FB Magazine DEC 2020
Achieving Sustainability in the New Normal
Professor Mike Lai
Associate Dean (Academic Support), Faculty of Business
The United Nations (UN) has developed 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) as a roadmap to achieving a better and more sustainable future. Achieving sustainability is especially challenging this year due to COVID-19, as many of our routine activities have been disrupted or even permanently changed. This pandemic has been transforming our economy and society, changing modes of operation from home working and online meetings through to staycations and virtual visits. These changes are evolving towards a “new normal”. Our shipping and export/import trade sector is a pillar industry of Hong Kong, employing a workforce of more than 200,000 in the city. In the face of the emerging challenges of geopolitical tensions, international trade conflicts, natural disasters and disease outbreaks, it is important for enterprises in this sector to achieve sustainability in their triple bottom line of economic, environmental and social performance.
In response to the pandemic this year, global trade volume has shrunk and economic lockdowns have become common worldwide, disrupting shipping operations. Container port terminals have slowed their operations to allow for quarantine control and many ships are idling at sea due to the slump in shipping demand. To deal with these new normal difficulties, many shipping lines are adjusting their practices, cutting schedules to stabilize the freight rate or even cancelling sailings. Meanwhile, China–US trade tensions accentuate the uncertainties of global economic growth and the associated shipping trade demands.
Shipping education and research is one of our core strengths at PolyU. We are the sole shipping education provider at the university level in Hong Kong. Researchers from our Department of Logistics and Maritime Studies (LMS) have made outstanding achievements in shipping research. According to an analysis of research publications indexed in Web of Science, PolyU tops the list for shipping-related articles published by the world’s leading shipping schools between 2017 and 2019. Furthermore, research by our colleagues in LMS on topics such as greener ports and shipping logistics are aligned with SDG 13 on climate action for a sustainable economy. To provide a forum for shipping educators and practitioners to discuss industry challenges including decarbonization and digitalization for sustainable development in the new normal, our Shipping Research Centre (SRC) chose the theme of “Sustainable Development of Shipping and Trade” for the annual conference of the International Association of Maritime Economists (IAME 2020) held on 10 to13 June 2020.
The IAME conference, incepted in 1994, is a platform for stakeholders in the maritime industry and maritime education to share experience, intelligence, and research findings. It brings together scholars, researchers, practitioners, policymakers, and regulators to devise new ways of tackling regional and global issues in the shipping and maritime fields.
When the conference was first hosted by PolyU in 2001, the delegates discussed the all-embracing theme of maritime economics, covering such topics as port economics and policy, shipping finance, ship registration, shipping competition and choices, shipping markets and strategy, and maritime manpower. Since then, there have been considerable changes in maritime economics and management, brought about by a number of factors, including digitalization, electronic commerce, and environmental and social concerns. IAME 2020 covered environmental and social issues in shipping and trade beyond the economic focus to recognize the increasingly critical importance of sustainability in balancing and improving the triple bottom line for industry development. It provided a forum to address both the theoretical and practical issues associated with sustainable shipping management to facilitate and support international trade in today’s dynamic, complex and uncertain business world.
Given the pandemic, it was challenging for the SRC to organize IAME 2020 and sustain the conference due to many uncertainties, such as conference scheduling (including whether to postpone or cancel the conference), subscriptions (whether only local attendees could participate), the paper submission and review process (which needed to be adequate and timely), and travel restrictions (imposed by both school and country policies for travel bans). The organizing committee had to make many difficult decisions to move traditional conference activities to online presentations and socially distanced gathering. Guided by the innovation-driven education and scholarship (IDEAS) mission of FB, the SRC managed to deliver the first virtual conference of the IAME community, gathering maritime economists at a difficult time with a creative meeting programme of online presentations and social interactions. One example of the innovative approach was real-time games delivered by our MSc International Shipping and Transport Logistics students to engage delegates at a gala gathering. This engagement achieved by IAME 2020 was also evidenced by the highest number of submissions in the history of the conference, a total of 229 presentations including 73 extended abstracts and 156 full papers from 38 countries. The online conference programme also included 10 special sessions, 40 academic sessions, and one industry session, impressing the maritime economist community, both local and international, with PolyU’s leadership role in shipping education and research with IDEAS.
Dr Jaegoo Lim
Department of Management and Marketing
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic gives society, not just academics, a good opportunity to think about the relationship between government and corporations and the broad meaning of corporate social responsibility. As governments battle unprecedented challenges during this pandemic, they have shown gaps in provision and have relied on corporate activities to deal with challenges such as producing masks, ensuring employment, and developing a vaccine for COVID-19.
In recent years, there have been discussions on “political corporate social responsibility” (PCSR), which emphasizes the political turn of CSR to close governance gaps. The underlying concept behind PCSR, which is based on the notion of corporate citizenship, is that responsible activities turn corporations into political actors by engaging in public discussions and decisions, and providing public goods when governments are unable to do so. Although the traditional view of CSR emphasized the economic role of corporations, the boundary between economic and political domains has become blurred. Increasingly, firms are involved in the supply of public goods (e.g., private prisons and private military companies) and in the political process of public policy. This political turn of CSR has led to a rethink of the proper role and influence of corporations in society.
The complicated nature of PCSR means that corporate involvement in the policymaking process is not widely taken for granted. It also causes controversy. Many stakeholders have expressed concern about the corporate influence in politics and demanded transparency in corporate political activity (CPA). For instance, annual surveys by Gallup in the US show that a majority of respondents are dissatisfied with the influence of big businesses and want them to have less influence in society. When public authorities have close relationships with corporations as political actors, the public and the media often suggest that big business may have a corrupting influence on politics.
In this context, Dr Jaegoo Lim in the Department of Management and Marketing has been working on a project titled “Social Meaning Attached to Corporate Political Activity: An Institutional Theory Perspective”. In this study, he examines the impact of social pressures on corporate involvement in the policymaking process by using data on the political expenditure of large US companies. Businesses engage in the public policy process to manage the influence of governments and public policy. Not surprisingly, firms and trade associations are the largest special interest groups in politics. Many stakeholders in society voice concerns about the excessive influence of firms, which creates complex conditions for corporate political activity. The aim of the study is to address the question of how social pressures influence CPA. Even though corporations are legally allowed to engage in the political process in the US, some of their activities, especially visible ones, such as lobbying and campaign contributions to political parties and politicians, are subject to extensive social pressure and controversy.
The study empirically tests how social and institutional pressures affect corporate use of political activities to manage the policy and regulatory environments. More specifically, the study’s proposition is that social pressure on CPA, such as shareholder activism through proxy proposals, media coverage and government regulations, moderates the effects of strategic factors on the use of CPA. The results suggest that direct social pressures targeting specific corporations, such as shareholder pressures and media coverage of CPA, affect the degree to which targeted firms are politically active, whereas less specific pressures such as regulatory changes do not.