Interview and Webinar: The Limitations of Ethical Certification and the Power of Employee Ownership

Amelia Evans on ABC News Impact x Nightline

Since we began going Beyond Corporations in 2021, we have been learning from the failures of multi-stakeholder initiatives to envision businesses as centering workers and communities in their ownership and governance. This fall, we had the opportunity to highlight this exciting transition and share some of our findings on ABC News’ Impact x Nightline and at the Center for Financial Inclusion’s Financial Inclusion Week. Videos for both are available online. 

Limitations of ethical certification on ABC News’ Impact x Nightline

ABC News

ABC News’ Impact x Nightline produced an episode investigating the ethical certifications (multi-stakeholder initiatives) in the coffee industry and their attempts to mitigate human rights abuses. Our Executive Director, Amelia Evans, had the opportunity to interview with the Impact x Nightline team to share the conclusions from our decade-long research project into MSIs: that MSIs fail to provide effective protection against abuse as they were created to do. Furthermore, MSIs could inadvertently risk doing more harm than good by creating a perception that critical issues, like child labor, are being taken care of when they are in fact being perpetuated. 


We’re excited to see these critical conversations move into the mainstream. With this system of MSIs, the power ultimately lies with the companies who participate since they’re involved in the funding and governance of these initiatives. We aren’t going to see transformation occur while this is true. Through our research into MSIs, we identified that a true shift in power would require that (1) workers and/or affected communities be at the center of decision-making and (2) benefits and ownership accrue to workers who generate value for a business. 

The power of employee ownership spotlighted at The Center for Financial Inclusion’s Financial Inclusion Week

The Center for Financial Inclusion allowed us to spotlight this second principle at their annual Financial Inclusion Week. This global virtual gathering is a place to exchange community-driven ideas and practices that advance the financial inclusion of marginalized and vulnerable groups. For our on-demand session, we highlighted a key, overlooked contributor to the steady increase in wealth inequality: the inequitable distribution of business ownership and how employee ownership has the power to address economic inequality. One recent study found that if all businesses become just 30% employee owned, then the median black household wealth would quadruple as with the wealth of the bottom 50% of all Americans. Employee ownership has a powerful yet underutilized capacity for addressing economic inequality. 


These two moments highlight the pressing need and immense opportunity to advance an equitable economy. As workers and consumers continue to grapple with the complexity of ethically produced goods and services, MSI Integrity will continue to advocate for the shift in power to workers and communities in our work. 


Subscribe to our newsletter for updates and keep an eye out for details on our upcoming project and reports:

  • Shifting Power: Assessing Worker- and Community-Centric Alternatives to Conventional Corporations, analyzing existing alternatives to corporate structures that already give workers and communities decision-making power and a share in profits and ownership 

  • Creating Shared Value: A Guide to the Growing Employee Ownership Investment Opportunity, evaluating employee ownership structures and how to increase investment to fund them.

Summer 2022 Update

As 2022 enters its latter half, MSI Integrity staff have been hard at work advancing the Shifting Power project, which was announced in late 2021 as the next iteration of our organization’s evolution towards understanding some of the root causes and structural features of corporate power in the United States. Towards that end, we’re thrilled to announce our collaboration with both our Summer Legal Fellow — Amelia Tam — and the Forum for Global Human Rights (FGHR)

Amelia Tam joins us from the University of Baltimore, where she is pursuing a J.D. with an interest in employment, labor, and immigration law. Her work with us is focused on research and analysis for Shifting Power. It has been an absolute pleasure working with Amelia since May 2022! 

Forum for Global Human Rights logo with overhead view of 3 abstract people embracing each other to form a circle to the left of the organization's name in an all caps serif font

FGHR is a new, student-led and run organization that aims to provide opportunities for young people interested in human rights research and advocacy through practical experience and partnerships with organizations from around the world. FGHR students and recent graduates will be assisting MSI Integrity on research and outreach activities related to the Shifting Power project until October 2022.

