Written by: Professor Suzanne Rab, Associate Lecturer at The Open University Law School, Faculty of Business and Law.
The debate around artificial intelligence or “AI” has attracted antitrust interest among academics, practitioners and regulators. In their book, Virtual Competition Professors Ariel Ezrachi and Maurice Stucke postulate the “end of competition as we know it” and call for heightened regulatory intervention against algorithmic systems. Reflective of the fast-moving pace of development in this area, Professor Suzanne Rab has recently authored chapters on Competition Law and Telecommunications in a book Artificial Intelligence Law and Regulation (Edward Elgar Publishing, March 2022). The book provides an extensive overview and analysis of the law and regulation as it applies to the technology and uses of AI. It examines the human and ethical concerns associated with the technology, the history of AI and AI in commercial contexts.
The AI antitrust literature reflects three broad themes or potential areas of antitrust concern. First, it is said that AI can widen the set of circumstances in which known forms of anticompetitive conduct, and particularly conscious parallelism or tacit collusion can occur. Second, it is said that use of algorithms will bring newer forms of anti-competitive conduct which challenge traditional antitrust orthodoxy with new (non-price) elements such as price discrimination, data extraction and data capture. Third, it is said that exploitation and deception are a feature of algorithmic markets which nudges consumers to engage in unfair transactions which call into question ethics and fairness but with which conventional antitrust regimes are not best equipped to deal. The competition law implications focus on the facilitating role of algorithms and whether they may contribute or lead to anti-competitive outcomes. It considers (1) whether AI leads to anti-competitive outcomes or other concerns, (2) whether there might be another (not anti-competitive) outcome, and (3) views from the regulators on attribution of liability for AI decisions.
The main concern in the context of antitrust or competition law is that a specific type of AI – pricing algorithms used by firms to monitor, recommend, or set prices – can lead to collusive outcomes in the market in two main ways. Firstly, pricing algorithms may help facilitate explicit coordination agreements among firms. This is because the use of algorithms may make market conditions more suitable for coordination. For example, monitoring prices of other firms could be easier when algorithms are deployed. Secondly, under certain conditions, the use of pricing algorithms can lead to tacit collusion even without agreement to coordinate. This concern is founded on the principle that when many or all firms in the market use some similar and simple algorithms to set prices, their strategies can be anticipated by each other, making it easier to reach coordinated outcomes.
Mehra has focused on the facilitating role of algorithms stating that: “…to the extent that the effects of oligopoly fall through cracks of antitrust law, the advent of the robo-seller may widen those cracks into chasms. For several reasons, the robo-seller should increase the power of oligopolists to charge supracompetitive prices: the increased accuracy in detecting changes in price, greater speed in pricing response, and reduced irrationality in discount rates all should make the robo-seller a more skilful oligopolist than its human counterpart in competitive intelligence and sales…the robo-seller should also enhance the ability of oligopolists to create durable cartels” (Mehra, S. K. (2006) Antitrust and the Robo-Seller: Competition in the Time of Algorithms, 100 Minnesota Law Review, 1323-75.)
This suggests that algorithms can be a ‘plus factor’ which renders tacit collusion more likely, stable, durable and versatile by facilitating detection and retaliation at lower levels of concentration. However, this claim is not straightforward. Firms would still need to choose whether to use and stick to the same algorithms. The incentive to coordinate is not automatic just because of the existence of algorithms. Firms could still choose to undercut rivals for short term gain. Indeed, smart algorithms might try to cheat without being caught.
Contrary to the claims that AI is likely to lead to anti-competitive outcomes AI in general generates a wide range of efficiencies. For example, AI can be used to predict demand using past data and help firms to improve inventory management. In some areas, AI may be effective in replacing human labour for simple and repetitive tasks. Because of these efficiencies, the use of AI may have impacts on the demand for labour. To improve the performance of algorithms, more computer scientists may be required, while the number of manufacturing jobs may decrease as more tasks can be performed by machines. This is one example of increase in demand for goods and services complementary to the use of AI (e.g. servers and computing hardware), and decrease in demand for goods and services that can be substituted by AI (e.g. travel agents).
On the question of whether competition law is fit-for-purpose in an AI environment, there is no consensus among regulators. European Competition Commissioner Vestager has stated that: “…businesses also need to know that when they decide to use an automated system, they will be held responsible for what it does. So, they had better know how that system works” (Bundeskartellamt 18th Conference on Competition, Berlin, 16 March 2017). In terms of attribution of liability, the European Commission treats an AI decision-maker in the same way as a human and the business cannot escape liability by attributing conduct to a machine. It appears that the European Commission expects businesses to anticipate the possibility of an errant AI decision-maker and they must take steps to limit its freedom by design.
In contrast, the UK’s former Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) Chairman David Currie has expressed a less definitive view. David Currie has questioned whether the legal tools currently available to the CMA are capable of tackling all the challenges presented by the rise of the algorithmic economy, such as self-learning algorithms. This may suggest that the question of attribution of liability (under the UK competition regime at least) is ripe for reassessment should developments in AI advance to such a state.
On the specific issue of whether algorithms may facilitate anti-competitive outcomes, the CMA adopts a nuanced view. It has recently published an economic research paper on the role of pricing algorithms in online markets (Pricing algorithms, Economic working paper on the use of algorithms to facilitate collusion and personalised pricing, 8 October 2018 (CMA94)). The CMA also finds that algorithms can be used to help implement illegal price fixing and, under certain circumstances, could encourage the formation of cartels. However, the risk of algorithms colluding without human involvement is currently less clear.
The AI antitrust scholarship makes a bold claim that AI is an enabler of tacit collusion and could increase the scope for anti-competitive outcomes at even lower levels of concentration than traditionally associated with antitrust theory. However, even the brief examination of these claims in this article in the area of antitrust has revealed alternative hypotheses which need to be fully tested before the theory can be incorporated in policy and legal environments without running the risk of being counterproductive.
