider society, but how should such a contribution be defined? Is it donating toys to a local kindergarten? Or are we talking about multinationals transferring technology to a developing country through foreign investment? Or about Nike and Levis auditing working conditions in their supply chain? To clarify the definition, we suggest that the extent to which companies help alleviating social constraints may be a useful way to think about business’ contribution to society.

Such a focus on addressing social constraints may help to clarify discussions across a number of disciplinary areas. Fields as diverse as international business, global value chains, social entrepreneurship, or corporate social responsibility all address the business-society relation from different angles. International business often looks at business’ social impact in terms of spill-over effects of foreign direct investment on the domestic economy, or in terms of corporate social responsibility initiatives helping acceptance of multinationals entering a country. Experts on global value chains describe how social upgrading can improve working conditions and income of workers. The social entrepreneurship literature discusses mutual value creation in bottom of the pyramid markets, enabling poor consumers and firms to benefit at the same time. Discussions on business and human rights ask whether corporate social responsibility initiatives go beyond improving a company’s image and can actually result in “doing well by doing good”. All would like to achieve a positive impact of business on society, but how exactly such social value creation can be defined stays unclear.

We argue that ideally a positive contribution of business to society consists of promoting social and economic human rights. This follows Todaro & Smith’s (2011) core values of development: sustenance, self-esteem and freedom from servitude. To see how such a contribution can be reached, it may be helpful to see society as a complex adaptive system, drawing on complexity science and systems theory. From such a perspective, a single constraint may keep the system from functioning and prevent it from reaching certain development outcomes we would like to see. Then, for businesses to contribute to the outcome of human rights, they need to address the social constraint(s) that are the root cause(s) holding back development in a specific community or society. Only addressing a symptom of the underlying social constraints will not really help because it will not change anything about how the system as a whole functions. For example, handing out free food to homeless people may help to alleviate hunger momentarily, but does nothing to address the underlying root cause or social constraint that makes these people live on the streets in the first place. Hence, such an action will not create lasting value for society.

How can a focus on underlying social constraints look like in practice? In our fieldwork in India we met a social entrepreneur who managed to address the root cause of poverty in a rural community. In this case, many young people in the community were living in poverty even though they had high levels of education. Social norms obliged graduates to return to their families in the village after finishing their studies in the city, even though there were no adequate jobs available for them at home. Recognising the social constraint of labour immobility among young people, the social entrepreneur founded a business process outsourcing company based in that rural area. The business model was based on providing services remotely via the internet, while drawing on the local pool of educated but immobile labour in the community. As a result, the underlying root cause of poverty, i.e. young people being unable to move, was addressed and the business contributed to realising subsistence and self-esteem needs in the community.

Summing up, we propose that seeing social value creation in terms of alleviating social constraints is a helpful starting point for comprehending how business can contribute to realising human rights in society. Further research will be needed to explore how such social constraints can best be operationalised, and how social and economic human rights can be broken down further for the purpose of this discussion.

For further details, see:

Sinkovics, Noemi, Rudolf R Sinkovics, Samia Hoque, and Laszlo Czaban (2015), "A reconceptualization of social value creation as social constraint alleviation," Critical Perspectives on International Business, 11 (3/4), 340-363.