R:ETRO webinar – A structural injustice approach to business ethics

R:ETRO webinar – A structural injustice approach to business ethics

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Hello everyone, and welcome to the final R:ETRO  seminar of this term. My name is Rita Mota and   I'm the Intesa Sanpaolo Research Fellow at the  Oxford University Centre for Corporate Reputation.   With me today is Alan Morrison, Professor of Law  and Finance here at the Saïd Business School in   Oxford, who co-convenes R:ETRO with me, and  our guest speaker, Harry van Buren. Harry is   the Barbara and David A. Koch Endowed Chair of  Business Ethics at the University of St. Thomas'  

Opus College of Business and an Honorary Professor  at the Queen's University Belfast School of Law.   He is an expert on business ethics  and his research focuses on relational   stakeholder theory, business and human rights,  human trafficking in global supply chains,   feminist theory, and employment ethics. Harry  has published extremely important work on all   of these topics. And he's actively involved  in the business ethics community as a section   editor for the Journal of Business Ethics, a  member of Business & Society's editorial board,   and a fellow of the International  Association for Business & Society.  

As you can probably tell, I am absolutely  delighted to have Harry here today and I'll turn   the floor over to him in a moment, but before I do  so let me say a few quick words about the seminar.   Many of you are regular attendees, and  so you've heard much of this before,   but for those of you who are here for the first  time, let me give you some context. R:ETRO, that   is Reputation: Ethics, Trust, and Relationships at  Oxford, is a seminar series that is concerned with   the ethical and normative content of trust and  reputation in organisational life. The seminar  

series started in January, 2020, moved online when  the pandemic made in-person events impossible,   and has been generously supported by the Centre  for Corporate Reputation since the beginning.   Although many academic events are now back to  an in-person format, Alan and I have decided   to keep R:ETRO online because this is the best  way to continue to include people from all over   the world. It is undeniable that having such a  wonderfully diverse group of people in the virtual   room makes for much more stimulating and wide  ranging discussions, so thank you for coming and   for being part of this community. And I would also  like to thank the people who make R:ETRO possible.   Rupert Younger, director of the CCR, who's  always been supportive of this series in   every possible way. Hannah Cooper, Chris  Page, Mark Hughes-Morgan, and Dariusz Dziala   who do all of the essential backstage work to  make these seminars happen, and of course, Alan,   whose knowledge and wisdom have been crucial  to the existence and success of the series.   Today's seminar addresses the very important  question of whether businesses should bear   responsibility for harmed stakeholders that  results from structural injustice. This is a  

difficult question because we commonly think  about business responsibility in terms of a   particular organization's deliberate choices  and not so much in terms of how they benefit   from injustices that result from social norms,  institutional processes, and legal frameworks. In   recent years, we have witnessed growing calls for  businesses to address structural problems such as   gender or racial discrimination, but at the same  time, it doesn't sound reasonable to expect any   one corporation to fix all of the many structural  injustices that happen around it. And in reality,   some businesses have even suffered public  backlash for engaging with this type of problem.  

Are businesses responsible in these contexts?  If so, to what extent are they complicit if they   decide to be bystanders in the face of systemic  discrimination, domination, and deprivation?   It's easy to see that we need to understand  these questions, but much harder to answer them.   I'm very much looking forward to hearing what  Harry has to say, and I'm sure that we'll all   have a lot of questions to ask him after his  presentation. Harry will speak for around 20   to 30 minutes, and after that we will have  some time for questions and answers. Most   of you already know how this works. Please enter  your questions and comments into the Q and A box,   not the chat, and either Alan or I will relay them  to Harry. You can find the Q and A button either  

at the top or the bottom of your screen, depending  on the device that you are using. We're going to   finish promptly at 5:00 PM. Harry, thank you so  much for being here today. The floor is yours. Thank you very much, Rita for the kind invitation  to participate in this seminar series. Thank you   to Alan and everybody at the Oxford Centre  for Corporate Reputation. As we've been   in the pandemic conditions now entering into our  third year, we've all had to develop new ways of   exchanging information and talking about ideas,  and this series I think has been a brilliant   exemplar of what can be done in that regard.  The title of my presentation, as Rita indicated,  

is A Structural Injustice Approach to Business  Ethics. And I'm going to give you a sense of   the flow of the ideas in the presentation, which  will occur in three parts. The first is I wanted   to give a definition of structural injustice in  two examples which have different sorts of nexuses   to business behaviour. I'll then move to the  thorny question of voluntariness and complicity  

in business ethics, and I'll conclude  the presentation by giving what I hope   is an outline to what a structural injustice  approach the business ethics would look like.   Let me start with a definition and to examples.  And throughout this presentation, I'm going   to be drawing heavily on the work of the late  Iris Marion Young, who is one of my professors   at the University of Pittsburgh. And Iris did  incredible work in political philosophy, a lot   of which really does have modern day implications  for the work that we all do as business ethicists.   I'm going to start by reading this definition,   because it will underpin everything  that I say in the presentation.  