We will soon enter a period of review and community collaboration on Shifting Power. We are preparing a draft interactive website that gives an overview of existing alternative corporate models that hold the promise of greater worker economic benefits and decision-making, as well as a new framework for workplace rights — the right for workers to have input and influence over their working conditions, and to share in the profits/economic benefits they generate (i.e. to share in ownership) — against which we have assessed whether and how each of these alternative models show promise. Interested organizations and individuals are welcome to participate in our upcoming review, and should contact us to learn more about how they can be part of the review process or related outreach events and activities. 

MSI Integrity Seeking Summer 2022 Legal and Policy Fellows

Protester holds up a sign that reads "Economic Justice" during a defund police rally in St. Paul, MN on December 12th, 2020. (Chad Davis / Flickr)

Law and graduate students, do you want hands-on experience working on system-shifting research and advocacy? You’re in luck: MSI Integrity’s Summer Fellowship program is back! Read about previous fellows’ experiences here and here.

Seeking Legal and Policy Fellows

We’re seeking Legal and Policy Fellows to join our team during the Summer of 2022 to advance the first project of our Beyond Corporations work: Shifting Power: Assessing Worker- and Community-Centric Alternatives to Conventional Corporations. Shifting Power is a user-friendly and visually appealing online platform that will explore and evaluate a range of different policies, reforms, and structural features of businesses that enable worker ownership and control in the decision-making of those businesses. Fellows will assist the organization with its work and develop a workplan and central project mutually agreed between the Fellow and MSI Integrity.

Examples might include analyzing how alternative corporate governance and ownership structures shift power to workers and communities, supporting targeted dissemination of Shifting Power by engaging in outreach with labor and corporate accountability audiences, and writing short publications and materials suitable for those audiences. We hope to find individuals who share our passion for economic justice and who are interested in pushing boundaries and challenging the status quo as it relates to corporate power and economic inequality.


The Fellowships are full-time (ordinarily 36-40 hours per week, however during COVID we have been enabling our team to reduce to a 32-hour work week given the additional stresses of the period—see our COVID workplace policies) and temporary (minimum 10 weeks). Our approach to working with summer fellows is to embrace you as full members of our team for the time you are working with us. This means attending weekly staff meetings, engaging in cross-organizational issues that might arise, being able to join working groups of interest to you and occasionally participating in our not-too-awkward remote zoom social hangs. MSI Integrity’s fellowship program will be structured to provide a supportive and engaging environment. Fellows will work in close collaboration with supervising MSI Integrity staff and will receive feedback on their work product during regular check-in meetings with supervisors. We will support Fellows in developing a polished writing sample, if desired.

While we anticipate many Fellows will have funding sources from their universities or support organizations, we do not want the lack of funding to prevent interested candidates from applying. Applicants may indicate in their application if they are unable to secure funding from their universities or other sources, and we will work with such candidates to try to find financial support and assess if we can provide a small stipend.

Eligibility and Where to Apply

In order to be eligible for the Legal Fellowship, applicants must have completed at least their first year of law school by the summer. For the Policy Fellowship, applicants enrolled in any graduate university degree program will be considered, although projects will be matched relevant to skill level.

Do you want to shift power? See the full job description and learn how to apply on our Employment page.

Not Fit-For-Purpose Summary Report Now Available in Spanish

Not Fit For Purpose Spanish Translation

The summary version of MSI Integrity’s 2020 report, Not Fit-For-Purpose: The Grand Experiment of Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives in Corporate Accountability, Human Rights and Global Governance, is now available in Spanish translation.

Earlier this year, MSI Integrity was approached by the Worker-driven Social Responsibility (WSR) Network about translating sections of Not Fit-For-Purpose to support their organizing of Spanish-speaking workers. WSR Network is composed of worker organizations, allies, and technical advisors working to provide support and resources for worker-led efforts to replicate the WSR model. As MSI Integrity’s report highlights, the model is one effective alternative to multi-stakeholderism because, unlike MSIs, WSR initiatives center workers in the design and implementation of its programs and contractually obligate brands to follow human rights and labor standards.

Not Fit-For-Purpose pointed to the limitations of the MSI model, which has demonstrably failed to protect human rights and hold guilty corporations accountable for their crimes against people and the planet. The staff at MSI Integrity are pleased that WSR Network will be using the translated report to raise awareness among Spanish-speaking workers about its findings, including the viability of alternative solutions like the WSR model. It is pertinent that the key messages of the report are made accessible to the very workers in supply chains that MSIs purport to benefit.