Professor Suzanne Rab is a Law Lecturer at the University of Oxford, an Associate Lecturer at The Open University, Professor of Commercial Law and Practice Chair at Brunel University London and a full-time practising barrister at Serle Court Chambers in London where she specialises in competition, EU and regulatory law.
Gillian Mawdsley, Associate Lecturer in Law, is based in Glasgow and is attending COP26 as one of the chosen representatives of The Open University.
I guess that most students, on reaching their third year of studying law at the OU, could not define clearly what the relationship between policy and law is. Unless, of course, they work for Government or a third sector organisation.
By choosing to study the module W360, ‘Justice in action’, students can undertake a range of Open Justice projects. These allow them to develop a background in pro bono work in addition to acquiring valuable skills such as problem-solving working in teams. These skills provide an understanding that the academic study of law is very different from the practical application of law in practice.
On W360 this year, students learnt about policy, in an online clinic. They contributed to probably the most important policy for our and the next generation. No, not Covid-19 which currently dominates our thoughts but climate change which is with us – now and for the future.
The students undertook research for the Environmental law Foundation (ELF), a charity, which aims to provide free information/guidance on environmental issues for individuals and communities. The students initially researched Councils in England and Wales to identify if they had made a Climate Emergency Declaration in acknowledging humanity is in a climate emergency. These were followed by making Freedom of Information requests to the Councils from which information was collated in a Report to ELF. They joined other universities who were undertaking similar research projects and were able to participate in conferences held together. ELF’s aim was to build a picture of Council and climate change action across England and Wales.
What’s in it for them?
The students may have been interested in the environmental matters before. However, by focusing on this project, this raised awareness of the topic for them and the need to accommodate climate change within policy development. That is particularly important given attention in the UK is heading towards COP26. That is the summit being held in Glasgow in November 2021 (delayed from 2020) bringing parties together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement (where the goal is to limit global warming to below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels) and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The project opened their eyes to other aspects.
Addressing climate change is not just an environmental issue; it is one of social justice. It is about basic human rights ensuring access to clean water, clean air, and shelter. Climate change affects those at the lowest end of society impacting on the vulnerable, being most susceptible to the effects of the weather and other climate events. They are least able and resourced to cope with that impact.
The students learnt about the intersection of law and policy. Policy is what a government does and achieves for society. Law sets procedures to be followed. It aims to achieve justice in the society. Working in policy, whether its creation, or implementation allowed them the chance to influence as well as developing an understanding of the iterative policy process.
Policy should “add value” and is a much-used term within Government. For W360 students and me, the tutor, taking part on this climate change policy -based project proved was an enriching experience. It was a journey of change on the cusp of COP26. Let’s hope that COP26 makes changes for the good of us all and society as a whole.
Gillian Mawdsley, Associate Lecturer in Law, The Open University
Gillian wrote this blog earlier in the summer after working with Open Justice students on a research project in collaboration with the Environmental Law Foundation.
Written by: Stephanie Pywell, Senior Lecturer in Law at The Open University Law School, Faculty of Business and Law.
Nothing at all, if the weddings are the ceremonies that couples want, conducted when they want, where they want, and by whom they want. But, according to Dr Stephanie Pywell, there is quite a lot wrong with the law that governs weddings, some of which existed before Queen Victoria ascended the throne.
The root of the problem
Parliament last debated some aspects of the law that governs weddings in England and Wales in 1836, when both were predominantly Christian countries. The law also still treats marriages in the ‘established’ Anglican church differently from all other types of weddings. This means that, for almost all couples, wedding ceremonies must be either completely religious or completely secular. That presents difficulties for couples who are unsure about their belief(s) in any god(s), couples who have different belief systems, and couples who want to honour their parents or community by including religious or cultural elements in a principally secular ceremony.
Another problem is that, because of the religious/secular divide, there are significant restrictions on who may conduct weddings and where they may do so.
And, in many areas of England and Wales, it is impossible to marry in a legally binding ceremony for the £127 that the law specifies. In others, couples must wait months. This is, arguably, a breach of a couple’s basic human right to ‘marry and found a family’.
The religious/secular divide
I read about a couple who had been told that their registrar-led wedding could include the traditional vows: ‘to have and to hold… in sickness and in health…’. The day before their wedding, a different registrar phoned the bride and told her those words were ‘too religious’, so they would have to say, ‘to hold and to have’ and ‘in sickness and when we are well’ instead. On their wedding day, the groom stumbled over his amended words, and the bride ‘got the giggles’, marring the dignity of the occasion.
To investigate the religious/secular problem, I was privileged to work with Professor Rebecca Probert from the University of Exeter, the leading expert on weddings law in England and Wales. We conducted two surveys – one involving couples planning civil weddings in register offices or the approved premises that host’ venue weddings’, and one involving registrars. We asked what vows, rituals, readings, and music couples would like to include in their wedding ceremonies and whether registrars would feel able to include their choices, given that the law states ‘[a]ny proceedings… shall not be religious in nature’.
Rebecca and I discovered a lot of variation in the readings and other content that registrars immediately recognised as ‘religious’; this differed even between registrars working in the same registration service. This confusion – and the resulting inconsistency, unfairness and distress to couples – arises because the content of each wedding ceremony has to be approved by the superintendent registrar who will conduct it. Our findings led one registration service (every local authority has its own service) to develop resources that categorise readings and music as religious or secular. The service continues to develop that resource and has offered to share it with other registration services in its region.
Who may conduct weddings
The myriad restrictions around weddings have led to a growth in independent ‘wedding celebrancy’. Wedding celebrants conduct personalised wedding-style ceremonies that have no legal effect. These events can take place more or less anywhere, at more or less any time of day or night, and can include more or less anything the couple wish them to include. They can encompass any theme and include blends of civil, religious and cultural elements tailored to couples’ beliefs and lifestyles. I conducted the first survey exploring celebrancy by directly asking celebrants what they do and why and how they do it.
