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The Garment Supply Chain Governance Project, which ended in June 2019, has recently published its final stakeholder report. After three years of collecting data from 79 lead firms from four countries, 152 factory managers in Bangladesh, 1.500 Bangladeshi garment workers and multiple stakeholders, we see a relatively coherent picture more than six years after the fatal Rana Plaza factory collapse: “Rana Plaza and the resulting public attention to building safety and worker standards in global garment supply chains has led to an enhanced climate for compliance, manifested in a range of new governance  models – most importantly the Accord and Alliance initiatives – and more longer-term, stable buyer-supplier relationships that have contributed to improved worker outcomes in some respects. These developments are direct responses to an unprecedented human disaster in the global garment industry which has triggered a positive collective response but not a systemic change towards more sustainable garment production. In fact, our results indicate the fragility of these gains, shedding light on the continued systemic challenges to sustainable labour standards faced by lead firms and suppliers alike.”

These results echo previous findings, not least those reported on this blog, regarding the continued challenge of raising the wages of garment workers and the need for further stakeholder pressure on garment brands and policy makers. In addition, our results provide nuanced insights regarding the current state of buyer-supplier relations and working conditions. For instance, we observe a form of “asymmetrical cooperation” between buyers and suppliers that is marked by increased power asymmetries between lead firms and suppliers on the one hand, but longer-term relations, mutual understanding, trust and continuity of orders on the other. The main problem in these relationships is the continued pressure on production prices, which undermines suppliers’ capacities for improving labor standards. Rather than sweatshops, we argue that many of the larger garment factories in Bangladesh constitute “hardship workplaces”, maked by improvements in workers’ outcome standards
(mainly better health and safety conditions, relative job security and improved social benefits) and process rights (mainly representation in worker participation committees), but continued problems regarding wages, working hours, abuse and management rejection of unions and collective bargaining.

Many of these developments can be tied to the Accord and Alliance initiatives whose presence has clearly created a stricter “climate for compliance” that ensures that basic standards are met. Yet, these initiatives have also further consolidated lead firms’ power and has mixed impacts at best for local labor actors. Overall, we fear that with the fading out or transitioning of these initiatives and a continued lack of stricter regulation of labor standards and human rights in global supply chains – on national and transnational levels – the improvements garment workers gained might be instable. Thus, we conclude: “As Rana Plaza starkly revealed, the safety and wellbeing of millions of workers and their families depend on the development of effective governance
solutions on multiple levels. Our research indicates that despite the progress made in recent years, further efforts will be necessary to help the millions of workers who depend on the garment industry for their livelihoods.”

Together with Rick Delbridge (Cardiff University, Wales), Markus Helfen (University of Innsbruck, Austria), Andi Pekarek (Melbourne University, Australia) and Charlene Zietsma (Pennsylvania State University, USA), I am co-organizing the upcoming Organization Studies Summer Workshop on the topic “Organizing Sustainably: Actors, Institutions, and Practices”.

Our main aim is to go beyond the common mantra of contemporary management scholars and practitioners that there is a ‘business case’ for sustainability towards examining what alternative forms of organizing can contribute to the sustainable usage of environmental, social, and economic resources in ways that avoid their degradation and exhaustion. While such models already do exist, they often do not spread or scale up, remaining exploitative business practices untouched on a larger scale.

The submission system is now open, and the full call can be found here: https://osofficer.wixsite.com/osworkshop?fbclid=IwAR3bV80vSvxpbVMF-IWiOiPYmR5Vv022ganthYq2xj6MBACe6R_Uxf2xvdE

We will also use this workshop to reflect about sustainable forms of organizing in our own scholarly community. As a temporary team of organizers meeting a long-standing routine of highly productive summer workshops, we are ourselves directly faced with the challenge of being unable to meet the “triple bottom line” of environmental sustainability (these are typically bad, because academics fly to conferences), social and economic impacts on the local community and employees (these in our case are good, because the venue has strong sustainability policies), and economic/academic “performance” (the summer workshops are usually seen as a highly productive meeting format). We will use the direct experience of this contradiction to reflect about our own scholarly practices during our workshop to hopefully develop some ideas for more sustainable forms of scholarship.