According to WSR Network, “To raise awareness around the failures of MSIs means to raise awareness around what real solutions need to look like, to encourage worker-driven models and programs that address these flaws. This translation will serve as an important education tool for workers to best understand the history of MSIs, their flaws, and the road forward towards enforcing human rights.”

While operating with a small staff and on a tight budget, MSI Integrity strives to live up to the values of accessibility and language justice, particularly for the workers and communities implicated in our work. We are hopeful that the translation will help spread the lessons learned about MSIs’ failures and alternative worker- and community-centric solutions to human rights and environmental abuse, including among frontline communities who have the most at stake.

You can download the translated summary report here.

La versión resumida del informe 2020 de MSI Integrity, No apto para su propósito: El Gran Experimento de Iniciativas de Múltiples Partes Interesadas en Responsabilidad Empresarial, Derechos Humanos y Gobernanza Global, ya está disponible en español.

A principios de este año, la Red de Responsabilidad Social Dirigida por Trabajadores (WSR por sus siglas en inglés) contactó a MSI Integrity sobre la traducción de secciones de No apto por su propósito para apoyar sus campañas de organizar a trabajadores de habla hispana. La Red de WSR (WSR Network) está compuesta por organizaciones de trabajadores, aliados y asesores técnicos que trabajan para brindar apoyo y recursos a los esfuerzos dirigidos por los trabajadores para replicar el modelo WSR. Como destaca el informe de MSI Integrity, el modelo es una alternativa eficaz a la MSI porque, a diferencia de la MSI, las iniciativas de WSR centran a los trabajadores en el diseño y la implementación de sus programas y obligan contractualmente a la marcas a cumplir con las normas laborales y de derechos humanos.

No apto para su propósito señaló las limitaciones del modelo MSI, que de manera demostrable no ha logrado proteger los derechos humanos y hacer a las empresas responsables por sus crímenes contra las personas y el planeta. El personal de MSI Integrity está contento que WSR Network utilizare el informe traducido para crear conciencia entre los trabajadores de habla hispana sobre sus hallazgos, incluso la viabilidad de soluciones alternativas como el modelo WSR. Es pertinente que los mensajes clave del informe sean accesibles para los trabajadores de las cadenas de suministro que las MSI pretenden beneficiarse.

Según WSR Network, “Crear conciencia sobre los fracasos de las MSI significa crear conciencia sobre cómo deben verse las soluciones eficaces, para fomentar modelos y programas dirigidos por trabajadores que aborden estos fracasos. Esta traducción va a servir como una herramienta importante para que los trabajadores comprendan mejor la historia de las MSI, sus defectos y el camino hacia la aplicación de los derechos humanos.”

Si bien opera con un personal reducido y con un presupuesto ajustado, MSI Integrity se esfuerza por cumplir con los valores de accesibilidad y justicia lingüística, en particular para los trabajadores y las comunidades implicadas en nuestro trabajo. Somos optimistas respecto de que la traducción ayude a difundir las lecciones aprendidas sobre los fracasos de las MSI y las soluciones alternativas al abuso de los derechos humanos y el medio ambiente que centren los trabajadores y las comunidades, incluso entre las comunidades de primera línea que tiene más en juego.

Puede descargar el informe resumido traducido aquí.

Crafting Our Paid Parental Leave Policy: Supporting Families, Rejecting Oppression

Parental leave baby

This blog is part of MSI Integrity’s broader effort to share publicly its internal effort to construct a more liberatory workplace, which includes developing anti-oppressive, worker-supporting policies and implementing workplace democracy. See our blog on our COVID-19 policies as another example in this series, with more to come in 2021.

Paid parental leave (PPL) is an integral component of dignified employment in the twenty-first century. It is critical to battling patriarchy and gender roles in and outside the workplace and home, and to supporting the fullness of a worker’s life beyond their employment.

PPL is a source of liberation, a rejection of oppression. But tragically, it is severely limited, or more commonly, entirely absent in the United States—unlike almost every single other industrialized country in the world. This absence reinforces class, racial, gender and other inequities as people that don’t have the resources to take off from work without income, pay for childcare and other child-rearing necessities, are left in the lurch. Whereas OECD governments on average offer over four months of paid maternity leave and two months of paid father-specific leave, the US government only mandates three months of unpaid parental leave for organizations and companies with over 50 employees.