Young defines structural injustice in this way.  Structural injustice exists when social processes   put large categories of persons under a systematic  threat of domination or deprivation of the means   to develop and exercise their capacities, at  the same time as these processes enable others   to dominate or have a wide range of opportunities  for developing and exercising their capacities.   Structural injustice is a kind of moral wrong  distinct from the wrongful action of an individual   agent or the wilfully repressive policies  of a state. Structural injustice occurs as a   consequence of many individuals and institutions  acting in pursuit of their particular goals and   interest within given institutional rules and  accepted norms. And embedded in this definition   are many of the themes that Rita reflected on in  her introduction, and which I will be exploring   during this presentation. To move from  this definition of structural injustice,  

let me give you two contemporary examples that  I've been thinking a lot about as ways of trying   to express what structural injustice is getting  at, but then more importantly, in this context,   its relationship to business. Before I do that,  I actually want to briefly outline how we know   if someone is suffering an injustice. We can ask  a series of questions. We can ask, for example,   is a person suffering involuntary harm? Sometimes  people will suffer harm, but maybe they've   engaged in some sort of informed consent. If a  person is suffering involuntary harm, that's a   sign that they may be suffering in injustice. If  the harm is being suffered by someone else, would   you be willing to suffer this harm yourself? Think  of this as a convenient perspective on injustice.   And third, and this will be an idea that  gets weaved throughout the presentation,   does everyone involved have equal opportunity to  achieve what they want to achieve? And with that   as a backdrop, let me move to two contemporary  examples of structural injustice. Many of you have  

heard the term period poverty, period equity,  period justice. The core idea behind period   poverty is that for girls and women who menstruate  and other people who menstruate as well,   these products are often extremely expensive,  particularly relative to their income, and they   may lack access to these materials. Here I have  a couple of pictures from different campaigns   that are dealing with the issue of period poverty.  And last week, when I was in Belfast in Dublin,   there were a number of initiatives that were being  talked about related to this particular issue.  The second structural injustice I  want to talk about is modern slavery,   where I have been doing a  lot of thinking, along with   many other folks in the business ethics field.  And this is also from a campaign in the UK.   The core idea behind modern slavery is trying  to look at exploitative labour conditions. This  

often gets wrapped up in conversations about human  trafficking, but modern slavery really reflects   the broad range of employment relationships in  which there is severe exploitation of workers.   Let me talk about period poverty as a structural  injustice, reflecting on the causes of it.   Obviously period poverty has poverty embedded  in it, so we can look at poverty and its causes.  

Obviously low wage work is a significant cause.  In many places around the world, people who   menstruate do not earn enough to be able to afford  menstruation-related products. Related to this can   be a lack of government support for menstruating  people. Behind all of this is stigmatisation of   menstruation, which is a longstanding historical  condition, but it continues to the present day,   and indeed, one of the real barriers until  recently to dealing with period poverty is the   fact that menstruation is stigmatised and seen as  shameful as opposed to a basic biological process.   Further underpinning period poverty is oppression  of women, whether we're talking about biological   women or identifying women. And what's the  nexus of business? Here I would note that  

the nexus of business is largely indirect, so low  pay for some employees who need to purchase these   products. That can be one cause of period poverty  as a structural injustice. Now, to go back to   the definition that I used from Young, period  poverty is not a construction of any one party,   it's not embedded in law. Rather, it comes out  of a complex set of historical and cultural law   circumstances that also have economic dimensions  and at least have some indirect nexus to business.   Now, if I move to modern slavery, obviously that's  a much more direct nexus of to our business,   and I'll come back to this at the end, when  I talk about the role of business strategy   in modern slavery. But what you see from these  bullet points is a very similar sort of analysis.   Poverty and its causes, causes people who are  desperate to improve their circumstances to   seek out employment, and in so doing,  they become enmeshed and victimised by   people who perpetrate modern slavery. You also  have just broader stigmatisation and oppression  

of victims and people at risk of becoming victims.  There's a robust literature in labour economics,   for example, looking at who is more at risk of  becoming enmeshed and victimised by modernised   slavery, and it tends to be people who have  minority status in their countries of origin,   who may be political opponents or members  of ethnic and racial groups. The nexus of   business is obviously more direct, even through  myriad supply chain layers and relationships.   What do period poverty and modern  slavery have in common? Building on   Young's definition of structural injustice,  I think there are a number of commonalities,   so they advantage some people while disadvantaging  others. In the case of period poverty, it's women,   identifying and otherwise, who are  disadvantaged and menstruating people.  