Most of my respondents ensure that couples know that the ceremonies they conduct are not legally binding – this is crucial because married couples have many legal rights that are not available to unmarried cohabiting couples. I was concerned, though, that many celebrants refer to their ceremonies as ‘weddings’ or ‘marriages’. As a result of my work, the Wedding Celebrancy Commission – an umbrella organisation for celebrants’ membership organisations and training providers – tightened its professional standards: celebrants are now required to explain the non-legally binding nature of their ceremonies.
My survey showed that most respondents’ fees are similar to those charged by registrars and by celebrants who conduct legally binding weddings in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland and Jersey. I established that most respondents would be willing to pay for formal registration that would enable them to conduct legally binding ceremonies if Parliament changed the law to allow this. This led me to propose elements of a legal framework for widening the choice of people who can conduct weddings.
The cost of getting married
At the other end of the personalisation scale, a couple has the right to marry in any register office for a total of £127 (more, if one or both of them is not a UK national) in a short and simple register office ceremony attended only by them, two registrars and two witnesses. I explored the websites of about one-fifth of the local authority areas in England and Wales to see how much such ceremonies cost, and how easy it appeared to book them.
My research revealed several issues of concern. First, minimal ceremonies were not readily available – in some areas, they could be arranged for only one morning per month. Some very rough calculations suggested that, in Herefordshire, there is one minimal ceremony slot each week for 139,800 people, while in neighbouring Powys, there is one for every 928 people.
And one in three of the 34 websites that I explored did not mention that it was possible to marry for £127. Some registration services appeared to charge this amount, but nine charged non-refundable ‘booking fees’ ranging from £27 to £120. In Windsor and Maidenhead, the cheapest advertised ceremony was £321, including a booking fee and marriage certificate. So couples in some areas are effectively denied the right to a quick and inexpensive wedding.
The impact of COVID-19
In August 2020, Rebecca and I ran an online survey into the effects of the first pandemic-related lockdown on couples’ wedding plans. Our findings reinforce our view that Parliament should, as a priority, reform the law.
We found that the first lockdown affected all types of weddings – even those planned for the latter half of 2020. Couples reported huge levels of stress and expense associated with changing their plans. We have suggested some specific legal changes that would enable more weddings to go ahead, perhaps in a changed form, in any future national emergency. On 20 June 2021, the Government announced that outdoor weddings would, subject to some restrictions, be permitted at ‘approved premises’, at least from 1 July 2021 until April 2022.
What next for weddings law?
The Law Commission is a statutory body that reviews and recommends changes to the law. The Consultation Paper for its ongoing Weddingsproject cites my work 18 times, and the Commission sent me a personal invitation to respond to the proposals in that document.
I hope that policy-makers will see my empirical findings as reinforcing the need for what the Commission describes as ‘a reformed law of weddings that allows for greater choice within a simple, fair and consistent legal structure’.
Marriage is important in most cultures, so couples should be able to begin marriages when and where they wish, in whatever way is most meaningful to them.
Written by: Jo Brewis, Professor of People and Organisations at The Open University Business School
Menopause, when a woman’s periods stop for good, and they can no longer become pregnant, is a normal stage in most women’s reproductive lives. Typically beginning in a woman’s 40s, the average age for women in the UK to reach menopause is 51. However, one in a hundred women experience menopause before 40. Some will also go through sudden onset menopause because of surgery such as a hysterectomy which includes the removal of the ovaries, or medication like Tamoxifen, used to treat breast cancer. The experience and symptoms are different for everyone, ranging from unpredictable periods, poor sleep and hot flushes to loss of concentration and difficulties with recall. Around 25% of women experience severe and debilitating symptoms that significantly impact their ability to do everyday tasks and their overall quality of life. It is also important to point out that not everyone who experiences menopause identifies as a woman. Some trans men and gender non-conforming people will also transition through this reproductive life stage. I only use ‘woman’, ‘women’, ‘she’ and ‘her’ here as placeholders.
A workplace taboo
So why is talking about this inevitable, universal, and usually natural transition in every woman’s life still taboo in our workplaces? Even worse, why did a 2019 survey find that 370 000 women going through menopause had either left their jobs or considered leaving their jobs because of menopause symptoms?
In 2017, I was lead author on the UK Government Equalities Office (GEO) commissioned report ‘The impact of menopause transition on women’s economic participation in the UK’. We found that, despite being an experience that 50% of the world’s population share, women still feel afraid or embarrassed to talk about menopause at work. My co-authors and I even reflected on how our experiences of writing the report mirrored many of the findings in the research we reviewed, especially around menopause as a taboo and gendered ageism in western organisations.
During the past few years, I’ve been working with innovative professional services consultancy, Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace, to help public, private and third sector organisations develop best practice around menopause through workplace awareness events, training for line managers, HR and Occupational Health professionals, and communication and engagement toolkits. I regularly present at Henpicked events and always share the latest findings from my research with the team there.
Their work has reached millions of employees, not only in the UK but as far afield as the US and the Netherlands, and diverse employers from the NHS to high street retailer Next and HSBC UK.
This work has demonstrated how inexpensive and straightforward support mechanisms can make a huge difference. Allowing women to wear uniforms made of natural fibres or to work in an office with natural light, providing USB fans or supplies of cold drinking water and sanitary protection all helps. Specialist occupational health support can be more expensive, but women will probably only need it for a short time. Every UK worker already has the right to request flexible working after six months with the same employer, which can help women cope during menopause transition. This flexibility will be especially relevant after the coronavirus pandemic.
I’ve helped the Universities of Leicester and Salford develop their first-ever menopause policies with these things in mind.
[The policy] has encouraged managers and colleagues to openly embrace how changes to working schedules and environments can be altered so to assist women with symptoms, enabling them to continue to be productive in the workplace.