Not only is this woefully inadequate for workers at such organizations, but it excludes the 40% of workers in the US who work at organizations with less than 50 staff. It also leaves the door open for employers who do offer PPL to design policies that are premised on sexist assumptions, uphold the gender binary or are oppressive to families that don’t fit neatly within heteronormative boundaries.

Absent robust government-sponsored parental leave, or an otherwise collectively organized system of child-rearing, it is incumbent on US companies and organizations themselves to fill in the gap with policies that support gender equity and workers with different family structures. While some large corporations and private foundations have been able to reach into their deep pockets to offer 6 – 12 months of leave, these are the exception not the rule.

For small organizations with limited resources—like ours—what sorts of policies and organizational practices can balance the desire for a robust and equitable PPL without putting too much strain on our budget and staff?

This was the challenge we faced when designing our first PPL earlier this year. What’s more, this challenge was exacerbated by a dearth of available data on PPL policies at similarly sized organizations. Without examples and accessible data, regressive practices are able to prevail and workers’ ability to demand better conditions, benefits and compensation are severely hindered; employers rather than employees are favored, and a race to the bottom commences—rather than one to the top.

We think it is important to combat this by contributing to a culture of shared knowledge and practices and transparency. Such an approach can help us all make our workplace policies the best they can be. We are sharing it in the hope it will serve as both encouragement for other organizations to create or improve their PPL policies, and an invitation to challenge us to improve our own.

MSI Integrity is a small organization, but when our staff and our Board sat down to write this policy, we were guided by a big vision and a clear set of values: an anti-oppressive policy that supports different family structures and gender equity, that rejects the gender binary and that provides significant time for the critical period of family bond formation—and the care work that entails.

We believe our new policy reflects those values, while also balancing the financial and personnel constraints we have as a small organization. It does this by:

  • Providing up to six months paid leave over two years. Rather than make this available as a full-lump sum, which could put too much financial and personal strain our organization, the leave is available in two phases. Initially, up to four months of guaranteed paid leave in the first year after the birth, adoption or fostering. In the second year, as long as we have a minimum of six-months operating expenses in the bank, two more months are available.
  • Equal leave duration and compensation for pregnancies, adoptions, and foster placements;
  • Equal leave regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation and family structure, or whether the worker is the child-bearing, legally adopting, or fostering parent, or the partner of that parent; and
  • Making leave available for individuals or their partners who experience a miscarriage or stillbirth.

We share some more details on the PPL below, but are happy to share the full policy upon request.

The Policy

Sixteen Weeks of Leave Guaranteed For Everyone. Our workers are all now entitled to four months of their salary and benefits as paid parental leave. Worked at MSI Integrity for less than six months? You are still entitled to this benefit, but at 50% of your salary.

Eight More Weeks (if we can afford it) in the second year. Workers who have been employed at MSI Integrity for at least six months are entitled to eight more weeks of paid leave in the following year, totalling six months, if our organization has a minimum of six-months operating expenses reserved. Spacing the leave in this way and having it contingent on adequate funds in the second year, makes our policy among the most generous available in the nonprofit sector, without putting undue stress on the rest of our staff or organizational resources. It also acts as an incentive for staff to remain at MSI Integrity over the long-term. Staff believe this strikes a fair balance of providing adequate paid leave to our workers while maintaining a robust financial position for our small organization.

Equity across gender, sexual orientation and family structure. All employees are eligible for our PPL policy regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, or family circumstance. A policy that discriminates based on gender is one that maintains women’s segregated and lowered status in the workplace. Our policy is about gender equity rather than “gender-neutrality” because we are specifically tending to the discrimination women face in the workplace and in the broader labor market as those who most often take PPL. Policies that give longer leave to “birthing parents” also reinforce practices and expectations of women in the home, putting more pressure on them to act as the primary caregiver; it facilities a lesser role for non-birthing parents in the family by requiring their quicker return to work, and thus giving them less time to bond and immerse in their new family dynamic.