With modern slavery, the people who are advantage  are people like us, people who buy products   for lower costs than would be otherwise the case  if the products were made in truly safe and just   conditions. There's advantaging of some  people in disadvantage of others. Both   arise out of social conditions in which some  people are victimised, dominated and deprived,   whether on the basis of gender or whether they're  menstruating or whether they're just favoured or   in poverty in some sort of way. Some people  are being victimised, dominated and deprived,   and they're being victimised, dominated and  deprived because of complex and localised   conditions, including laws, but laws  are only a small part of the equation.   We have institutional processes and social  norms and customs. Menstruation, for example,  

has been stigmatised for thousands of years.  People who are victimised in modern slavery are   victimised often because they come from a context  in which their membership in one or more groups   makes them vulnerable to mistreatment. However,  and this is a key point that I'll come back to,   no single actor brought them about  or sustains their persistence.   It's not like somebody developed a system in  which period poverty exists in a particular place,   or that developed modern slavery as some  sort of localised economic strategy. So no   one single actor brings them apart, brings  them about, or sustains their persistence,   and that obviously makes them more pernicious  and makes it more difficult to figure out   causality and responsibility. And in different  ways, both of these have a nexus to business,  

and I'll come back to both of these at the end  of the webinar. And in a early paper looking at   structural injustice, Young wrote this. When  we judge that structural injustice exists,   we are saying that at least some of the  accepted background conditions of action   are morally unacceptable. And I think that also  underpins both period and modern slavery. There  

are basic background conditions that business  has a nexus to, and those background conditions   are morally unacceptable, and it's the background  conditions that sustain the structural injustice.   I want to move from that to the topic of  voluntariness and complicity is ethics,   which as the people in the webinar know, is one  of the really, really thorny issues in our field,   because it really gets to  questions of who is responsible,   who ought to act, and how should different  parties with responsibility to act should act?   And what I want to want to do is I want to  contrast two stylized stories about unethical   business behaviour, and let me start with a very  simple story about unethical business behaviour,   and it goes something like this. A business seeks  to advance its interests by intentionally harming   one or more stakeholder groups, and it builds  its strategy around that impulse. And probably a   really interesting way to reflect on  this is through a Cartoon from Dilbert.   And so the middle panel depicts the company's new  business strategy, we abuse our employees and pass   the savings onto you. And I think that's  a good exemplar of this simple story about   unethical business behaviour, where a company  decides that it's going to exploit employees   and make itself better off by making customers  better off. Now, that simple story does explain  

some business behaviour, but let's make  things a little bit more complicated   and tell a more complicated story. Let's  start with the proposition that in advancing   its interest, a business undertakes actions  that harm one or more stakeholder groups.   Now, sometimes these harms can be intended. They  can have something in common with the simple   story, but sometimes they happen because the  groups that are being harmed are at a disadvantage   due to the existence of structural injustices, but  the businesses don't necessarily intend to cause   harm. Now, the issue of intent is problematic  and it's something I'll come back to because I   think this is an area where structural injustice  offers some real opportunities to reflect upon   the responsibilities of business. Now, we can  look at some contributing factors as well.   We can look at issues related to power  and effective voice. Generally speaking,  

stakeholders that lack power and effective  voice are more likely to be exploited,   and of course, there is a long line of  research probing these very questions.   What do both of these stories have in common?  Well, I think they have two things in common.   First, there's some element of externalising  cost to stakeholders. Another test that we can  

apply to whether somebody is being exploited is  whether they are suffering negative externalities,   so pollution of course, the clear example of  this, but there are certainly other examples   we could look at as well. What are unsafe  working conditions after all, but a kind of   inflicting of an externality onto vulnerable  workers? The notion of externality, I think,   is really important in business ethics in general,  and it's something that both the simple and more   complicated stories have in common. Second, we can  look at unjust structural conditions that bring   about diminished stakeholder power and voice,  which then leads the worse outcomes for them.   Going back to Young's original definition of  structural injustice, there is this very strong   element that some people are being advantaged  and other people are being disadvantaged,   and the people that are being disadvantaged  are disadvantaged because of underlying unjust   structural conditions. And this brings me to  the thorny question of business culpability,  

