Business Ethics, Engineering and Computer Ethics, and Climate Ethics Research Lab

Business (Ethics) and Human Rights/Political CSR and Multi-Stakeholder Governance Networks

Description: In one of our recent research papers, published in the Journal of Business Ethics, we analyze the democratic qualities of the Equator Principles, a voluntary and soft law CSR initiative in the project finance sector, from a Habermasian, that is, deliberative democracy, perspective (cp. Martens/v.d. Linden/Wörsdörfer 2017): To do so, we develop a conceptual framework based on Habermas' five institutional elements of deliberative democracy. Our modified Habermasian framework shows that multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) have a dèmos independent of the dèmoi of nation states. It also identifies key institutional reform steps that, if adopted, would contribute to the democratization of the Equator Principles Association.

Currently, we are working on implementing and transferring our modified Habermasian framework to other transnational MSIs such as the U.N. Guiding Principles, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, or the ISEAL (International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labelling) Alliance, a 'meta-standardization of sustainability standards organization' which includes Fairtrade International, the Forest and Marine Stewardship Councils, the Rainforest Alliance, the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, and other organizations as full members and covers the agriculture and food, forestry and forest products, manufacturing and textile, and mining and minerals sectors - to name a few. The research is expected to transform the field by providing concrete suggestions on how to democratize transnational multi-stakeholder meta-governance networks. We intend to also work on a variety of follow-up projects and case studies, e.g., related to the palm oil industry and conflict minerals.

  • Wil Martens, Professor, Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.
  • Bastiaan van der Linden, Assistant Professor, EDHEC Business School, Lille, France.

Big Data Ethics and Information Privacy

Description: Our current research project aims at adjusting the business-ethical Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) framework and tailoring it to the specific needs and requirements to protect the privacy of individuals in software, mobile, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. This modified version of FPIC could provide a potential solution for overcoming the technical, legal-political, and ethical-normative shortcomings of the current 'notice and choice' approach. It could, thus, provide a feasible alternative to the status quo, which is mainly dominated by a self-regulatory and voluntary privacy paradigm, and pave the way towards 'hardening the soft law' in privacy regulations. The main goal of our project is to adopt, evaluate, and extend the concepts, processes, and methodologies from FPIC in other domains and apply them to privacy policies of IoT as well as software and mobile applications. We strive to develop an FPIC-based privacy framework with guidelines, methods, and tools to help software developers and designers incorporate ethical, human rights, and privacy-related notions from FPIC to their privacy policies and help them implement these notions into their software requirements and design. Our framework analyzes and includes business ethics and human rights requirements and then provides a methodology and a modeling approach based on regulatory compliance software engineering to help translating these requirements into software requirements and designing software and mobile applications that are compliant with these ethical-normative requirements.

We are also working on closely related research topics such as big data ethics and big data and human rights as well as the ethical issues of Artificial Intelligence (AI) (e.g., related to machine and deep learning) and Autonomous Vehicles (AVs): Privacy and data protection and security issues not only play a decisive role in the context of IoT devices, but also when it comes to AI and AVs. Besides, the AI-induced automation, computerization, and digitalization will also have profound societal implications, e.g., on labor markets. Last but not least, engineering and computer ethics can also inform the recent discussion surrounding machine ethics, for instance, the question of which norms and values to 'program' into the algorithms of AVs in case of unavoidable crash scenarios.

  • Sepideh Ghanavati, Assistant Professor, School of Computing and Information Science, University of Maine, Orono, USA.
  • Harlan Onsrud, Professor, School of Computing and Information Science, University of Maine, Orono, USA.
  • Peer Zumbansen, Professor of Transnational Law and Director of the Dickson Poon Transnational Law Institute, King's College London, London, UK.
  • Climate Ethics

    Description: Our current research investigates the special role of multinational financial institutions in the context of climate change mitigation and adaptation. A particular focus is on climate or green bonds, which are closely aligned with social impact bonds. The idea behind this bond category is to shift investments from socio-environmentally irresponsible and unethical investments towards socio-environmentally responsible and ethical investments, and to finance climate change solutions. These investments are conducted based on so-called Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) indicators and get certified, e.g., by the Climate Bonds Initiative (CBI) and its Standard Board. CBI predicts that bonds worth US$ 210 billion will be issued in 2018, which would be almost three times the amount of 2016 in which bonds worth US$ 81 billion were issued. The climate bonds market is, thus, one of the fastest growing segments in the global finance industry and many big companies and especially government-run pension funds have already invested in this market. The climate finance market is also fostered by the Green Climate Fund which has been launched by the Paris Agreement. Here, too, banks are needed as intermediaries and fund managers.

    Besides, we are also conducting research on some of the most pressing ethical issues related to climate change such as equity, fairness, and social justice (e.g., intra- and inter-generational justice), the ethical principles of 'do no harm', 'polluter pays' and 'ability to pay' as well as the (human) rights to subsistence and sustainable development or the (human) rights of indigenous peoples. We particularly aim at conducting qualitative and interview-based research with climate-affected communities such as the ones in Newtok and Shishmaref, Alaska, and the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians, a native American tribe living in Ilse de Jean Charles in Louisiana.

    • Katharine Hayhoe, Professor, Climate Science Center, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, USA.
    • Alicia Hennig, Assistant Professor, Harbin Institute of Technology, Harbin, China.
    • Stefan Kroll, Senior Researcher, Peace Research Institute Frankfurt, Germany.