That said, we are aware that in workplaces with similar policies male-identified individuals will often not take the PPL due to cultural or other internal workplace pressures, thereby reproducing the discriminatory conditions of less just, maternity-focused policies. In response, it incumbent on us not just to have robust policies, but also to facilitate a culture of solidarity and justice to ensure that gender discrimination—or all forms of discrimination—is not a byproduct of child-rearing.

Further, by offering PPL to all employees regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation, we aim to reject the gender binary and heteronormativity, and to support rather than punish LGBTQ+ families. Similarly, we hope to embrace different family structures, rather than endlessly favoring the systematized defaults of marriage, monogamy and other forms of nuclearization.

Pregnancies, Adoptions, and Foster Placements. Our policy is not limited to pregnancies. Parents who are birthing, legally adopting, or legally fostering a child, as well as their partners, are eligible for PPL. We have decided to include adopting and foster parents, and to not differentiate their durations and compensations, to push back against the supremacy of the nuclear family structure.

What are we still grappling with?

First, this was a learning process for us, and we are keen to receive feedback on how to expand the policy for greater inclusivity. We believe this move is a solid first-step in recognizing and empowering families of different shapes and sizes, but if there are ways we could improve it, please let us know!

Second, the policy focuses on supporting people who are bringing a child into their life, but we recognize that this is only one instance in which workers need support with their families and that a family is not—and should not—be defined by the decision to raise a child. We would love to see examples of how organizations and communities are more holistically and expansively conceptualizing their support for working families. We are interested in how organizations support individuals during critical moments, such as birth, illness and death, but also in the day-to-day.

As noted above, we are happy to share our full policy upon request. We want to help other workers in our field empower themselves and their workplaces with a progressive PPL policy. At the same time, our inbox is open for feedback, ideas, criticism, or questions.

But if you want to hear from our Executive Director, Amelia Evans, you’ll have to wait until later in  2021—when she returns from paid parental leave!

Will Fair Trade Milk Loosen the Squeeze on US Dairy Workers?

US grocery store milk aisle selling a variety of dairy products
Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

openDemocracy published an opinion piece by MSI Integrity’s Amelia Evans and Teddy Ostrow on Thursday. The piece, titled “Fair Trade milk could be bad for US dairy workers’ health,” outlines the structural issues with the voluntary certification model adopted many multi-stakeholder initiatives, like Fair Trade USA, which has expanded its renowned labeling system into the US dairy industry.

Evans and Ostrow also briefly detail what a better system for upholding workers’ rights in the sector might look like, pointing to Migrant Justice’s Milk With Dignity, a worker-driven social responsibility program.

Evans and Ostrow conclude:

Fair Trade USA’s expansion into dairy will only risk consumer confusion and the undermining of a more robust and worker-friendly system. Power-shifting solutions are needed; ones that get to the root issues of our food – and, frankly, the entire economic – system. Glossy labels can’t relieve the pressure on workers lower down in supply chains. Only when workers and communities have meaningful power will the inequality and abuse that characterise the US dairy industry come to an end.

Read the full piece here, and for a more comprehensive analysis of Fair Trade USA’s expansion into US dairy, see Fair World Project’s report, Label Before Labor: Fair Trade USA’s Dairy Label Fails Workers.

COVAX Is Not the Solution to Our Vaccine Apartheid

Person's hand holding up a glass vial of Covishield Corona Virus vaccine
The vital vaccine ready for use (USAID in Africa / Wikimedia Commons)

by Milap Patel and Teddy Ostrow

As many of the world’s richest nations continue the long and troubled process of lining up their citizens for vaccines against COVID-19, it has become ever clearer that the poorest countries will be left further and further behind in the race to vaccinate their populations. Some have called this state of affairs “vaccine apartheid.” So naturally, ears are perked at the news that the U.S. promised last month to contribute to COVAX, an international initiative rejected by the previous administration, to ostensibly assist these countries.

Unfortunately, with Big Pharma’s interests at its center, COVAX is a woefully inadequate tool for ensuring quick and equitable access to vaccines.

What Is COVAX?

