The course theme is how interactions between businesses, national and international political institutions, and non-governmental organizations shape or impact the governance of international business. It is an advanced and specialized course in international political economy that focuses on the research frontier in selected topics within the course theme, emphasizing both theoretical debates and innovations, and research-based empirical results. The purpose is to provide an in-depth understanding of these theoretical and empirical debates and research results and through this to provide a solid foundation for engaging in independent research projects in the field.
The course explores the potential and limitations of CSR/sustainability in global production networks in relation to improving poor work and environmental conditions in export-oriented industries in developing countries. It does so through the lens of global value chain and global production network analysis. GVC and GPN analysis helps to understand the transnational organization of industries and power relations within these industries, as we map the linkages that exist in the global economy between consumers, brands, suppliers, workers and communities that reside in different parts of the Global South. In particular, we zoom in how the CSR/sustainability policies of global brands travel through GVCs/GPNs and touch down in different localities, differentially impacting upon local firms/farmers, workers, and local communities.
What links a handmade necklace of paper beads with a pair of Emporio Armani (RED) sunglasses or a pack of disposable diapers with a pink BMW luxury car? All of these products are sold through cause-related marketing (CRM) initiatives. ‘Beads For Life’ are certified by Martha Stewart as ‘eradicating poverty one bead at a time.’ Bono assures us that a percentage of the profits of all (RED) co-branded products goes directly to the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria. The voice of Salma Hayek, famous Mexican-American actress, informs consumers that ‘one pack of pampers=one lifesaving vaccine’; and the cast of the hit tv series ‘Friends’ tours in support of BMWs ultimate drive to raise money to fight breast cancer. CRM initiatives like these target ‘causumers’ who want to shop for a better world. ‘Ethical’ products are sold by marketing certain values. But as globalization shifts traditional boundaries of production and exchange, new understandings are needed about what constitutes a better product, a better world or a more ‘ethical’ consumer. The course employs the concept of ‘Brand Aid’ to describe how branded products are sold as ethical through their verification by celebrities who link them to worthy causes. Brand Aid is ‘aid to brands’ because it helps sell products and improve a brand’s ethical profile and value. It is also ‘brands that provide aid’ because a proportion of the profit or sales is devoted to helping others. Brand Aid is thus constituted through the intersection of product+cause+celebrity.
Technological and organizational changes have been crucial in transforming the way in which production is organized across time and space. The steam engine in the 19th century made transportation and manufacturing economic in ways that allowed the spatial separation of production from consumption, but for much of the 20th century, production was still organized along vertically integrated firms. By the late 1970s, however, a more flexible and spatially dispersed mode of production had taken hold – based on slicing up production in specific tasks and moving some of these out of the boundary of the firm through external contracting. Information and communication technology in the latter part of the 20th century further facilitated the global outsourcing and offshoring of manufacturing activity. This has led to the organization of economic activity in Global Value Chains (GVCs) that are dispersed globally but governed centrally by ‘lead firms’. Lead firms are groups of firms that operate at particular functional positions along the chain and that are able to shape who does what along the chain, at what price, using what standards, to which specifications, and delivering at what point in time.
These trends have important implications on economic, social and environmental trajectories in Africa and elsewhere, and on the kinds of interventions that are part of the current portfolio of development interventions. Participation in different kinds of global value chains has specific impacts on different kinds of actors, industries and countries. And different kinds of participation (or exclusion, non-participation) in GVCs also have different impacts, which need to be understood so to avoid a ‘one size fits all’ understanding of development trajectories and industrial policy in various African contexts.
Business, government and civil society are facing complex sustainability challenges that they cannot solve alone. A momentous global commitment was reached in 2015 with the adoption of the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the Paris Climate Agreement, with countries choosing to tackle major development challenges while working toward delivering a future where nature and people can thrive. These challenges have global and local, financial, managerial, political, social and environmental components. Tackling them require strong, trustworthy and long-lasting partnerships between the private and public sectors, or multi-stakeholder initiatives involving non-governmental organizations, community-based organizations, venture capital and universities.
There is an increasing need, and demand for, managers and employees who have specialist skills, and who can also operate in multi-disciplinary teams. They need to have developed a common language and understanding with specialists in other fields so they can bridge the gaps between science, technology and business solutions to sustainability. Many scientific discoveries, technological developments or business innovations on sustainability fail because of the lack of understanding from specialist in different fields regarding the complex challenges that are involved. Business plans can fail because of lack of understanding of their technological complexities; scientific breakthroughs may be abandoned or rejected because clearer communication to the public or the political system is lacking; policy relevance may be unappreciated and technological innovations end up financially unfeasible. The courses 'Sustainability Challenges' 1 and 2 seek to strengthen students' capabilities to work toward filling these gaps.
The aim of the course is to give the students an understanding of the legislative, political and social contexts in which markets are rooted and consumption takes place. In particular, the course focuses on understanding the interplay between global institutions, governments and businesses - as well as transnational political actors trying to regulate markets and consumption. The course explores management of production, trade and consumption, including sustainability aspects. The students thus develop critical analytical skills that they need to understand the different consequences of establishing, managing and intervening in markets in relation to a number of basic social goals - such as strengthening competition, protecting consumers, reducing environmental costs, promoting social inclusion and / or addressing inequality. The course examines the effect, role and purpose of various national, regional and transnational management strategies and partnerships that have been used to regulate different types of market and consumption. Therefore, the course also includes analysis of how standards, brands and certificates (eg fair trade, ecology, CO2 neutral) can shape market structures and patterns of consumption. Students will learn to investigate formal forms of government and institutions, as well as informal and non-binding mechanisms created by, for example, industry associations, community groups, activist groups and groups of several different types of stakeholders. The course has a multidisciplinary and multidisciplinary approach to political and economic models in order to provide new perspectives on the regulation of markets and consumption.