and in some sense, I think we like to tell  simple stories about business responsibility.   Bad actor intends to do a bad thing to  somebody else, bad thing happens and we can   draw a straight line between business intent,  business action and a bad business outcome.   But in the more complicated story where we have to  reflect on underlying conditions that are unjust,   I think the structural injustice perspective  adds to something that's really important.   The first thing is that it focused on the  effects of business behaviour, as opposed   to business processes. Going back to work that  Donna Wood did on corporate social performance,   one of the things that I think the field  of business ethics has not focused on   nearly enough are outcomes that are experienced by  stakeholders. And obviously part of the reason for  

that is outcomes are really difficult to measure,  and it's difficult conceptually to draw a set of   relationships between intent and business actions  and outcomes, or even just business actions and   outcomes. But a structural injustice perspective,  as I'll come back to, focuses on effects of   business behaviour. Are people being harmed or  are they receiving benefit in some sort of way?   And I think this is a more important question  than business intent or business processes.   Now, I think it's important to note here that  I'm not giving up entirely on business intent.   Businesses can intend to engage in harm, and  after all, the simple stories sometimes does   have an element of truth to it. I would argue that  it's probably less important than looking at the  

effects of business behaviour. And similarly,  business processes. I think a lot of times   academic work in business ethics focuses on  business processes, and the reason for this is   business processes are easier to assess, it's  easier to get data on, but looking at effects   of business behaviour and who is experiencing  those effects is obviously significantly more   challenging. I'll come back to this when I look  at business culpability in terms of effects of   business behaviour for people who are being  negatively affected by structural injustice.  A related question, and one that often comes  up a lot in analyses of business ethics,   is foreseeability in stakeholder harm.  And I want to start with the last point   and then work my way back up to the top  of the slide. I would argue that in 2022   things have moved on in a number of ways to  a point where I think it's just implausible   for businesses to say that their strategies and  their behaviours are not harming stakeholders,   particularly when we think about things like  supply chain relationships. Woeful ignorance is  

itself a kind of intentional harm, and more to the  point, I think a structural injustice perspective   is more demanding of managers. It demands that  managers think more deeply about their strategies   and how those strategies affect vulnerable  stakeholders who are being victimised by   structural injustice. Now, moving to the  first sentence, I would also notice that   these harms to stakeholders may be foreseeable  in various degrees by the businesses involved,   and so I think we can draw distinctions between  direct and indirect harm, but the more important   point is the second point, that the harms  occur because behaviours and strategies   interact with stakeholder vulnerability brought  about by the existence of structural injustice.  

And this to me is really where the heart of the  matter is related to business culpability, how   business behaviours interact with stakeholder  vulnerability, facilitated by the existence of   structural injustice. And it's a point I'll come  back to in the last part of the presentation.   And so if we draw a relationship between  structural injustice and business practise,   the nexus between business and structural  injustice is organisational policy and practise,   whether undertaken by individual  businesses or by businesses working   collectively. And I think this is also a  really important point, so if we go back to   the definition of structural  injustice that Young offered,   one of the points that Young makes in this  definition in her work in this domain is that   no one party creates a structural injustice, so by  definition, no one party can solve the injustice.   And here I want to close this section with another  quote from Young, which I think really starts to   get at both the analysis of structural injustice,  and in some sense, it's nexus to business ethics.   And she notes in her 2006 paper on responsibility  in global labour justice that, quote,   our actions are conditioned by and contribute  to institutions that affect distant others,   and their actions contribute to the operation  of institutions that affect us. Even when we   are not conscious of, or when we actively deny  a moral relationship to these other people,   to the extent that our actions depend on  the assumption that distant others are doing   certain things, we have obligations  of justice in relation to them.  

And the points that I really want to lift out from  this quote are the middle part after the ellipsis.   Even when we are not conscious of, or even when we  actively deny a moral relationship to these other   people. And what a structural injustice analysis  says is that relationship exists, whether you're   conscious of it or not, whether you even disclaim  or deny that relationship or not. The fact is the  

relationship in which action is occurring in  which structural injustice is embedded, that's   what creates a moral obligation, and it creates  a moral obligation both for individual firms   and for firms acting and behaving collectively.  And now I want to move to the last section,   which is what I'm calling a structural  and justice approach to business ethics.   And a couple of quotes from Young's work here  that will underpin the analysis in this section.   The first really gets at the  thorny question of responsibility,   and in Young's work on global labour justice,  including work on sweat shops, she drew a   distinction between a debt-oriented analysis and  a result-oriented analysis of responsibility.   And so she knows that responsibility  doesn't reckon debts, but aims the results,   and thus depends on the actions of everyone who  is in a position to contribute to those results.   And then in the 2006 paper on global labour  justice, the social connection model of   responsibility says that all agents who contribute  by their actions to the structural processes that   produce injustice have responsibilities  to work to remedy these injustices.  