In 2020, a collection of Global North countries and their corporate interests decided to concoct COVAX, a complicated, private-sector influenced, “multi-stakeholder group.” The group is often described simply as a “United Nations-backed” public endeavor, but what is often not mentioned is the inclusion and power of pharmaceutical corporations in the initiative. In what would be regarded as self-serving anywhere else, COVAX was set up as a financing mechanism to facilitate the purchase and resale of the vaccine from those same pharma companies, with capital provided primarily by rich nations.

As investigated by the Transnational Institute and Friends of the Earth International, the governance underpinnings and key decisions made by this group are institutionally flawed from a human rights and public health perspective. Foremost among them is its failure to take up the call by developing countries to expand vaccine access by relaxing intellectual property rules on COVID-19 vaccines—a much-needed action that the World Trade Organization has once again failed to adopt just last week. We should consider this an endorsement of supercharged profits for Big Pharma by Global North countries. In COVAX’s governance, Big Pharma is afforded stakeholder status but not groups of affected communities, thereby giving profit-centric entities disproportionate power over who gets the vaccine. Finally, the group’s goal is to only vaccinate 20% of the population in designated countries—a maddeningly low mandate for a disease that likely requires 60–70% of the world vaccinated to stop its spread.

Sadly this outcome comes as no surprise to MSI Integrity. After a decade investigating whether transnational collaborations that have a similar structure to COVAX, like Fairtrade International or the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, are effective tools for protecting human rights, our organization found that, for the most part, they are not. These collaborations, known as “multi-stakeholder initiatives,” bring private and/or public actors together to set non-binding standards in various industries, but instead of upholding human rights, they have entrenched corporate interests and let abuses continue largely unabated.

A Corporate-Centric Structure

Although COVAX does not set standards, these conclusions also apply more broadly to its “multi-stakeholder” organizational structure. For example, the overarching COVAX coordinating body includes “industry partner representatives” (i.e. Big Pharma) as members but not groups of people who have been affected by the inadequate health response nor civil society advocates who directly represent people from the Global South. This is true of dozens of other prominent multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs), nearly all of which perform functions we used to expect of public institutions. These MSIs include corporate voices in their decision-making bodies, while only 13% of them include affected populations. In this way, COVAX clearly hasn’t learned the “nothing about us, without us” lessons of the AIDS crisis.

While the impetus to set up COVAX may have been rooted in some stakeholders’ desire to ensure equitable access to vaccines, its approach enshrines an outsize role for the private sector and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has championed the priorities of patent-holding pharmaceutical companies. These pharma companies have spent decades shaping the global governance system to favor their own interests—interests which clearly clash with the needs of a global population affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. By deferring to their priorities, COVAX is doing nothing to challenge global patent laws that stifle developing countries from rapidly boosting the global supply of vaccines and thus abets the overwhelming drive toward corporate profit accumulation.

So What Are the Principles of a Better Response?

As many watchdog and civil society groups have pointed out, public-private partnership mechanisms rely on the goodwill of the private side to achieve public goals. Governments should clearly be taking a larger role where the public interest is at stake. Centering affected communities and the most marginalized populations in the governance and design of a “people’s COVAX” would serve both moral and public health ends.

Indeed, if we want to be better prepared for the next global health challenge, we need to look beyond even the more competent strategies of vaccine distribution in our current public health systems. The large corporations at the helm of our public health response are beholden to a small group of shareholders and not to the workers and communities of which they themselves are composed. Who owns and governs the entities that determine our health outcomes should lead us to focus on the structural causes of today’s dysfunctional public health sector and not flawed and palliative solutions, like COVAX, that reinforce existing inequities. Our vision is a society organized not around the impulses of corporate executives and their enablers but rather a reimagining of who should have ownership and control over the decisions that affect the entire planet.

Milap Patel is Research Director at MSI Integrity.

Teddy Ostrow is Research and Communications Associate at MSI Integrity and an associate editor at OR Books.

2020 Annual Report and a Way Forward in 2021

Not fit for purpose webinar illustration
A live-drawn illustration of the March 30, 2020 webinar discussion, "Business-as-Usual," hosted by MSI Integrity and Harvard Law's International Human Rights Clinic.

