Shaping the corporate landscape: it’s high time for corporate reform

Nina Boeger, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Bristol

Nina Boeger, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Bristol

Mistrust in corporate governance and multi-national companies has rarely run deeper than today. In extreme cases of misconduct, corporate bosses might be called in to answer questions about their own exploitative conduct vis-a-vis their businesses, as we have seen recently in the public interrogation of Sir Phillip Green, former “owner” of the now defunct BHS.

But generally, it has become ever clearer that while corporations carry responsibility for many of our current global problems, from rising social inequality to looming ecological disaster, they are rarely held fully accountable for their misdemeanours and recklessness.

Our corporate governance system has so far failed to impose effective limits on the rent-seeking of financial investors and the excess of corporate managers at the expense of the wider workforce and the exploitation of our communities and the environment. Instead, profit maximisation for shareholders, and handsome remuneration packages for company directors even when they manage their company against the long-term interests of employees, consumers and the wider communities that businesses are meant to serve, continue to dominate the order of the day.

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Brexit and Worker Rights

Prof Michael Ford QC, Professor of Law, University of Bristol Law School

Professor Michael Ford QC, Professor of Law, University of Bristol Law School

It is now pretty well-known that most of the employment rights in the UK are guaranteed by EU law—the principal exceptions are unfair dismissal and the national minimum wage —as I explained in a recent advice for the TUC. UK legislation on race discrimination, sex discrimination, equal pay and disability discrimination may have pre-dated EU Directives in these areas, but EU law led to protection against other forms of discrimination, such as detrimental treatment owing to age, sexual orientation and religion and belief. Over the years EU law has greatly supplemented or overwritten the domestic regime, almost always in favour of workers’ rights – removing limits on damages, recognising that pregnancy discrimination did not need a comparator, changing rules on the burden of proof, allowing equal pay claims for work of equal value, protecting against harassment and post-employment victimisation. I could go on.

Now extending far beyond discrimination, the EU-guaranteed rights include almost all the working time protections, including paid annual leave and limits on working hours; the protection of agency, fixed-term and part-time workers; rights on the transfers of an undertaking (extremely significant in a world dominated by out-sourcing); many rights to information and collective consultation; the most important health and safety regulations; the right to a written statement of terms of employment; protections in insolvency derived from the EU Insolvency Directive, which led to important extensions to the state guarantee of pension benefits and protection of other claims where the employer is insolvent (no doubt to be in play in relation to British Home Stores); and EU data protection law, the driving force behind the Information Commissioner’s Employment Practices Code, providing some controls over the monitoring and surveillance of workers.

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The West Decides: The EU Referendum Debate

Professor Steven Greer, from the University of Bristol Law School, attended The West Decides: EU Referendum Debate and writes up his summary of the event.

Professor Steven Greer FAcSS FRSA, Professor of Human Rights, University of Bristol Law School

Professor Steven Greer FAcSS FRSA,
Professor of Human Rights, University of Bristol Law School

On the evening of Friday, 29 April 2016, a capacity audience in the University of Bristol’s Wills Memorial Building Great Hall witnessed and participated in a lively and impassioned debate, supported by PolicyBristol and the University of Bristol Alumni Association, about whether the UK should leave or remain a member of the EU.

Introduced by Professor Nick Lieven (Pro Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Aircraft Dynamics), and professionally chaired by Dr Phil Sypris (Reader in Law), the ‘Leave’ team consisted of Daniel Hannan (Conservative MEP) and Graham Stringer (Labour MP), while the case for ‘Remain’ was put by Molly Scott-Cato (Green MEP) and Will Hutton (former editor-in-chief of The Observer and currently Principal of Hertford College, Oxford, and Chair of the Big Innovation Centre).

Before inviting the panellists to open the debate, Dr Syrpis asked the audience for a show of hands. Roughly 80 per cent were in favour of the UK remaining in the EU, 10 per cent for leaving, and 10 per cent were undecided. The formal proceedings themselves began and ended with each member of the panel summarising their case in a one minute presentation. In between the same format applied to a series of six questions chosen by students from those submitted by members of the prospective audience and circulated to panellists in advance. Contributions from the floor followed. Before the event ended, a second show of hands saw little change in the initial figures, with Remain still standing at around 80 per cent, Leave dropping to about 5 per cent and the proportion of undecideds increasing slightly to around 15 per cent.