Here you see the clear attribution of  responsibility that moves away from a   debt-oriented model or an intent-oriented  model, or even a model focusing on business   processes toward results and those that  are contributing to the continued existence   of a structural injustice, and also those who  benefit from the structural injustice's existence.   I think there are three distinctives of a  structural injustice approach to business ethics.   The first is that there's a strong focus on  measuring outcomes as experienced by stakeholders   rather than business processes. And this is a  point that I come back to over and over again,   because I think it does really represent  where a lot of work in business ethics   needs to go. Whether it's work in business and  human rights, or corporate social responsibility,   we tend to be very good at measuring processes,   whether it's codes of conduct or membership  in multi-stakeholder initiatives or any   number of other things. We're good at  processes, and we're good at inputs.   It's much harder to measure outcomes and then to  draw a relationship between processes and inputs   and outputs as experienced by stakeholders.  But ultimately from a stakeholder perspective,  

what really matters is the outcome. Are they  better off as a result of the business's action?   Second distinctive of the structural  injustice approach of business ethics   is the necessity of ethical reflection on the ways  that business strategies benefit from and sustain   instructional injustices, and a big part of this  is the last part of the second point, which in   turn makes it invisible visible to managers. think  one of the real distinctives of Young's analysis,   and of a structural injustice approach in  general, is it really forces managers, I think,   to look at their business strategies.  The business strategies themselves,   they may think of as morally neutral in not  contributing to the structural injustice,   but looking deeper at the strategies, and  particularly as they affect vulnerable   stakeholders, may make visible things  that they hadn't thought very much about.   And this really gets into an analysis of plausible  and implausible deniability. And I think what a   structural injustice perspective really forces  managers to think about is, what are they not   seeing? What are the logical, approximate  and obvious results of business strategies?   For example, if a business is engaged in a supply  chain strategy that focuses on reducing costs and   reducing costs and reducing costs, the business  doesn't then get to pretend to be surprised if   at some link in the supply or value chain there's  modern slavery. That was an entirely foreseeable,  

or should have been a foreseeable element of  that strategy, and then analyses of business   responsibility that are forward-looking and focus  on whether businesses can help remedy structural   injustices to which they are connected. And I  think these three distinctives of a structural   injustice approach really then start to impact  the nature and content of business responsibility   in an interesting sort of way. Let me return  to the two cases of structural injustice I   talked about earlier, period poverty and  modern slavery. And here I just want to add  

just a couple of points here. Let me start with  the last point of, if we think about localised   period poverty in a particular context, we can  view that as a signal of structural injustice,   so if you're operating in a location  in which period poverty is endemic,   that's probably a sign that you're operating in a  context in which women and people who menstruate   are being discriminated  against in some sort of way.   Now, let me double back to the first two  points, what are some concrete process things   that businesses can do, and then let me talk about  this in terms of outcomes. Well, one thing that a   business can do is to make period-related products  available to menstruating employees and take   other actions that would make workplaces  period-friendly. And I think that's a very  

concrete action. It's an input that businesses  can do to take action on period poverty.   They can also partner with other businesses to  make period-related products widely available   where they are scarce and costly. Now,  these are inputs, but what really matters is   to what extent does business action on period  poverty, which is a growing area of action for   a business, to what extent is it actually reducing  period poverty? And so here businesses could look   at outcomes such as, are there fewer women who  lack access to menstruation-related products?   Are fewer menstruating employees missing work  or missing school? Here we can look at business   action on period poverty as both a diagnosis  of structural injustice on the basis of gender,   look at particular actions that businesses can  undertake, and then really think about this in   terms of what are the concrete outcomes that  businesses can measure to really figure out   if they're making a difference related to  the structural injustice of period poverty?   And then to look at business action  on modern slavery, this typology   comes from a paper published in Business & Society  with my co-authors Judith Schrempf-Stirling and   Michelle Westermann-Behaylo. In here what we do  is we look at a couple of different dimensions  

of modern slavery and human trafficking. Does  the business have a strong or weak connection   to modern slavery, and is there  a high or low collective ability   to remedy and respond to the problem of modern  slavery? And in each box of the typology,   there are different business strategies that  can be undertaken. Let's say a business has   a strong connection to modern slavery, but the  business doesn't really have a lot of partners to   work with. That could be the Ikea example where  the business realises the only way that it can   deal with the structural injustice of modern  slavery is to vertically integrate its operations.  