2020 was not a good year. It began with the world fearful of another war in the Middle East after the United States assassinated a top Iranian general, and it ended with the COVID-19 global death toll fast approaching two million. Two million. In late January 2021, we surpassed that unthinkable benchmark. We want to offer our thoughts and condolences to those of you who have been affected by this pandemic.

This suffering has underscored the urgency of transforming our global economic, legal, and political systems, which contributed to the cataclysmic harms of this pandemic. Such change will necessitate international and national solidarity. Indeed, among the pain and disruptions of 2020, it was heartening to see many inspiring acts of solidarity, from the formation of robust mutual aid networks around the world, to the months-long protest movement in the United States for racial justice.

This was also a powerful and important year of change for MSI Integrity, which we’ve outlined in our 2020 Annual Report. We released Not Fit-For-Purpose, a landmark report distilling our insights from a decade of exploring and researching the effectiveness of multistakeholder initiatives. The report has led to many significant debates and discussions—from within the chambers of the United States Supreme Court to virtual convenings of the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights and among MSIs themselves—with many in the human rights community embracing some of its key messages: there are limits to voluntarism, more innovative regulatory interventions are needed, and we need to change how businesses themselves are governed and owned.

Importantly, we also embarked on a new direction for 2021 onwards challenging and changing the corporate form itself. After years witnessing how corporations behave within MSIs, it became clear to us that if we want a society and economy that value people and the planet, then we first need to change the incentives and decision-making structures of the corporation itself. Until our economic enterprises are governed and owned by workers and communities, we will never meaningfully prevent companies from abusing rights or address the untenable levels of economic inequality that characterize both our globalized and localized economies. There is still much for us to learn. But our initial efforts in steering the corporate accountability and human rights communities towards the work of those who have long been proposing and advocating for such transformations—the labor, racial and climate justice, and wider social movements—has already proved deeply rewarding. Perhaps most exciting is that with our transition in programmatic focus came a staffing transition. We expanded our team to three new people who will begin in 2021 to push forward on our new direction: Perhaps most exciting is that with our transition in programmatic focus came a staffing transition. We expanded our team to three new people who will begin in 2021 to push forward on our new direction: Milap Patel, our new Research Director, Carmen Guan, our Development and Outreach Coordinator, and Noah Klein-Markman, a technical and research consultant. But in 2020 we also said farewell to two excellent staff members: former Research Coordinator, Malene Alleyne (now running her own nonprofit, Freedom Imaginaries), and Research Director, Shauna Curphey (now General Counsel at the Coalition of Immokalee Workers). It would be dishonest of us to foretell a much better 2021, but sincere to expect the fight for economic and social justice to continue on. Our hat is firmly in the ring. Already this year we’ve partnered with a number of organizations, including the Transnational Institute and Corporate Accountability, to co-organize a webinar on the corporate capture of global governance, and we have major new works in the pipeline promoting alternative business structures. Finally, we want to express our gratitude to our friends, family, community, funders, and colleagues, without whose support we could not have gotten through 2020. Please read and share our 2020 Annual Report, and stay tuned for quarterly updates on our progress and activities by signing up for our mailing list.

Webinar—The Great Take Over: How We Fight the Davos Capture of Global Governance

The Great Take Over

Tune in on Tuesday, January 26 from 10AM–11:30AM EST for a webinar co-organized by MSI Integrity, “The Great Take Over: How we fight the Davos capture of global governance.” From the event’s description:

The post COVID-19 world presents a new opportunity to deepen the corporate plans of capturing global governance and ensuring it serves the interests of corporate business and profits instead of putting in place policies for the wellbeing of humanity. It is urgent to unmask this global and systemic trend by showing how it operates in key sensitive sectors as well as taking the challenge to generate peoples power towards building a strong public and participatory governance for a world beyond the health, climate, inequality and democracy crises. Is there a future for another multilateralism?

Framed by the ongoing take over of corporate capture and privatization of global governance, the webinar will take a dynamic and participatory format, inviting a multi-sectoral perspective from key movements and sectors who will share their struggles, strategies, and common challenges. Questions and comments will be fielded by an open forum, and the webinar will invite attendees to join the fight against “The Great Take Over.”

The webinar is co-organized by Corporate Accountability, FIAN, Focus on the Global South, FOEI, G2H2, IT for Change, Peoples Health Movement, Public Services International, Transnational Institute, and MSI Integrity.