Jeanette Seale, Finance Officer, University of Salford
I am also now a member of the expert panel which evaluates organisations’ applications for Menopause Friendly Accreditation. During our recent first meeting, it was inspiring to see how applicants are supporting their menopausal staff.
Changing the conversation
Through my work, I’ve spoken at events for employees from diverse organisations, from global pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).
I think people are a little bit scared to discuss the menopause, particularly men, however the tide is turning, as a result of work by people like Jo, and also with many female celebrities starting to become more vocal publicly. Only by normalising the conversation will that fear start to abate.
My employer now has quite a comprehensive webpage with information around the menopause. The support I was initially worried about did exist, but now it is more clearly signposted.
Nicki Metcalfe, Finance Director for Global Categories, GlaxoSmithKline
RSPB now has a dedicated menopause support section on its intranet, a digital menopause support group and has advertised its first virtual menopause event to its more than 2,000 staff.
Pushing the policy agenda
Engaging directly with employers and employees is critical to changing workplace attitudes to menopause and improving support for mid-life women in individual organisations. But it’s also essential to work with those organisations that shape attitudes across entire sectors. It has been so rewarding to help Business in the Community, the London-based responsible business network, enhance understanding among its more than 350 member organisations by co-authoring its Menopause in the Workplace toolkit.
Our academic team has also collaborated extensively with the Trades Union Congress (TUC) to evaluate UK workplaces’ menopause awareness. Surveying thousands of employees up and down the country and further afield, we found that 10% of organisations have menopause policies in place. This sounds like a small number, but it is an indication that we are moving in the right direction. When we started researching menopause at work in early 2016, there were very few, if any, with this kind of provision in place. We’ve used the insights from the survey to support union members in raising menopause awareness with their employers, building support networks, and implementing beneficial policy changes.
A demographically pressing issue
Let’s be clear. I don’t think mid-life women workers should receive special treatment unless risk assessments find they need it. Nor do I ignore the fact that men have mid-life experiences which can be equally challenging. But what is clear to me is that we must continue to normalise women’s menopause experiences, so they feel comfortable speaking about it at work, without fear of judgement. It is also critical that we make employers understand that this issue will only become more pronounced as the working population ages.
Written by: Richard Blundel, Professor of Enterprise and Organisation in the Department for Public Leadership and Social Enterprise at The Open University Business School.
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have a vital role in our efforts to tackle the Climate Emergency. Their combined environmental impact is more significant than the big corporations, but they are much more varied, less well-resourced and often harder to reach. So how can governments, and other agencies, ensure that such a large and diverse population of organisations can become more sustainable? Professor Richard Blundel and his colleagues have drawn on cross-disciplinary research insights to create new tools and techniques that will enable SMEs to ‘grow greener’.
SMEs form a large part of the UK’s economic landscape. There are more than 5.9 million across our four nations. Together they employ around 16.8 million people, generate an estimated £2.3 trillion in turnover each year, and account for more than 40% of the energy used in non-domestic buildings. Their individual environmental footprints may appear relatively insignificant, but we cannot ignore their aggregate impact.
Governments across the UK recognise that these firms have a significant role to play in meeting the ‘Net Zero’ target to reduce carbon emissions by 78% by 2035, compared to 1990 levels. The UK Government recently launched the UK Business Climate Hub and is seeking a commitment from SME owners and managers to take on the Net Zero target as part of a global campaign. SMEs are also vital to achieving a range of sustainability goals, from increasing recycling and cutting waste to reducing water consumption.
Yet, these businesses often find it the most difficult to change. Relatively less well-resourced than their larger corporate counterparts, SMEs don’t always have the financial capacity or personnel to prioritise sustainability over other pressing business needs. Many small business owners also find it difficult to see the long-term benefits of investing in sustainable practices when they spend most of their time focusing on the ‘bottom line’ and dealing with more immediate ‘here and now’ concerns.
As SMEs continue to feel the devastating economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the challenge of prioritising sustainability has, arguably, never been greater. However, there is also evidence that the pandemic has changed many business owners and managers’ attitudes. In recent interviews with business advisors working on environmental projects, their experience of seeing client firms re-thinking their approach was striking. One interviewee described it as “hitting a re-set button”, while another made a direct comparison with the way businesses responded to the financial crash of 2008-10 when many dropped their sustainability initiatives altogether:
[But now], the whole world is changing, and businesses are part of that. They’re responding to the public, and government leaders. It’s been pretty encouraging.
Short term ‘win-win’ incentives won’t lead to fundamental change
Financial incentives, such as grants to improve energy efficiency, can help create a short-term ‘win-win’ for businesses and sustainability goals. But our research, and that of colleagues such as Dr Sam Hampton at The Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, demonstrates that these incentives often lead to superficial changes. Moreover, the new practices often cease along with the funding because the incentive is insufficient to embed sustainability within the organisation’s culture and drive real, meaningful change. So how can we move beyond the conventional, one-size-fits-all, ‘win-win’ approach?
We propose an alternative intervention for intermediaries, such as professional associations, business advisors and economic development organisations. Instead of relying on financial incentives alone, it enables them to align sustainable practices to their SME clients’ personal, professional and organisational values. By scaling this approach, we can encourage many more SME owners and managers to integrate sustainability into their everyday operations and see it as a real strategic priority.
A values-based approach is crucial to encourage SMEs to grow greener
Developed in partnership with The University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute and the climate change communications consultancy, Climate Outreach, our values-based approach brings together insights from several fields. It builds on pioneering work on SME owner and manager values conducted by former OU doctoral researcher, Dr Sarah Williams (now at the University of Cumbria), in conjunction with Dr Anja Schaefer and myself, my previous research on SMEs and enterprise development, and studies conducted by Dr Aqueel Wahga on SMEs and support organisations in Pakistan. Our work has demonstrated that – with the right tools and techniques – these intermediaries can play a catalytic role in helping SME owners and managers see the long-term value of sustainability.