And then the other elements of the typology,  high or strong connection to human trafficking,   high collective ability. This would be where  suppliers would work together to set minimum   standards. The gap in other companies are  an example of this. Weak connection and   high collective ability. You have a lot of  groups that are really interested in this issue   and have high ability to respond to, in some sort  of way, but they have a weak connection, and this   is where we see the growth of organisations such  as the Global Business Coalition Against Human   Trafficking. But then even businesses that have  low collective ability, low connection to modern  

slavery, UPS would be an example of a company that  did things like train drivers to recognise when   they were delivering packages to businesses  in which modern slavery may be occurring.   What we do in this particular paper is we draw  on ideas from structural injustice, we look at   a couple of different dimensions that help us  understand the nature of business responsibility,   and then we offer different ideas for what  businesses can do concretely to contribute to   ameliorating the structural  injustice of modern slavery.   But again, the point that I made about outcomes  is something that's really important to think   about here because one of the very hardest  things to measure in this domain is the   relationship between business actions and  the reduced incidents of modern slavery.   And so I think this really leads to three  implications of a structural injustice approach   to business ethics. The first is really focusing  on measuring outcomes and impacts as experienced   by stakeholders rather than business processes.  And this, I think, really is a fundamental issue   to think about in this regard. How do we reorient  our research as business ethicists to look at  

what stakeholders are experiencing, how  negative outcomes are approximately related   to externalities and structural injustice,  and how do we focus on outcomes and impacts   rather than measuring the easier  thing, which are business and inputs?   This also relates to the necessity of collective  action, as well as action by individual firms.   So yes, there are going to be actions that  individual firms can undertake to alleviate   a particular structural injustice. However,  it's more likely the case that there's going   to be a need for collective action among different  firms in order to remedy the structural injustice.  

Again, if no one party created the structural  injustice, no one party on its own can solve   the injustice. And then finally, to the extent  that structural injustice are sustained by power   imbalances and diminished stakeholder voice,  what are the things that businesses can do   to legitimise and strengthen institutions  that support the exercise of stakeholder voice   and reduce these power imbalances? What I hope  I've been able to sketch out is an approach to   business ethics that first moves the conversation  away from the actions of individual firms   and toward the social and economic system in which  businesses formulate and execute their strategies.   Really, reorienting the conversation and  getting all of us as business ethics scholars,   but also managers to really interrogate the extent  to which their business strategies are benefiting   from, dependent on, and contributing to  the existence of structural injustice.   Second, I think analyses of business  ethics structure and structural injustices   shift the conversation away from individualised  blame, and in some sense away from blame itself.   It's not that blame is a bad thing or not  useful in the context of business ethics.   It's probably less helpful than really  thinking through what can we do together   to alleviate these structural injustices? And  then finally, away from measuring processes   and toward measuring and ultimately improving  outcomes and impacts for all stakeholders.  

And with that, I will stop there  and look forward to your questions.   Thanks, Harry. That was fascinating, and  thank you so much for making such a complex,   difficult topic sounds so clear and intelligible.  That's just incredible. Thank you very much.   Let me just remind the people in the audience that  they should put their questions and comments into   the Q and A box, and I will be going through them  and relaying them to Harry. And I have a lot of   questions, but because I can already see that  the audience is already putting quite a lot of   questions into the Q and A as well, I think I'll  combine one of my own with one from the audience.  

Just playing devil's advocate, because I agree  with essentially everything you said, but... And   this is a question that I know comes up a lot when  people talk, for example, about positive human   rights obligations and things like that. I can see  how you can make a very strong case for business   intervention in countries where, for example,  you have essentially failed state that is not   protecting its citizens, not really doing enough  to make sure that they have the basic conditions   to develop their capacities and all that. But  if you think about countries where that's not   the case, and if you think of situations that  are a little bit more complex than, for example,   just giving away products or services to people  who need them, that might require some sort of   intervention that affects the political and  potentially legal balance in that country,   how do you deal with questions about the lack of  democratic legitimacy of businesses to deal with   those issues? And there's a related question in  the Q and A here from Athel Williams that I think   is a bit like the reverse of the coin, and he's  asking about the fact that you can view companies   as social institutions that deliver social  good, and society licences this behaviour and   grants the firm legitimacy to perform an economic  purpose. And this means that the firm's resources   and capabilities are to be geared toward its  economic mandate, so why should a firm divert   resources from its economic mandate to address  ills of society? This really, I think, relates to   the contours of responsibility in different sorts  of places, and it's one thing to think about this   in a place with legitimate government where public  policy broadly represents the will of the public,   as opposed to different sorts of contexts where  businesses really can, for example, inflict   externalities, harms to various stakeholders. I  would argue in that sort of case, that's where   structural injustice analysis becomes really,  really important, because those are the context   where businesses have a lot of degrees of freedom  to behave as they see fit, to inflict harms   on others, and that's where businesses really  need to interrogate their business strategies   much more strongly. Now, related to the second  question... Can you restate the second question?  

