Our perspectives on International Business are constantly evolving and broadening as we accept that the world is more complex than what a narrow perspective on the ‘international success and failure of the firm’ can explain. The global business environment is composed of systemic force fields where events forming initial conditions can produce a multitude of new phenomena and outcomes in very short time.  It is the dynamic and complex interconnectedness, interdependencies and interactions of political, economic, social, technological and environmental systems, among others, that we call globalization, which has brought to us unprecedented wealth, but also new problems, and of course also potential solutions.

But, sitting in Finland looking out of the window, how skewed is our perception of the big wide world really? According to Hans Rosling’s (Rosling et al., 2018) book, Factfulness, we tend to believe that the world is poorer, less healthy and more dangerous than it really is and that the way we perceive global events through media biases our shared picture of the world. One current example is the recent novel Corona Virus outbreak in Wuhan, China. When following the news coverage and discussions in social media, this provides a very good case of globalized systems and how events very far away arrive, by plane or media, and affect the way we go about our daily lives, affecting stock markets and threatening the functioning of value chains. Or a speech of a Swedish teenager who requests to do something about a looming catastrophe is sending shock waves around the political and corporate establishment is another example of the interconnectedness and interdependencies.

However, there is an array of topics that usually are on a blind spot, at least where we are sitting and that should interest us as much as many other topics. We have started to discuss these under the label ‘the dark side’ of international business, some time ago. It consists of topics that seem very far from our perception and are nevertheless part of the systems we live in. For instance, having recently reviewed an article on Modern Slavery was a revelation. According to the International Labor Organization and the Walk Free Foundation (2017) for every 1000 people in the world 5.4 are considered victims of modern slavery, being exposed to the effects of another person having control over one, being in a relationship suffering structural power or physical violence with the objective of being economically exploited. Some of the global value chains that produce many of the products and services we might consume daily are using questionable practices. These require more attention.

Over the past years, our research interests have turned towards these less popular but hugely important issues. TSE has made business ethics and critical engagement key strategic organizational values that should partly define who we are as an organization. As a result, we have many researchers who have been investigating these kinds of topics. For instance, Salla Laasonen (doctoral defense 2012) has written about stakeholder dialogue as a tool for corporate responsibility and accountability. Frederick Ahen (doctoral defense 2015), critically examined the corporate social responsibility narrative in the context of global health urging to make responsibility a key strategic dimension rather than a public relations activity. Irfan Ameer (doctoral defense 2019) has been investigating the broader social context of institutionalized bribery in developing countries and he discussed corruption practices of Multinational firms. Emilia Isolauri (current doctoral student) investigates the sources, mechanisms and outcomes of international money laundry and Isabella Galvis (current doctoral student) researches the competing pressures under which social enterprises in different institutional contexts have to balance their goal attainments. These are just a few of many examples and we can see that critically engaged international business scholarship is an important movement, which is further taken up in numerous Masters theses and which is increasingly becoming a strong integrated part of our courses in the Bachelor and Masters programs.

The goal is to include other than mainstream topics in international business to form some of the important foundations when the next generations of graduates join the constituencies they choose to serve and eventually one day steer.

Dr. Peter Zettinig

University Research Fellow

Adjunct Professor in International Business