We conducted two phases of extensive consultation with SME owners and managers and five groups of intermediaries, including a series of collaborative workshops across the UK. We then worked with OU colleagues to produce Promoting sustainability in business: a values-based toolkit, a free open-access online course on the Open University’s ‘OpenLearn Create’ platform. This interactive course and supporting resources give intermediaries a thorough introduction to our values-based approach and practical guidance on communicating the value of sustainability to business audiences. The five-hour programme teaches participants how to encourage SMEs to engage with sustainability more deeply to deliver cost-effective and positive lasting change for their business and the environment.
To date, close to 1,000 people have engaged with the course, and feedback suggests it has helped individuals and organisations to engage their SME clients on environmental issues, such as climate change mitigation.
This [course and toolkit] has accelerated our understanding of the problem space of SME engagement with sustainability and helped us form opinions about viable next steps in our project.
Senior Manager from a design consultancy
Empowering SMEs to drive sustainable development in Pakistan
Pakistan’s second most successful export sector, the leather industry, accounts for 5% of the country’s GDP and employs more than half a million people. Its larger firms are generally more regulated. However, the small tanneries that make up the bulk of the sector still have very limited resources. This poses a continuing risk that chemicals used to convert raw animal hide into finished leathers will end up in rivers, polluting drinking water and destroying natural habitats.
To address this challenge, in late 2019, we piloted a modified version of our values-based course, combining the online programme and face-to-face workshops with local business advisors from the environmental charity WWF Pakistan. The blended programme, which also built on Dr Aqueel Wahga’s related work on the role of intermediaries in supporting SMEs in Pakistan’s leather industry, also welcomed graduate students – primarily experienced professionals and entrepreneurs – from the prestigious Government College University (GCU), Lahore. Many participants have since told us they are implementing new approaches to environmental stewardship. One local business advisor, in particular, said that they were starting to match entrepreneurs with “more active environmental values” with others who showed less interest in environmental improvement and added that they thought this collaborative approach was effective.
Training the next generation of sustainability leaders
We’ve incorporated material from this strand of research into two OU undergraduate modules to enable students on B205 Exploring Innovation and Entrepreneurship and B327 Creating Futures: Sustainable Enterprise and Innovation to gain case-based insights on improving SMEs environmental performance. Our work has also influenced the curriculum at GCU Lahore. Since 2018, the university has included our research in material for its graduate entrepreneurship and small business management students, many of whom are business owners or professionals. In 2020, it also launched a new postgraduate course on environmental entrepreneurship incorporating critical aspects of our work.
Our experience during the past few years demonstrates that a values-based approach can make an essential contribution to the crucially important task of helping several million businesses to make a rapid and successful transition towards a low carbon economy. We’ve made a start, but there is still a great deal to be done to refine and scale this work over the coming years.
Domestic homicides remain an ‘entrenched and enduring problem’ despite figures remaining relatively stable during lockdown, a new report drawing on research by an OU academic and commissioned by police has found.
‘Domestic Homicides and Suspected Victim Suicides During the Covid-19 Pandemic 2020-2021’ is the first report of the Domestic Homicide Project, established by the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing working with National Policing Vulnerability Knowledge and Practice Programme (VKPP). The project was created in May 2020 through Home Office funding.
The research carried out by the Project is the first police-led work of its kind in England and Wales and aimed to establish the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on domestic homicides and suspected victim suicides with a known history of domestic abuse(1), to learn lessons from every tragic incident and seek to prevent future deaths.
Domestic homicide and suspected victim suicide figures
Evidence from the project showed that domestic homicides didn’t appear to increase dramatically during the pandemic, with 163 recorded in the 12 months to 31 March 2021. This was very similar to the previous year’s figure of 152 and is in line with the 15-year average (2). Although there has not been a significant change in the numbers during the pandemic, all organisations in this sector agree that more needs to be done to reduce further incidents; a continuing situation where between two and three women are murdered every week by their partners or ex-partners is unacceptable.
The Project also found 38 suspected victim suicides with a known history of domestic abuse, although this figure couldn’t be compared with previous years as this was the first time that the data had been captured in this way.
While domestic homicides haven’t appeared to increase dramatically, these numbers do confirm that it remains an enduring issue. The Project found that Covid-19 acted as an ‘escalator and intensifier of existing abuse’ in some instances, with victims less able to seek help due to Covid restrictions. It also concluded that Covid had not ‘caused’ domestic homicide, but it had been ‘weaponised’ by some abusers as both a new tool of control over victims, and – in some cases – as an excuse or defence for abuse or homicide of the victim.
Evidence from the report also supports existing research that coercive and controlling behaviour is associated with higher risk of homicide.
Victims and suspects
In terms of typologies and characteristics of victims and suspects, the evidence shows that victims were mostly female (73%) (3), aged between 25 and 54 years old, with the vast majority of deaths occurring in urban areas (90%) and the most common cause of death being by a sharp instrument (29%).
Over three quarters of victims with a known ethnicity were white (76%) though, since Covid, the proportion of victims from non-white ethnicities (24%) appears to be slightly, though not significantly, higher than in previous years and in the general population (4).
In contrast to victims, most suspects were male (80%), and this was across all homicide types, except for child deaths where more than half the suspects were female (59%). Similar to victims, the majority of suspects with a known ethnicity were white (76%) and the proportion of suspects from other ethnicities (24%) also appears to be slightly higher than in previous years and the general population (5).
Suspects aged between 25 and 44 years old were more likely to be involved in intimate partner homicides (44%) and suspected victim suicides (51%), while suspects in adult family homicides tended to be younger, with 60% aged between 16 and 34 years old.
