Multinational Corporations and Grand Challenges: Part of the problem, part of the solution?



Research on the specific impact of MNC activities’ on societies, the environment and various stakeholders has remained scarce and scattered over disciplines (Dörrenbächer and Gammelgaard, 2019; Bozkurt and Geppert, 2021). Studies from a critical IB perspective (often on the pages of CPOIB) have provided insights on the economic and political power of MNCs, their at times morally and legally dubious activities, as well as on the detrimental effects some of their business activities have for the environment, the climate and vulnerable groups (Cairns and As-Saber, 2017). Yet, the much bigger mainstream of IB research has so far carefully avoided addressing such ‘negative externalities’ of MNC activities across the world. Exceptions are rare and very recent (e.g. Cuervo-Cazurra et al., 2021 on MNC misbehavior). It now appears that new debates in mainstream IB are on their way to putting greater emphasis on ‘Societal’s Grand Challenges’ (Buckley et al., 2019). However, they one-sidedly focus on the solutions MNCs may provide (JIBS, 2022) to address Grand Challenges defined e.g. through the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs; 

This Special Issue does not reject contributions that focus on practical solutions that MNCs provide to tackle Grand Challenges such as poverty, hunger, a clean and healthy environment etc. But here we are in particular interested in research that goes beyond pure speculation about what MNCs might be able to do, but critically look at what they actually do, evaluating prerequisites, effects and consequences of such benevolent activities. This may also include research on MNC`s rainbow washing (i.e. adopting the rainbow colors of the SDGs in marketing and communication without proper action) and SDG cherry-picking (selectively addressing Grand Challenges) (for the terms see Cuervo-Cazurra et al., 2022). 

What makes this Special Issue different, however, is that it recognizes that MNCs are not only part of the solution but in many instances part of the problem (for a very few examples see e.g. Flores et al., 2022; Hermes and Letho, 2021; Adams et al., 2017). Hence, the special issue invites papers that investigate the strategies, business conduct and political behaviors of MNCs that cause and/or contribute to the very existence of Global Challenges in the first place. This involves papers that assess the compensations that MNCs offer (if any) for their harmful activities. It is also encloses papers that study regulatory attempts and MNC counter activities to constrain such harmful activities. 

Contributions to the Special Issue may focus on individual MNCs, MNCs of particular industries as well as on MNCs active in particular regions or countries. Grand Challenges may refer to specific aspects of an SDGs, a single SDGs or a combination of SDGs. We especially welcome contributions that study the MNC from the perspective of less powerful stakeholders who are less mobile, have less access to information and enjoy fewer financial resources than the MNCs that impact their lives, including those stakeholders who are politically and economically marginalized. The Special Issue invites both conceptual contributions and empirical studies drawing on qualitative or quantitative methods and data.


List of topic areas 

The following topics should be merely seen as examples for potential topics

  • Extractive industries, global resource depletion and MNCs MNCs as enablers and/or obstacles of sustainable ecosystems
  • MNCs's role in hollowing out of the social contract: issues of MNC mobility, tax evasion and corruption
  • Global inequality (gender/race/income/education/health) and the role of MNCs
  • Decent work in MNCs: workplace security, wellbeing, occupational health and industrial relations, labor exploitation, labor resistance and organizing Slavery in MNC value chains
  • MNCs and the delivery of essential goods and services (food, water, health) to the marginalized
  • MNCs, intellectual property rights and the global health crisis
  • MNCs and the global refugee crisis Humanitarian action: the role and contribution of MNCs
  • MNCs contribution to shaping and fighting against constraining institutions
  • The Solution B-Corps offer to Grand Challenges
  • MNC and SDG rainbow washing and SDG cherry-picking


Guest Editors

Christoph Dörrenbächer, 
Berlin School of Economics and Law, Germany, 
[email protected]

Mike Geppert,
Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Germany, 
[email protected]

Ödül Bozkurt, 
University of Sussex Business School, United Kingdom,
[email protected]



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Cairns, George and Sharif As-Saber (2017), "The dark side of MNCs," in Multinational corporations and organization theory: Post millennium perspectives, Christoph Dörrenbächer and Mike Geppert (Eds.). Research in the sociology of organizations Vol. 49: Emerald Publishing Limited, 425-443.
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