Sure. It was about the fact that it's possible to  view a firm as having an economic mandate that's   granted by society, and whether it would be  legitimate for a firm to divert resources   from that economic mandate to this mission  of addressing structural injustice. Yeah.   And that's a question that of course we get  all the time in the context of business ethics.   A couple of things I would note here. One is I'm  obviously making a particular normative claim   related to responsibility, and in some sense  saying that even if a business can benefit   from a structural injustice, it ought not to do  so. In some sense, a structural injustice analysis  

really proposes a moral minimum on firms, and the  broader question about the legitimacy of diverting   or using business resources that are away from the  economic mission and towards remedying structural   injustices, in some sense, I feel like the  conversation has just moved on, in that regard.   And part of it is that stakeholders are obviously  expecting more of businesses, and increasingly   I think that a lot of the analyses  of activist groups and civil society   are either explicitly or implicitly drawing on  analyses of structural injustice. I think this   really represents an evolution in the normative  conversation about business responsibility, and   ultimately it really does relate to how do  businesses respond to moral minimums? A big   part of what I'm trying to do in this particular  project is to think about the moral minimums of   business in a different sort of way. great, thank  you Alan. Thanks, Rita. And thank you Harry for a   really totally fascinating talk. I really enjoyed  that. And I have an awful lot of questions,  

as does the audience, so I'm going to roll  my question into questions that come from   Joel Harmon and Judith Schrempf-Stirling, who had  questions that touched on what I'm concerned with.   And I wanted to understand an implementation  question, or essentially two implementation   questions. One is... Oh, so one implementation  question is when we focus on outcomes,   does that mean that we leave the structural  injustice in place? Suppose that I employ a   great many people who menstruate and many of  them are very poor and I provide them with   products that will address their period poverty.  The structural injustice is still out there.   In fact, I might even be making it worse because  I have deep pockets, hypothetically. Perhaps the   people who make the relevant products can just  take advantage of me because maybe their business   model is to do so, that Joel Harmon's point.  And relatedly, it's a structural problem, right?  

Many, many people interact with these employees,  and how do I know where to stop? Judith takes a   similar point. She says, "How far do chocolate  companies have to go to eradicate slavery,   and when they do so, do they really address the  structural problem or have they simply addressed   the consequences of a structural problem? And if  they simply address the consequences, do we know   the problem is not actually getting worse, as it  is in my hypothetical period poverty example?" Those are excellent questions, and thanks to both  of you for those. And I think in some sense those   really relate to boundary conditions. Let me  take Judith's question first, related to the   stopping rule. First of all, how do you know  when you need to act, and then how do you know   where to stop? And if I take the period poverty  example, I would start with it being embedded in   specific... Start with specific employment  relationships, so looking at period poverty among   your employee. That's where you have the direct  economic relationship with employees, you can  

look at your wages, you can look at whether your  menstruating employees are missing work because   they lack access to products. That's a fairly  easy relationship to draw here in terms of where   businesses would have a responsibility, but I  think Judith is correct to be concerned about this   being an open-ended commitment. And in some sense,  this gets the first question of whether, in terms   of acting, do we leave the structural injustice  in place? I think one thing that would need to be   worked out in this sort of approach is both of  those questions. Where do you stop, because you   don't want the business to lead into the role  of government and civil society? Businesses,   going back to Rita's first question, do have an  economic role, and in some sense, I would say   that the stopping role really relates to the  extent to which you're benefiting from the   existence of the structural injustice. If you're  operating in a context in which discrimination   against women and menstruating people is very  high and you're benefiting from that in some way,   you have a responsibility to act, and you  have a responsibility to act because you   have a relationship with your employees. Where you  probably would need to stop is when it distracts   you so much from the economic mission that you  cease being a business, and now you wind behaving   more as a government or a member of civil society.  And in terms of operationalizing that answer,  

that's probably where I need to do some more  thinking in that regard. Going back to the   first question, when we focused on outcomes, are  we leaving the structural injustice in place?   In some sense this gets to both individual  business action and collective business action.   I would argue that businesses can serve as models  of behaviour. That particularly businesses that   are operating in context in which there  are significant structural injustices   by their behaviour, they're not just making  the people directly affected by the structural   injustice better off, they're also acting in ways  that develop models of business behaviour that   local businesses can adopt and other businesses  can adopt, so in some sense, this is where   thinking of structural injustice as a collective  problem, rather than an individual problem, starts   to get at some of the issues of implementation.  But I would agree with both questioners that the  