Register for the Zoom webinar here and share the event on Facebook.

New Report: “Ethical Finance” Ought to Mean Investing in Cooperatives

co-op handshake

MSI Integrity’s Amelia Evans rejects the “myth of the ethical corporation” and calls for redefining “ethical” businesses as those with worker ownership and control

These days, we hear a lot about “ethical” or “socially responsible” finance. $31 trillion of it, in fact. But nearly all of it is going to conventional corporations—those run by boards and executive management—rather than alternative and often successful business forms, like cooperatives.

That’s a problem, according to Amelia Evans, MSI Integrity’s Executive Director and a Research Fellow at the Institute for Cooperative Digital Economy, which just published her new report, Redefining the Concept of an “Ethical Business”: A Roadmap for Unlocking Access to Socially Responsible Investment Funding for Worker Cooperatives.

Indeed, “ethical” finance depends on how “ethical” the businesses are that receive it. But can corporations be “ethical” if their workers, and the communities they affect, have little to no ownership of the company and control over its operations? No, says Evans. And the notion that they can is what she calls the “myth of the ethical corporation.”

“Ethical finance ought to mean investing in businesses that enable workers to profit from their labor and have a voice in the conditions of their work; it ought to mean investing in worker cooperatives.”

There are more ethical and equitable business forms, however, like worker cooperatives, but their inability to secure financing largely bars them from success and ubiquity. Evans’s report presents a way around this obstacle, which requires in no small part, redefining what an “ethical” business really is and quashing the widely accepted myth that corporations can fit the ticket.

The report fits within MSI Integrity’s recent shift in organizational focus and Evans’s previous work on challenging the dominant corporate form as a human rights project. Provisionally titled Beyond Corporations, MSI Integrity’s new direction will work to promote worker and community ownership and governance as the true determinants of “ethical” businesses.

The first part of Evans’s paper identifies some of the benefits of worker cooperatives, such as livable wages for worker-members, as well as their fundamental principles, also known as the Rochdale Principles, which apply to all types of cooperatives.

Part two explores the common funding avenues for worker cooperatives and their benefits/limitations. Worker co-ops are often founded and maintained through member-funding, debt-funding, retention of profits, and emerging forms of equity funding that require breaking the conventional ownership and governance structure of the cooperative. Limitations for sustainable funding include member-funding’s narrow scope; traditional finance’s misperceptions about, lack of familiarity with and limited interest in worker cooperatives; low initial profits in a market driven by growth-obsessed short-termism; and the undermining of co-op principles and benefits where investment is predicated on ownership and control concessions.

Part three and four are the crux of Evans’s report. They cover the need to challenge prevailing assumptions about our economic forms that allow conventional corporations to dominate, and to reframe “ethical” businesses as those that share profits and control with workers and communities—and transitively, “ethical” or “socially responsible” finance is that which funds cooperatives.

“Ethical finance ought to mean investing in businesses that enable workers to profit from their labor and have a voice in the conditions of their work; it ought to mean investing in worker cooperatives,” Evans writes.

Part four pitches a number of strategies to get socially responsible investors to support cooperatives. Among them are debunking “the myth of the ethical corporation,” the false notion that the corporation, a structurally extractive and inequitable entity, can be “ethical”; reframing ethics and equitability according to who businesses are accountable to and who owns, controls and benefits from those businesses; and promoting successful examples of cooperatives for skeptics.

Evans concludes, “Fundamentally, increasing funding options available to cooperatives to the extent necessary for cooperatives will only happen by dispelling the myths of unbound capitalism, which decades of struggle will attest is no small task.”

MSI Integrity’s work in 2021 will build on the findings of Redefining the Concept of an “Ethical Business,” exploring how the narrative (and myth) of the ethical corporation can be challenged and changed. As the report points out, the existence, viability and desirability of alternative business forms are largely unknown to the broader public, as well as policymakers, investors and other actors in the position to combat the human rights abuses and inequality the private sector contributes to.

Read Evans’s full report and those by other Institute for Cooperative Digital Economy research fellows here, and please reach out to MSI Integrity here to join its effort to expose the myth of the ethical corporation and promote alternative business forms.