Predictive and risk factors
Looking further at risk factors, there were differences between case types. However, several key risks were present across all domestic homicides and suspected victim suicides. Below are some examples:
Domestic homicide was gendered – women (and some men) were at risk from men (with some exceptions).
Just under half (48%) of all suspects had previously been reported to police for domestic abuse.
Victims and suspects from minority ethnic groups were less likely to be previously known to police than those from white ethnicities.
Existing mental health conditions, alcohol and drug use by suspects were exacerbating factors.
Between each case type, there were certain risk factors which were most present and below are some examples:
Adult family homicides: victims were older than in other case types. This reflects a pattern of younger adults (mainly men) killing parents and grandparents (often mothers or grandmothers). These cases were more likely to involve suspects with acute mental disorders and involvement with mental health services.
Child deaths: more likely than other types to involve male victims and more likely than other types to involved female suspects.
Intimate partner homicides: suspects were likely to have a previous domestic abuse police record (or to be a perpetrator of undisclosed domestic abuse).
Victim suicides following domestic abuse: the abuse profile largely mirrored intimate partner homicide group, though (female) suicide victims were even more likely to be previously known as victims of high-risk domestic abuse involving coercive control.
Prior contact with police and other agencies
Just under half (48%) of all suspects were previously reported to police as suspects for domestic abuse – this was most pronounced in intimate partner and victim suicide cases. A further 10% were known to police for non-domestic abuse offending, and a further 10% were previously known to police as a victim of domestic abuse or vulnerable person. A quarter (27%) were not previously known to police in any capacity – this was most common in child death and so-called ‘familicide’ cases.
Taken together, this means that over half of suspects (58%) were previously known to police as a suspect for some form of offending. This does suggest that potential domestic homicide suspects are more ‘visible’ to police than previous studies have shown.
However, multi-agency partnership working remains crucial to identifying risk and preventing domestic homicides and suicides and this is highlighted in the report. In 57% of all cases, either the victim or suspect, or both, were previously known to another agency other than police. Additionally, in 44% of cases not known to police at all, either the victim or suspect or both was previously known to another agency, most commonly children’s social services, adult social services, or mental health services.
Recommendations and exiting lockdown
The report contains 20 conclusions and recommendations for police and other agencies, covering a variety of areas such as: the impact of Covid, defining domestic homicide, implications for risks assessment, partnership working and further research.
In addition to the recommendations, the report sets out a number of lessons for police and other agencies in responding to domestic abuse and preventing domestic homicides and suspected victim suicides as the country emerges from Covid restrictions. These include:
Be prepared for an increased risk of domestic homicides and potentially domestic suicides, particularly intimate partner homicide and victim suicides as some abusers’ control is taken away by eased restrictions, and other abusers re-gain access to victims
Ongoing situational pressures arising from Covid-19, such as unemployment, mental health issues and delays to court cases are likely to continue to impact domestic abuse, domestic homicide and victim suicide
Remain alert to ‘Covid-blaming’ as an excuse or defence by suspects
However, the report also highlights that emerging from lockdown may have some benefits and could help reduce the risk of homicide and suicide in some cases by re-establishing support networks and making cases more visible.
I’m very proud of what’s been achieved through the Domestic Homicide Project since it was established. I’d like to thank everyone who has contributed so far and helped produce the Project’s first pioneering piece of research, ranging from policing, partner agencies and also the friends and family of victims and the domestic abuse sector who have generously offered their insights to shape this project.
Domestic homicide and suspected victim suicides are not something that only the police can try to prevent and we’re grateful for all the collaboration happening across the entire sector. However, as the report highlights, there are still areas where we can improve, both separately and by working together, and this is especially important now that lockdown is over.
As the report rightly states, each one of these deaths is a tragedy for a family and friends, and each is one death too many, and we’re hopeful that the recommendations, conclusions and insights from this research will help prevent future deaths.
The Project is ongoing, and work is already underway to analyse specific patterns within domestic homicides and suspected victim suicides, with the aim of publishing more research next year to further assist policing and partner agencies in this area.
Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe, National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for Domestic AbuseI’
This report builds on the tireless work done over many years by friends and family of victims and the domestic abuse sector to raise awareness of domestic homicide. We are grateful to them for sharing some of those insights through our Stakeholder Group. We would like to thank the police for demonstrating real commitment to learn lessons from domestic homicides. Police leaders have championed this project at the highest levels, and every force has supported this research by sharing data, taking part in interviews and engaging with emerging learning.
The research shows that domestic homicides do not all follow the same path. Whilst there are strong common themes – such as the gendered dynamics of abuse – the prior offending patterns and personal characteristics of those who commit intimate partner murder often differ from those who kill family members or children.
For too long, a relationship between domestic abuse and victim suicide has been suspected but not systematically documented. This report shows for the first time that there are at least three apparent suicides every month with a history of domestic abuse, and these are only the cases where the history was known to police.
Crucially, whilst this report shows that domestic homicides did not see the huge rise under Covid which was feared early in lockdown, they remain far too high, with on average 14 adults or children dying at the hands of a partner or family member each month.
Dr Lis Bates, Report Lead Author and Senior Research Fellow at The Open University (6)
Tackling domestic abuse is a key priority for the Government and we have made huge progress in supporting victims and ensuring perpetrators face justice.
Our landmark Domestic Abuse Act transforms our response to tackling domestic abuse by providing greater protection to victims and survivors from all forms of abuse.
I am grateful to the work of the NPCC, VKPP and the College of Policing on this vital project, and to the contributions from the domestic abuse and homicide stakeholders, the academics, and police forces. I am so pleased that the project will continue for another year so that we can continue to monitor domestic homicides and drive change to prevent these horrific crimes.
Victoria Atkins, Minister for Safeguarding
This ground breaking research greatly adds to our knowledge and understanding of domestic homicides and will prove vital in helping improve our responses to risk to keep victims, particularly women, safer.
Everyone deserves to feel secure in their homes and relationships and we must ensure policing takes every opportunity to further reduce the number of domestic homicides and suicides.