Today, concerns about academics’ contribution to the future of our planet are growing. While climate scientists have long recognized that their scholarly lifestyle is part of the  problem and have developed various kinds of solutions, management scholars are just beginning to more extensively reflect not just about their research agendas, but about their own behaviour as scholars. Management scholars’ environmental impact is not the only issue at stake. Rather, there are problems with a loss of meaningfulness in research work driven forward by rankings, not content, and with a rise of scientific misconduct. Arguably, these issues are related to the ways in which the scholarly community is organized.

The research network “Grand Challenges and New Forms of Organizing”, funded by the German Research Foundation, has taken it as its mission to unpack the reciprocal relationship between societal grand challenges and new forms of organizing. In the spirit of this research agenda, the network has also started to reflect about the challenge of making scholarship itself more sustainable again. During one of its workshops held in March 2019, the network formed working groups around four areas of sustainable scholarship that can be seen as highly interrelated and complementary, thus creating difficulties for change:

  1. How can we reduce our flying in the light of demands placed on visibility in international research communities?
  2. How can we make academic careers more sustainable and meaningful?
  3. Is the strong focus on theoretical novelty by our leading journals itself an unsustainable practice?
  4. What are alternatives to supporting the unsustainable business model of proprietary publishing?

Environmental impact of scholars Read the rest of this entry »

March 12-15, 2019, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

Creativity is one of the key concepts, yet among the most slippery ones of present-day Western societies. Today, the call for creativity spans far beyond typically “creative” fields and industries towards becoming a universal social norm. Creative processes, however, are fundamentally surrounded by uncertainty. It is difficult to know ex-ante what will become a creative idea and, due to its destructive force, it is also highly contested. This inherent uncertainty associated with creativity thus spills over to other social spheres, too.
The DFG-funded Research Unit “Organized Creativity” is studying creative processes in music and pharmaceuticals – as representatives for creativity in the arts and in the sciences. The goal of the unit is to understand in greater depth those practices of inducing and coping with uncertainty which are employed by various actors involved in creative processes.

Target Group
The Spring School provides space for exchange between advanced doctoral students, early postdocs and several senior scholars that do research on creativity either in the context of innovation research or in the fields of business and management studies, economic geography, psychology or sociology. Combining lectures from renowned scholars (Prof. Dr. Dr. Karin Knorr Cetina, Prof. David Stark, Ph.D., Prof. Dr. Gernot Grabher, Prof. Dr. Elke Schüßler, Prof. Dr. Jörg Sydow) with the presentation, discussion and development of individual papers, this call invites advanced doctoral students and early postdocs from all disciplines concerned with creativity and uncertainty to join our discussion in Berlin. The working language will be English. Read the rest of this entry »

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On the 24th of April 2018, many people around the world commemorated the over 1000 lives lost and the 1800 people injured during the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Savar, Dhaka, Bangladesh. The Global Garment Supply Chain Governance Project, together with King’s College London, took this date as an opportunity to bring together the community of international scholars investigating the consequences of this disaster for the governance of labor standards in the global garment industry. Given the high and immediate policy relevance of this topic, the conference was not just purely academic: several representatives from lead firms, supplier factories, policy makers and civil society actively participated in debating and interpreting the research results, and also constituted the strong opening panel. So what are the news for global governance?

A focal point of the debate was the Accord for Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a five-year multi-stakeholder, transnational collective agreement co-signed by over 200 brands and the UNI and IndustriaALL global unions that not only commits brands to pay into a centrally organized safety inspection regime and to ensure continuity of orders for a limited period, but also demands the introduction of worker participation into safety committees in garment factories and provides for legally binding arbitration mechanisms if complaints are unresolved. While Mark Anner, Jennifer Bair and Jeremy Blasi argue that the Accord is not unprecedented, pointing to the “jobbers agreements” drafted between workers, contractors, and lead firms in the US apparel supply chain to ensure fair prices and stable orders in the earlier 20th century, most would agree that the Accord’s governance model is unique in a global supply chain context. Thus, it is often hailed as a solution to the industry’s ongoing and pressing problems regarding labour standards. The Accord departs most from previous initiatives in that it is a collective approach for addressing the “race to the bottom” dynamic of competing on the lowest possible labour standards characterizing the garmen industry since decade – an issue which lead firms only now begin to see as a collective action problem. In analyzing the history of the Accord, Juliane Reinecke and Jimmy Donaghey  point out, however, that the Accord was not crafted as a reaction to the Rana Plaza disaster. In fact, it existed previously as a memorandum of understanding on building and worker safety by two lead firms following earlier factory accidents – but other lead firms were not interested in signing it before the fatal factory collapse occurred. Does the Accord stand up to these hopes?

