We face a convergence of crises as a global society: environmental emergencies, notably climate change and catastrophic biodiversity loss; the undermining of the economic bases for functioning societies, combined with rising inequality, leading to populism and unrest; and the lack of resilience and resulting instability of our financial systems, making new financial collapses more likely. To achieve sustainability, it is crucial to secure the contribution of all market actors: business, citizens, investors, and the public sector.
We invite proposals for papers to be presented at the conference ‘Corporate Sustainability Reforms: Securing Market Actors’ Contribution to Global Sustainability’ in Oslo on 24 October 2019, where we will discuss how to facilitate the transition to sustainability, with the aim of identifying concrete proposals. Subject to peer-review, accepted papers will be included in a special issue of the open-access journal Sustainability.
Barriers to sustainability
A number of barriers, gaps and incoherencies prevent market actors from contributing to sustainability. The SMART report Obstacles to Global Sustainable Business (2018) identifies significant obstacles standing between European businesses, investors and financial institutions, public procurers and consumers, and their contribution to sustainable development.
A research-based approach to sustainability is needed to achieve policy coherence and to implement the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We define sustainability as securing the social foundation for people everywhere both now and in the future, while staying within planetary boundaries (Leach, Raworth and Rockström). This encompasses protecting human rights and other fundamental social rights, ensuring good governance, contributing to securing the economic basis for functioning societies, and doing this in a way that protects the very basis of our existence.
Laudable but insufficient initiatives
At the EU level, there are several laudable initiatives, such as the Public Procurement Reform of 2014, the Circular Economy packages of 2016 and 2018, and the Sustainable Finance Initiative of 2018. Together with reporting requirements for the largest businesses, which reflect the EU’s paradigm shift in defining business responsibility towards society, this has opened up a space for discussing how business and finance should respond to society’s aim of securing sustainability.
There are also a number of significant initiatives for sustainability at the international level including the SDGs themselves, and for promoting sustainable business, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights.
Shareholder primacy and unsustainable business models
Yet, these initiatives are currently insufficient in the face of shareholder primacy, the widespread but legally incorrect assumption that the purpose of the corporation and the core duty of the corporate board is to maximise returns to investors. The short-term pressure for maximisation of financial returns to investors, together with a general tendency to see economic growth as a main policy target (rather than a means to an end), is an impediment to sustainability. Together with silo-thinking and path-dependent, outdated economic models, this is keeping us on a track towards an unsustainable future.
Many business models are still based on overconsumption. The lack of relevant, reliable and verified information on sustainability impacts across global value chains is a hindrance to businesses and sustainability-oriented investors. It also acts as a barrier for sustainability-oriented citizens as consumers and workers and for the public sector when acting as procurer.
Call for proposals from all relevant disciplines
With this backdrop, we invite contributions from any relevant discipline, as well as transdisciplinary proposals. We welcome contributions concentrating on international questions, on aspects concerning the EU and the Member States, and proposals aimed directly at the market actors, as well as comparative contributions from other parts of the world.
We envisage proposals on a number of topics, including but not limited to:
- Approaches to sustainable business models
- Business law and corporate governance
- Governance of global value chains
- Sustainability assessment and verification
- Reporting and auditing
- Financial and securities market law
- International trade and investment, including foreign direct investment
- Public procurement
- Circular economy and product regulation
- Policy coherence for sustainability
Within the scope of the overarching theme of the transition to corporate sustainability, we welcome conceptual papers, case studies as well as papers presenting concrete proposals.
Timeline and practical information
- Deadline for submitting abstracts of maximum 500 words: 20 June 2019.
- Response will be given by 27 June 2019.
- Draft papers to be submitted by 24 September 2019. Earlier submissions are encouraged, to facilitate early peer-review. Draft papers are to be of maximum 8,000 words, and in compliance with the style requirements of the journal Sustainability.
- Final papers to be submitted by 24 November 2019, or at the latest three weeks after peer-review if this is concluded later than 1 November.
- Publication of the peer-reviewed papers is planned for December 2019.
Accepted papers will be invited for presentation at the conference in Oslo on 24 October 2019. Timely submission of draft papers is a prerequisite for presentation at the conference.
The organisers are not able to offer funds for travel or accommodation. However, no registration fee is charged for conference participants. Refreshments and lunch will be provided for all participants, and presenters will be invited to a speakers’ dinner, free of charge.
Draft papers will be peer-reviewed, and subject to this, accepted papers will be included in a special issue of the journal Sustainability, edited by Beate Sjåfjell and Maja van der Velden. The journal has an open-access fee. A financial hardship application may be made to the organisers, to contribute to or cover the open-access fee and/or for travel and accommodation.