Although figures have remained stable during the pandemic it is totally unacceptable that between two and three women are killed by their partner or ex-partner every week.
The College has developed a range of products to support forces, including working with domestic abuse charities to produce specialist training for officers and staff, which is being delivered in nearly 30 forces. We have also developed an updated domestic abuse risk assessment tool with academics, practitioners and survivors. This focuses on assisting police responders to identify coercive and controlling behaviour. This behaviour has very significant adverse effects on the quality of life of its victims, but is also an indicator of risk of serious physical harm.
This report is the first publication from the Domestic Homicide Project, and every organisation in this sector is determined to use the information gathered to develop more effective responses to domestic abuse and prevent these tragic deaths from occurring.
Bernie O’Reilly, interim CEO of the College of Policing
The report didn’t investigate a causal link.
15-year average calculated from Home Office police-recorded homicide data.
Important to note that this varied by case type. While intimate partner homicide victims and suspected victim suicides were overwhelmingly female (85% and 90% respectively), half the victims of adult family homicide (50%) and just under half of child death victims (48%) were male.
15-year domestic homicides average, the 2019/20 domestic homicides data, and the general population as measured by Census 2011.
The general population as measured by Census 2011 and the 10-year domestic homicides average.
Since this report was authored, Dr Lis Bates is now Reader in Interpersonal Violence Prevention at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).
Domestic Homicide Project
The Project adopted a wide definition of domestic homicides including murder from a (current or ex) partner, family member or co-habitee, child deaths in a domestic setting, and unexplained deaths or suspected victim suicides with a known history of domestic abuse. These latter two categories are not homicides, but were included in the project definition to capture as wide a range of deaths following domestic abuse as possible.
The Project team established a bespoke Stakeholder Group to advise the Project which has met twice during this twelve-month period. The Stakeholder Group comprises representatives from the domestic abuse sector including the Victims’ and Domestic Abuse Commissioners’ Offices, national domestic abuse services, such as Women’s Aid, Safelives, Refuge, Standing Together Against Domestic Abuse, and Respect; as well as specialist providers and advocates, like Advocacy After Fatal Domestic Abuse, Nia, the Counting Dead Women project, Imkaan, Southall Black Sisters, Karma Nirvana, Muslim Women’s Network UK, Gallop, and the ManKind Initiative. We would like to acknowledge and thank all stakeholders and panel members for their contributions and insight throughout this first year of the project.
The project team also convened a panel of national and international academics working in the field of domestic homicides and domestic abuse during the Covid-19 pandemic, to identify relevant research evidence. We would like to acknowledge and thank the input of these esteemed colleagues.
Vulnerability Knowledge and Practice Programme (VKPP)
Demand related to vulnerability has significantly increased in recent years and it represents one of the highest threat, harm and risk areas. In beginning to address this, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) established the Vulnerability Knowledge and Practice Programme (VKPP) in 2018 to develop and co-ordinate holistic, evidence-based approaches to improve learning, practice and outcomes.
Assistant Commissioner (AC) Rolfe is the NPCC lead on Domestic Abuse and the Violence and Public Protection portfolio. The VKPP sits within this portfolio and its work is directed by AC Rolfe, alongside VKPP Director Gareth Edwards and Head of VKPP Rhiannon Sawyer. The programme works across all police forces in England and Wales and is a multi-disciplinary team of dedicated professionals including police officers, researchers and academics.
The Domestic Homicide Project is one of nine wider workstreams being delivered by the VKPP that contribute to the overall evidence base for vulnerability and violent crime. Many of these projects focus on direct engagement with forces and a range of key partners to gain an understanding of current practice and to explore opportunities for developing knowledge sharing learning and improving outcomes for those who are vulnerable.
The Business School has retained its coveted ‘triple crown’ status until 2024 following an unprecedented period of activity and a bumper year of virtual reaccreditation visits.
Fewer than 1% of business schools worldwide hold these prestigious awards from the world’s three leading international management education associations: the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the EFMD Quality Improvement System (EQUIS), and the Association of MBAs (AMBA).
Following the good news of AACSB’s five-year reaccreditation in February this year, the Business School has now successfully achieved AMBA renewal for five years and EQUIS for a further three years after the most robust independent quality review in its history.
The Covid-19 pandemic meant this was the Business School’s first experience of ‘virtual accreditation’ with all three online visits in a seven-month period from November 2020 – May 2021. Many OU staff, students, alumni and corporate partners were involved in these virtual visits from peer review teams which comprised international academics.
Retaining our triple accreditation remains an exceptional achievement and showcases the Business School’s quality and standing. Studying with a triple accredited business school ensures not only the highest quality teaching but gives our students’ qualification international recognition. This recognises the dedication of our staff, excellence of our research and our unrivalled supported open learning teaching model, that supports students without ever compromising on quality. A massive thank you to the more than 100 staff, students, alumni and other stakeholders who took part in this vigorous and demanding assessment process.
Executive Dean, FBL (Faculty of Business and Law), Professor Devendra Kodwani
The Business School has been commended for our commitment to our mission, dedication to our students and student-driven learning experience, our societal impact including our long-standing relationship with the BBC and much, much more.
The hard work will continue so that the School remains at the forefront of teaching, research and innovation. This exciting new chapter will be led by Professor Siv Vangen who became the School’s new head in February 2021. She took over from Professor Kodwani while successfully overseeing the Faculty’s submission to the Research Excellence Framework (REF 2021).
How do you build a business that is positive for people, the planet, society and the economy? Maria Chenoweth, OU MBA alumna and Chief Executive of second-hand clothing charity TRAID, offers her top tips in a video created in partnership with The People Space.
TRAID is a UK charity working to tackle the negative socio-environmental impacts of production, consumption and waste in the fashion industry. TRAID keeps clothes in use for longer by providing the public with a network of clothes reuse services and charity shops. It champions the powerful benefits of wearing second-hand clothes and funds global projects supporting the people and places making our clothes.