As argued by Miriam Neele, on the panel as Head of Signatory Engagement of the Accord, the Accord program has now covered approximately over 2 million workers in the Bangladesh garment industry and has ensured the remediation of about 85% of the factories covered by the Accord. Data on over 1000 garment workers collected by Naila Kabeer, London School of Economics, likewise indicates that there has been positive change on those issues that Western lead firms can influence, such as building safety and working time, at least in those factories covered by the Accord and by the US-driven Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. Both Frank Hoffer (on the panel as representative of the new Action Collaboration Transformation initiative) and Giesela Burckhardt from the German NGO Femnet, however, stress that wages still need to go up – an issue that is simply not covered by the Accord. Additionally, there is some scepticism as to the actual scalability of the Accord model to other issues and other countries. The renewal of the Accord in Bangladesh has resulted in a rather slow process of getting brands to sign up to the agreement again, and the initiative has faced intense critique from various Bangladeshi stakeholders who think that the Accord has lost its purpose in Bangladesh. In a study conducted by Steve Frenkel (UNSW) and Chris Wright (University of Sydney) and myself shortly after the Rana Plaza disaster we found that intense stakeholder pressure was a main driver behind firms’ willingness to sign the Accord. In the absence of such immediate pressure, it seems that the majority of firms is only reluctantly willing to engage in stricter forms of labour standards regulation, such as those embraced by the Accord.

At least four additional problems must be noted. First, as argued by Kabeer, certain worker-related issues cannot be influenced by Western brands. Most importantly, these are the (mis-)behaviour of supervisors and the still very low level of unionization and worker representation in Bangladesh. Here local stakeholders are called upon to bring forward changes. Second, as repeatedly noted by Dorothee Baumann-Pauly and her colleagues from the NYU Stern school of business, the current safety schemes has at best created “islands of compliance” in which some of the best, most well-financed factories are getting better, while the smaller, already struggling factories remain off the radar – and have notoriously poor standards. Third, the Accord remains an auditing tool – and audits can easily turn into mere reputational devices for lead firms rather than creating actual accountability and liability for brands and their auditors, as Carolijn Terwind, lawyer at the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), highlighted on our panel. Fourth, evidence from a survey on 150 factory managers in Bangladesh conduced by Shahidur Rahman (BRAC University) and Kazi Mahmudur Rahman (ULAB) suggests that lead firms rarely support factory’s remediation efforts financially. Thus, while suppliers value continuity of orders, they feel heavily squeezed between ongoing price pressure exerted by lead firms and increased demands regarding infrastructure and working conditions.

An important structural condition must be noted though, which in my view is a core boundary condition for seeing continued improvements in labour standards in Bangladeshi garment factories: unless digitalization is able to replace manual labour in this industry, large volumes of garment production will remain in Bangladesh because, as China continues to reduce its capacities, no other country is to date able to absorb the high demand for garment production. In this sense, the race to the bottom is currently on hold – an unforeseen opportunity for stakeholders in the West as well as in Bangladesh to continue pressing for stricter regulations and better labour standards in this industry.

The German Science Foundation is funding a new research unit based at Freie Universität Berlin with the topic “Organized Creativity: Practices for Inducing and Coping with Uncertainty“.

The research unit examines the challenging question of how creativity can be socially organized. It comprises four projects, each of which examines different dimensions of uncertainty in a specific area of organizing practices: collaborative practices, temporal practices, and regulatory practices.