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Delivering the ‘Future City’: our economy and the nature of ‘growth’

This blog is written by Caroline Bird, Future Cities and Communities Knowledge Exchange Manager at the Cabot Institute.

This blog is written by Caroline Bird, Future Cities and Communities Knowledge Exchange Manager at the Cabot Institute.

This article is part of a series of ‘future cities’ posts, originally published towards the end of 2015 by the Cabot Institute.

In Bristol’s European Green Capital year, the University of Bristol and its Cabot Institute worked with the Bristol Green Capital Partnership and its members to convene a series of four conversations between Bristol academics and city ‘thinkers’ from across public, private and civil society exploring how Bristol delivers the ‘future city’ –  what capacities it needs to be resilient, sustainable and successful and how it can start to develop these in times of changing governance and tightened finances. 

Wordle of what we thought we’d talk about…

Cities such as Bristol are increasingly prominent in national growth strategies. The economic growth that Bristol helps to drive plays a fundamental role in shaping many aspects of life within the city. Different sectors, areas and social groups participate in and feel the impacts of growth in different ways. For some, the need for growth is unquestionable, particularly in an era of austerity, with the assumption that growth somehow underpins the pursuit of all other objectives. But for others, the pre-eminent growth logic is divisive socially and unsustainable environmentally. Growth therefore needs to be at least managed and possibly challenged more fundamentally. In this fourth conversation we considered what economic models make sense for the city and what capacity the city has to make changes in the context of a national and international economic system.

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Are management consultants losing their place as masters of the universe?

Professor Andrew Sturdy, Head of Department of Management and Chair in Management, University of Bristol

Professor Andrew Sturdy, Head of Department of Management and Chair in Management, University of Bristol

Dr Joe O'Mahoney, Reader, Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University

Dr Joe O’Mahoney, Reader, Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University

Management consultants are powerful beasts. They can mould businesses and guide governments, both in high-profile projects and behind the scenes. They do this largely free from any specific regulation and, if revenue is anything to go by, continue to thrive in our uncertain world.

But there are constraints and scrutiny at work too – and they are increasing. A recent studyby researchers at the universities of Bristol and Cardiff in the UK shows how one of the most powerful consultancies, McKinsey & Co., is facing up to new and threatening pressures from clients, governments, NGOs and market forces.

Consulting firms like McKinsey, Booz Allen or Boston Consulting exercise power in three main ways: they have vast resources at their disposal; they are able to intervene in decision-making processes; they can influence what their clients think. In terms of resources, McKinsey not only possesses significant economic capital but its CEO-heavy alumni network provides it with an instant sales route into the Fortune 500 list of major companies. Its knowledge resources are the envy of universities the world over. The McKinsey Global Institute, for instance, is one of the largest management research organisations.

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What the Great Western Cities deal means

Tessa Coombes - PhD student in Social Policy, University of Bristol

Tessa Coombes – PhD student in Social Policy, University of Bristol

Britain’s Western Powerhouse was launched recently, with a report authored by Metro Dynamics. It is an interesting initiative from the cities of Bristol, Cardiff and Newport. With a focus on connectivity and economic collaboration, it’s an attempt to show how the West can compete with the emerging Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine, albeit on a somewhat smaller scale.

With a proliferation of names, including Western Powerhouse, Severn Powerhouse, and Great Western Cities (GWC) Powerhouse, the initiative is about illustrating the strength of this area as a net contributor to UK plc and just how much more could be achieved through increased collaboration. What it definitely is not about is any suggestion of formal structures or systems of governance. It is purely about collaboration and connectivity. You might wonder why this point is so important that it has to be stressed? Basically it is about distancing itself from the city region devolution agenda being pursued by the government, where metro mayors and combined authorities are necessary to elicit the best deals.

The Bristol city region has been negotiating on just such a deal since September last year, seemingly with a relative stalemate because locally the formal structures proposed by the government have received little support and neither side appears to be willing to compromise. It will be interesting to see if Bristol does indeed secure as good a deal as the other core cities that have accepted the government’s model.

