We focus on the relationships between business, nature and value creation.
This is a nexus that is hugely important to global commodity supplies - and hence global and local security - and also to trade, markets, and the governance of corporate practices.
The role of business
Business is a way to create economic and social value, to allocate resources and to exchange goods. It is never disinterested or neutral: business is carried on by parties with distinct and contested aims, and always has unforeseeable consequences that affect many people beyond those directly involved.
The conduct and meaning of business is also embedded in legal frameworks and cultural norms that are themselves contested. Within these structures, concepts (such as cooperation and competition, markets and exchange) are constructed and deployed in ways that have ethical and practical implications.
We are interested in businesses that draw directly on nature, the value they seek to create and the moral values they embody.
At the current stage of our development we are concentrating on the conceptual and practical development and functioning of agricultural co-ops and their contribution to global food supplies. We bring to this task a range of research interests shaped by our backgrounds in sustainability, supply chain management, leadership and governance, in the global North and South, in China, Africa, Europe and North America.
Specifically, we focus on how food and agricultural cooperatives work – through processes such as management, cooperation, collaboration, collusion, leadership, innovation and exchange. We therefore value mixed methods appropriate to this complex empirical task, and give particular weight to fieldwork, networks of informants and research partnerships that enable us to span the geographic and disciplinary variety of co-ops and their supply chains.
In addition to studying how they are organised and maintained, we examine how co-ops change, whether by intentional innovation or adaptive problem-solving. We consider the ideological and political aspects of cooperation in different market and cultural contexts. We also seek to compare the discourse of democratic member participation used in the marketing and development discourse of co-operatives, to the reality of grass-roots participatory member practice.
Cooperatives in developing countries are important suppliers to international supermarkets and food brand companies (such as Tesco and Nestlé). These co-ops play a critical role in the local economy, community wellbeing and sustainability. More research is needed to examine the critical role that co-ops play (or could contribute) in managing ‘the commons’ and how co-ops in different cultural and institutional environments adopt different governance processes.
Understanding innovation and growth
We will also study the forces that drive innovation and growth (and resistance to these) in supplier, distribution and retail co-ops, as the dynamics are known to be rather different to those owned by the state or private and public investors. Such understanding is critical for multinational buying firms aiming to improve supply chain performance and sustainability.
It is also important that co-ops understand the imperatives that drive multinational and state enterprises from different parts of the world. The research group will therefore also focus on the relations between co-ops and other agents in food and agriculture supply networks. The overall aim is to identify best practices in cooperative development.