Doctoral positions (and one postdoc) are open at the different partner universities of the research unit, which is comprised of the following scholars:

Prof. Dr. Jörg Sydow, Freie Universität Berlin (spokesperson)
Prof. Jana Costas, Ph.D., Europa-Universität Viadrina, Frankfurt/Oder
Prof. Dr. Leonhard Dobusch, Universität Innsbruck
Prof. Dr. Gernot Grabher, Hafen City University, Hamburg
Prof. Dr. Oliver Ibert, Freie Universität Berlin and IRS Erkner
Prof. Gregory Jackson, Ph.D., Freie Universtität Berlin
Prof. Dr. Sigrid Quack, Universität Duisburg-Essen
Prof. Dr. Elke Schüßler, Freie Universität Berlin and (from 1.5.16) Johannes Kepler Universität Linz

Please access the individual job offers here (in German only) and check out the general project website for further information.

 

Yesterday night, the representatives of 196 nations reached what The Guardian called “the world’s greatest diplomatic success” at the 21st UN climate conference, COP21, in Paris. After the dramatic failure of COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009 to reach an agreement for committing the nations of the world to cut carbon emissions, Paris was hailed as the “our best chance to safe the planet“.

I observed the intense build-up towards the Paris COP with much apprehension because, based on a historical analysis of the COPs leading up to the Copenhagen event, my coauthors and I detected the staging of a COP as a “high-stakes” event as potentially problematic for reaching a successful outcome. In our paper, we argued that in the light of extremely high fragmentation in the field developing prior to Copenhagen, the staging of COP15 as a high-stakes event backfired, exacerbating feelings of distrust and unbridgeable disagreement among the negotiating parties. We identified agenda-setting, the possibilities for informal interaction and negotiation leadership as crucial factors influencing the success of negotiations. We also argued that an intense and frustrating pre-COP meeting cycle could decrease the negotiators’ motivation.

The Paris COP allows us now to reflect on our argument and “test” whether our findings can be used to explain its outcome. Somewhat in contrast to our argument, COP21 was also preceded by intense years of negotiations, often on a daily basis. Yet, while the negotiations prior to Copenhagen revolved around the highly contested technical details of the Kyoto Protocol’s policy instruments, they were marked by diplomatic achievements such as the climate accord struck between the USA and China prior to Paris.

In line with our findings, the way the Paris COP was “enacted”, particularly by the negotiation leaders, was a key to its success. For instance, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and his colleague Laurence Tubiana – maybe paradoxically – formally installed informal meetings to enable consensus-building in small groups and prevent fragmentation. When the deal threatened to fail, the French negotiation leaders formed working groups and asked dissenting parties to chair these groups, thus forcing them into a proactive leadership role. Additionally, the staging of COP21 decidedly differed from previous COPs: usually the heads of states come in at the end of the negotiations, but were asked to open the meeting in Paris, thus setting a clear mandate for their negotiators to reach a consensus.

Following David Victor, we questioned in our paper whether the UNFCCC’s principles of inclusiveness and consensus can be upheld or are in the way of a climate deal. In the light of clever negotiation leadership and intense preceding diplomatic efforts outlined above, COP21 has shown that the inclusion of small countries can actually be an important force for change and ambition, as the UNFCCC has envisioned. Indeed, it was the small island states and least developed countries that formed a “high ambition coalition” leading to a 1.5-degree temperature target in the new agreement, which is more ambitious than the previous 2 degree target, but necessary to ensure the survival of countries in low-lying coastal areas.

At least for a short moment, today I feel hopeful for the world my daughters will live in in the future thanks to “the miracle of Paris”. Of course, it remains to be seen what the ratification process will look like in the next year – the history of the Kyoto Protocol tells us that what is hailed as a miracle today may eventually turn out to be a devil in disguise in the future.

I’m very pleased to announce the publication of a new English-language textbook on the management of inter-organizational relations written and edited by Jörg Sydow, Gordon Müller-Seitz and myself and published by Palgrave. While several textbooks on specific topics such as strategic alliancesoutsourcing and offshoring or social networks are already out there, there was to date no comprehensive textbook dealing with different forms of inter-organizational relations from a management perspective that could be used in English-language courses on managing alliances and networks.Palgrave Bild

Several academically-oriented books such as the Oxford Handbook of Inter-Organizational Relations or the book Managing Dynamic Networks are useful to complement teaching, but are – in our experience – too theoretical to structure an entire course. Conversely, practitioner-oriented texts like the Manager’s Guide to Choosing and Using Collaborative Networks can only complement, but not fill an entire university course. A case collection on alliance management has been edited by the Ivey School of Business, but this collection does not include textbook chapters.