implementation question is something that really  needs to be worked out more fully. Can I ask one   very brief follow up question?you can. I'm also  worried here about the fact that it is possible   that an organisation with deep pockets is better  able to respond to such structural injustices   than a small entrepreneurial organisation.  These are structural injustices, and arguably   we need coalitions of organisations, but might  it be that if a large, deep pocketed organisation   responded to these injustices, whilst that  would benefit its immediate stakeholders,   it would squeeze out smaller firms  that cannot, for resource reasons,   attempts to address them, and that  might actually make matters worse?   I think that's a good question as well, but that's  a question that we've been exploring in business   ethics and corporate social responsibility since  time began. Well, not literally when time began,   when work in the field began. Think about factory  monitoring, for example. We've been asking similar  

questions about whether CSR imposes costs on  firms that large firms are better able to handle   relative to small firms, small firms get  driven out of business or less competitive,   so it's a persistent question, Alan, and I  don't think small firms have disappeared.   I think it is something perhaps be worried about  at the margin, but I actually want to flip the   question around, because I think smaller firms may  have advantages in another way, in that they truly   understand the local context and the way that  the structural injustice unfolds in a way that   larger business cannot. The large business may  have more financial resources, human resources,   other sources of resources to respond, but perhaps  a smaller business being closer to the structural   injustice has a greater degree of understanding,  and perhaps can respond better. This also might   then suggest a need for partnerships. Again,  moving away from a model of individualised   blame and responsibility, and toward collective  responsibility and collective solutions to the   problem of structural injustice. Right. I have  more, but we have no time. Rita? Yeah, we do need  

to get at least through one more. There's a really  interesting question here from Trisha Olson,   who's saying you know that you'd like to move  away from the actions of individual firms,   and yet resolving the collective  action problem requires firms to act.   Moreover, the pressure points you identify, social  campaigns, firm capability, connections, are all   at the firm level or at least in a relationship,  so aren't we back to where we began in that   we're talking about how to increase the cost of  wrongdoing from a broader systems perspective? Really interesting question, and in some sense  this does then come back to issues related to   implementation. If we go to Young's original  notion of structural injustice, it's trying   to get that past the notion of individualised  blame or culpability, or even intent necessarily,   to say, "If we all contribute to the creation  of structural injustice and its continuation,   and we benefit from it in some way,  we have some sort of responsibility   to act." Young's very clear analysis here is  it's a collective action problem. Now, Trisha is  

absolutely correct to point out that you still get  into the thorny issue of how individual businesses   are going to respond. After all, something like a  multi-stakeholder initiative is just a partnership   of individual firms together. But in some sense,  perhaps this question also responds to one of the   questions that Alan asked earlier about some firms  getting an advantage relative to others. I think   a big part of a structural injustice perspective  on business ethics is really getting businesses   within a particular industry or operating in  a particular locale to really look deeply at   their business practises. I think this is where  there is a need for deeper conversation within,   but particularly across firms, to really  ask the question, if we're operating in a   particular place, are we benefiting from the fact  that there are people that we can inflict cost on   that have no ability to fight back because they  lack power and voice and they're the victims of   a structural injustice? So I think Trisha's  correct to point out that this does pose an   implementation question in thinking... In some  sense, it really requires us to think about what   are different frameworks that firms can engage  in that change the nature of the conversation   and the nature of cross-firm cooperation in  a way that remedies structural injustice?   Thank you all. Oh, and I think we have  time for one more, if it's fairly quick.  

I think we we're almost entirely out of time. I guess... They're all pretty big, and i'm sitting here  looking a bunch of questions that will take 10   minutes to answer and we have a minute.I think  maybe we should just make sure that Harry gets a   copy of these questions and move on. The one  that I like the most I think is a big one.

Thank you everyone for those question, but  we're out of time, pretty much. Yes. This   is a big topic, and I think it's natural that the  questions are all pretty big and complex too. And   apologies to everyone whose questions we didn't  get to ask, but as Alan said, we'll make sure   that Harry receives all of them, so they won't be  lost. And thank you again for coming. And Harry,  

thank you so much. I can think of a better way  to close this term of R:ETRO seminars. It's been   absolutely fascinating and thought provoking,  and I think we're all going to leave here today   thinking quite differently about these questions  that you've been addressing with us, so thank you   very much. Thank you so much to all of you, and  thanks everybody for your participation. And I   look forward to getting all these big questions  for the next six months of work on this. Yes.   Okay, so thank you very much and keep an eye on  your inboxes. We will be advertising next term's   seminar soon, so I hope to see you  all again when we resume our sessions.   Thank you and take care. Thank  you, thanks again Harry. Thank you.

2022-03-25 13:15

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