Legitimacy and evasion: exploring organisational subversions of modern slavery principles through a neo-institutional lens

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: School of Management


Rationale for the research
The increasing attention being paid to issues of labour abuse, particularly from legislative and regulatory bodies and civil society, has developed a framework of acceptable corporate behaviours. Beyond taking a purely ethical standpoint, there is little understanding of firm reactions to, for example, new legislation such as the UK Modern Slavery Act, or why some organisations continue to defy norms. This ultimately puts the exploited in greater risk, since legal and other structures which seek to limit abuses are constrained by lack of empirical findings. A lack of understanding of management and organisational factors leading to labour exploitation means that firms themselves are less able to ensure that subsidiaries, partners, and suppliers are upholding standards, creating risks to stakeholders. This research seeks to build on the emerging recognition of these factors which can empower decision makers.
The three countries are at varying stages of institutional emergence. The UK has led legislation and on modern slavery. UAE has seen growing attention paid to the issue in recent years; Russia is the least mature of the three countries, although incidences of Chinese migrant and North Korean forced labour and coverage of NGO reports in the country's national media have recently increased the issue's profile.
Key research questions
How are institutional pressures around modern slavery addressed in the UK, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)?
The research aims to develop new understanding of organisational behaviours with regard to labour exploitation, and to compare both the institutional environments and firm reactions to them across the countries. To that end, the research will answer the following questions:
1) What are the institutional factors relevant to the UK and the origin country of companies producing modern slavery statements?
2) How do these factors influence firm responses to modern slavery pressures?
3) What comparisons can be drawn between firm behaviours to institutional factors across countries, and how are these changing?
None developed as yet, though the emergent work on institutional "evasion" by Soundararajan, Spence, and Rees (2018) provides a useful study point of reference.
Research methods to be used
The research will adopt a mixed methods approach. A quantitative analysis of approximately 10,000 modern slavery statements published to date in the UK will seek to reveal the degree of compliance with institutional norms and explore the country of origin effects of different levels of compliance. A qualitative phase of interviews with approximately 20 business managers from companies domiciled in each of three countries (UK, UAE and Russia) will then obtain a broader understanding of differing forms of evasion in particular contexts.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2095271 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2018 30/03/2023 Michael Rogerson