Our new book aims to include both an introduction to several forms of inter-organizational relations and the underlying academic debates as well as a collection of case studies highlighting particular managerial issues. In an effort to promote research-led teaching, all cases were developed on the basis of research projects conducted by members of the Research Group Inter-firm Networks and the Group’s international network. The book is structured in six parts, four of which comprise the main forms of inter-organizational relations that are distinguished: strategic alliances and networks, regional networks and clusters, global production and supply networks, and innovation and project networks. Especially the chapter on global production and supply networks includes a debate about transnational governance issues and discusses, for instance, the challenges associated with transnationalizing professional services or issues of accountability and liability in global production networks.

Five case studies are available for each of these network types, each focusing on particular management challenges. For strategic alliances and networks, for instance, Jörg Sydow together with Horst Findeisen, Vice President at the Star Alliance Services GmbH, wrote a case on the institutionalization of new management structures in the Star Alliance. For regional networks and clusters, Chacko Kannothra and Stephan Manning from the University of Massachusetts in Boston developed a case on the new impact sourcing trend and its implications for regional development in India. For global production and supply networks, Miriam Wilhelm from the University of Groningen presents details from her in-depth research on Toyota’s practices for managing cooperation and competition. In the chapter on innovation and project networks, Leonhard Dobusch wrote about the development of the international network organization behind Wikimedia.

Overall, this book tackles not only a border-crossing issue – management practices and challenges arising outside of hierarchical organizational boundaries – but also aims to bridge the gap between theory and practice in a new textbook format geared towards advanced bachelor, master and MBA students. The book is complemented by a companion website where teaching notes, a glossary and further informative links for each case are provided.

This post is provided by our regular guest blogger Elke Schüßler. Elke Schüßler is Assistant Professor of Organization Theory at the Management Departement at Freie Universität Berlin.

Daniel Henninger (Foto: Dow Jones Events, CC-BY-ND)

Daniel Henninger (Foto: DJEvents, CC-BY-ND)

Yesterday, the article „Why Can’t the Left Govern?“ written by Daniel Henninger, deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page and a former Pulitzer Price finalist, made it to the Wall Street Journal’s most popular article within a few hours. At the time of writing this post, the article received over 1000 comments.

I would not have stumbled across this piece of journalism had it not been based on a study by Charles-Clemens Rüling, Bettina Wittneben and myself recently published in the Academy of Management Journal on the problems of UN climate conferences in advancing transnational climate change policy. In an adventurous logical jump, Henninger links our analysis of the field maintenance mechanisms that have eaten their way into the transnational climate policy process to a worldwide crisis of the Left generally and US president Obama’s reform of the US healthcare system through what is known as „Obamacare“ specifically.

While indeed the reform of the US healthcare system has been a daunting struggle for almost a century and, as such, may exhibit some parallels to the task of mitigating climate change, there are several reasons for considering this jump as adventurous.

Read the rest of this entry »

This post is provided by our “guest blogger” Elke Schüßler. Elke Schüßler is postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Management at Freie Universität Berlin.

The 17th climate summit in Durban has just concluded and the target of developing binding decisions for greenhouse gas emission caps post-2012, when the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol – the “only game in town”, as it is often called inside the climate policy community – will end, has moved further afar. The main outcome of a uniquely long and strenuous negotiation process in this South African city was to postpone the development of such a treaty to 2015.

In a previous blog entry, Leonhard Dobusch and I have analyzed the role of music industry conferences as so-called “field configuring events” and the role they play in the contestation and possibly innovation of copyright regulation. Together with Bettina Wittneben (WiSE Institute) and Charles-Clemens Rüling (Grenoble Ecole de Management), I am conducting a similar analysis of the role of climate summits in the field of international climate change policy.

This field was established by the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, and has since been marked by a series of international policy conferences carrying forward the United Nation’s climate change negotiation process: the annual ‘Conference of the Parties’ (COP) together with a series of mid-year ‘Meetings of the Subsidiary Bodies’ (SB) held in the context of the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Recent research has underlined the role of international conferences as “catalysts of change, especially as organizations and governments struggle to develop global solutions to complex problems” (Hardy & Maguire, 2010: 1358). Read the rest of this entry »

The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
November 2019
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