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Are we really witnessing a great ‘devolution deception’?

Ben Harrison is the Director of Partnerships at the Centre for Cities.

Ben Harrison is the Director of Partnerships at the Centre for Cities.

This was first posted on the Centre for Cities blog.

Festival of Social Science, a debate took place in Bristol on 9/11/15 on the impacts of directly elected mayors on cities, including contributions from Baroness Barbara Janke, former Leader of Bristol City Council and Member of the House of Lords, Thom Oliver, Political Scientist, UWE, David Sweeting, Senior Lecturer, University of Bristol, and Ben Harrison, Centre for Cities.  A lively debate included reference to George Osborne’s plans for cities and city regions, and particularly whether we are witnessing a ‘devolution deception’.

Here, Ben Harrison argues the case against such an interpretation. 

To dismiss the Government’s devolution agenda simply as a “deception” is to opt out of a debate at the very time that real change is finally possible.

I was recently in Bristol earlier this week speaking about the merits of directly elected mayors, when I heard a familiar refrain during the audience Q and A. Far from being a significant redistribution of power from the central state to local areas, the Government’s entire devolution agenda, the attendee said, was nothing more than a “devolution deception”.

This is far from the only time I’ve heard this kind of critique put forward, not least from the national Labour party and its new leader, and earlier this week from the leader of the Liberal Democrats. But does it really stack up – is the Government really deceiving people when it comes to its intentions on devolution?

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Are Conservatives ‘now the party of work’? The Trade Union Bill suggests not…

 

Professor Michael Ford QC joined the Bristol law School in 2015 and specialises in labour law, human rights and public law.

Professor Michael Ford QC joined the Bristol law School in 2015 and specialises in labour law, human rights and public law.

Tonia Novitz is Professor of Labour Law, specialising in labour law, international trade and human rights.

Tonia Novitz is Professor of Labour Law, specialising in labour law, international trade and human rights.

On 5 October 2015, George Osborne declared that the Conservative are ‘now the party of work, the only true party of labour’. The Trade Union Bill presented to Parliament in July 2015 demonstrates the hollowness of this claim. This proposed legislation has had little attention from the media but promises to place alarming restrictions on the rights of workers and their trade unions, probably in anticipation of deep budgetary cuts affecting the public sector which are, of course, likely to generate protest…

The measures in the Bill include: changes to the already very strict balloting requirements on strikes; new restrictions on peaceful picketing; new rules on the political activity of trade unions; restrictions on trade unions’ facility time in the public sector (with check off also in the Government’s sights); and greater controls on trade unions by the Certification Office. At the same time, the Government has published draft regulations allowing employers to hire agency workers as strike-breakers, and proposes further restrictions on protests organised by trade unions.

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‘Made in China’ vs. ‘made in the EU’: what’s the difference?

Dr Rutvica Andrijasevic, Senior Lecturer in Management

Dr Rutvica Andrijasevic,
Senior Lecturer in Management, University of Bristol

Foxconn, a Taiwanese-owned firm best known for being the main assembler of Apple products and for harsh working conditions at its Chinese factories, is the world’s largest electronics contract manufacturer. While Foxconn also operates in Europe, it is from its factories in mainland China that we hear of militarised disciplinary regime, excessive and unpaid overtime, unhealthy and unsafe working conditions and forced student labour.

Just how different is the situation in Europe? I set out to answer this question three years ago along with my colleague Devi Sacchetto from the University of Padua. We conducted 63 interviews in the Czech Republic and 29 in Turkey with current and former Foxconn workers and managers, trade union representatives, government officials and NGOs.

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Time for a new kind of politics?

Tessa Coombes - Social Policy PhD student

Tessa Coombes – Social Policy PhD student

At last, the long drawn out Labour leadership election has come to its conclusion and we now know that Jeremy Corbyn has indeed been elected as leader of the Labour Party. After what has been a challenging process, involving intrigue, sub plots and horror stories, we will now see what this new kind of politics is all about. The mandate for change is clear with the scale of the victory born out of a truly democratic process embracing the notion of a real alternative to the status quo.

But what does this mean in practice when you have a leader who will undoubtedly have to fight many internal battles to gain support for his own policies?

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