Global Sustainability and the Future of Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance

Global sustainability, and environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG), have become more pronounced in the institutional and general public's consciousness since the early 2000s. The initial seeds of this project commenced during this period with a mix of academic, policy and practitioner-oriented publications looking at global social and economic sustainability, and the development of ESG principles and practices.

Foremost, I explore the linkages between global big businesses, NGOs and labour standards in developing nations. In one journal article [audio paper: video and podcast], I scrutinize the practices of multinational enterprises (MNEs) during the mid-1990s to mid-2000s, in terms of wage allocation, foreign direct investment and supply-chain formations, and its overall effects on labour standards. The role of NGOs to promote and improve labour standards in developing nations is also considered. The article's findings are serialized in the Singapore Strait Times, and follows a report I authored for ActionAid International which analyzed the impact of Walmart China on the domestic supply chain.

Second, I examine the emergence of inclusive growth strategies as a core guiding principle in development and welfare policies during the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis. The 21st century’s first global financial crisis increased the scope of poverty and inequality to the extent that the gap between the richest and poorest nations became wider; and, income inequality rose at the domestic level for most jurisdictions. Coiled in this environment, I dissect how neoliberal policies, inspired by the Washington Consensus, are giving way to development models which look to a more active government role in both social and economic policies. Meanwhile, in the parallel universe of welfare policy, a fundamental realignment is taking place. Faced with managing rampant social and economic challenges augmented by the global financial crisis, policy communities have turned to a variety of instruments to ensure that growth and social inclusion go together. To increase dialogue on these developments, I co-convened an International Forum on Inclusive Growth, Welfare and Development Policy [video and podcast] which brought together leading international policymakers (e.g. World Bank, OECD) and academics in the field.

Third, I am interested in the sustainability of global energy in the coming decades. I approach this from several perspectives in a series of policy briefs. In one brief, I discuss global energy consumption demand and supply needs [translation: French], and suggest that the current rate of basic research is unable to drive the necessary breakthrough science and technologies for sustainable future energy growth. In a related brief, I argue that despite an appetite for clean energy transition, the attendant challenge is to make these technologies successfully competitive compared to traditional carbon-based energy in the long term. Part and parcel of this challenge is to ensure that basic research in energy [translation: French] harvest, storage and transmission continues to make quantum leaps. Moreover, to achieve a fruitful pathway from basic research to the commercial market, and to induce clean energy adoption [translation: French], will involve effective regulation, incentives, and partnerships with academia, government and private enterprises. I subsequently organized a Roundtable on the Future of Energy to bring together researchers, policy entrepreneurs and business actors to explore how different sectors can foster greater partnerships and synergies to address the grand challenges necessary to accelerate a transition to a clean energy future. Part of my thinking on regulation and the involvement of state and society actors in this process, stems from a report reviewing and comparing the insurance regulatory regimes in Canada, UK and USA; as well as a roundtable that looked at the future of machine learning and health care.

Fourth, I examine the efficacy of the harmonization of global sustainability standards by looking at salient geopolitical factors, and future headwinds and risks that will affect the success of this endeavor. I further argue that in the long run there will be two global standards servicing two different audiences. One standard will service the needs of a companies’ shareholders and investors. The other standard will service the needs of societal stakeholders and will cover a range of sustainability issues that matter to society at large. In addition, I suggest that major emerging markets will have to navigate and balance foreign policy aspirations, and economic development goals, when it comes to adopting global standards. The case of China is instructive in this respect. China’s implementation of new ESG standards point to a serious shift towards meeting global practices and domestic-level sustainable development objectives. Furthermore, China's ESG regime has a strong potential to be a tool for the nations foreign policy in the 2020s. A short animated documentary was created to illustrate these arguments.

Finally, I study the governance practices of large organizations, with an emphasis on improving access and representation of equity-seeking groups. In a forthcoming monograph, The Minority Report: The Growth and Impact of Visible Ethnic Minorities in the Corporation, I draw upon two decades of interviews, participant observation and ethnography, studying the experiences of ethnic minorities in MNEs in London (UK), New York City (USA), Sydney (Australia) and Toronto (Canada). I am acutely interested in discerning how ethnic minority opportunities and power manifest in MNEs, and the key attributes and strategies for success (and its opposite) in the upper echelons of the large organization. The monograph is influenced by a career pathways’ workforce profile report I developed for the University of Cambridge. In addition, my underlying thinking to improve diversity amongst Boards of Directors can be viewed in an op-ed that appears in The Globe and Mail, and in a short animated documentary.