Chenoweth has worked in the charity sector for three decades. After completing an MBA with The Open University, she became a Fellow within the Faculty of Business and Law. She explains: “Every professional and personal decision we make has social and environmental impacts locally and globally. Each industry must be responsible for reversing its current trajectory of profit before people and planet.”
Chenoweth is a visiting fellow with the Research into Employment, Empowerment and Futures (REEF) academic centre of excellence at The Open University where she is developing innovative module content on transition to a green economy. You can find out more about her inspiring personal journey from academic underachiever to CEO and MBA alumnua here.
This video is part of The Great Work Reset series, created in partnership with The People Space.
Capitalism as we have known it is in crisis. Environmental, social and governance (ESG) concerns are taking centre stage in business as never before, with employees, customers and shareholders expecting so much more from corporations than the pursuit of profit. Analysis by Bloomberg Intelligence shows that ESG assets may account for a third of all assets under management globally by 2025, with a combined value exceeding $53 trillion.
The rise of Black Lives Matter and heightened prominence of the environmental movement led by Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion has accelerated the need to rethink our system to tackle the enormous sustainability challenges we face. Alongside this, unease with traditional capitalism has swelled over the last couple of years, thanks in part to the pandemic shining an uncomfortable spotlight on global inequality.
While many young, low paid and unskilled workers have struggled, a boom in asset values has made the rich richer. According to the Financial Times, in 2020 the collective worth of the world’s five wealthiest individuals increased by over $250bn. There’s a glaring disparity between the privileged lives of powerful, ultra-high-net-worth business titans and the vast majority of people on the planet.
Deeply embedded corporate culture, specifically ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’ thinking, are big barriers to resetting capitalism that can flummox chief executives and chief people officers looking to deliver audacious transformation plans.
The disappearance of many ‘old jobs’ as they are automated out of existence through the rise of artificial intelligence and robotic process automation risks further polarisation as those in certain roles without the right skills become surplus to requirements, victims rather than beneficiaries of disruptive new technologies. Against such a background, it’s no surprise that most people around the world feel indifferent at best about the work they do and the organisation they do it for. Disengagement is the norm.
But what is the antidote to all this? Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, has championed stakeholder capitalism, calling for a global economy that works for progress, people and planet. “We can’t continue with an economic system driven by selfish values, such as short-term profit maximisation, the avoidance of tax and regulation, or the externalising of environmental harm,” he writes. “Instead, we need a society, economy and international community that is designed to care for all people and the entire planet.”
It’s a view that chimes with the outlook of a handful of prominent industrialists. Anand Mahindra, chair of the Mahindra Group, has adopted a business philosophy he calls Rise, sparked by the realisation that his business cannot rely on a relatively narrow customer base of prosperous Indians to grow sustainably. As he sees it, success lies in creating collective value for Mahindra’s entire spectrum of stakeholders – colleagues, business associates, shareholders, potential consumers across the economy, local and global communities and the planet.
Mahindra elaborated on his approach in a Telegraph article on post-COVID capitalism. “Our core purpose is to enable others to rise by driving positive change in their lives. It does not explicitly mention profits, because we believe that if we enable others to rise we will rise with them and profits will inevitably follow.”
Such thinking would have appalled Milton Friedman, one of the most influential economists of the 20th century, who labelled corporate social responsibility a “fundamentally subversive doctrine”. In a free society, Friedman wrote in his book Capitalism and Freedom “there is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.”
Some still concur with this opinion but it has become a minority view. Nevertheless, fear of eroding profits remains a brake on transformation. “Often what you find when you talk to senior managers in big organisations is that there can be cost penalties for those that go out on a limb doing it when others in the industry aren’t,” says Mark Fenton-O’Creevy, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at The Open University Business School.
One way around this, Fenton-O’Creevy observes, could be for leaders in large organisations to gently lobby for legislation that creates a fair playing field. In this age of intense pressure to meet sustainability targets, governments around the world may be more receptive to such overtures than was previously the case.
Yet deeply embedded corporate culture, specifically ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’ thinking, are also big barriers to resetting capitalism that can flummox chief executives and chief people officers looking to deliver audacious transformation plans.
An employee-centric model
The pandemic has certainly been an accelerant but, even before it hit, interesting new models were emerging. One mould-breaker is tech company 10Pines, founded in Argentina in 2010, which now has around 85 employees. In this highly transparent business, salaries are agreed through open discussion with colleagues and every year 50% of profits are shared among staff.
There are some challenges with this employee-centric model, concedes 10Pines co-founder Emilio Gutter. One is cultural mismatch with certain clients – it is hard for its people to work with clients who show little trust in their employees. Plus, egalitarianism has a downside when it comes to weighing up risk.
“Our decision-making process requires a lot of alignment,” says Gutter. “Allowing everyone to express their opinions also opens the door for expressing fears. Some decisions are uncertain by nature and require taking some risks, so it’s a challenge to avoid creating a very risk-averse environment when everyone can point out all the reasons an idea might fail, which are plenty when diving into the unknown of something new.”
However, Gutter says the advantages outweigh the drawbacks. He is a firm believer that more organisations should stop talking about people as resources and become more employee-centric by giving more autonomy to their employees and showing greater trust in them. This can begin with small things, like letting people decide whether they want to go to the office or work from home and plan their schedule…but extends to bigger things, such as involving employees in major decisions that will affect the future of the company.
“CEOs and top executives should spend more time listening to their employees, not just the senior-level executives but everyone in their companies,” says Gutter. “It’s really hard to be an employee-centric organisation without knowing how employees really feel or what they think.”
10Pines’ model applies some principles of sociocracy, an employee-focused approach which aims to hold in balance being productive and being equals by ‘packaging’ authority into domains and distributing that authority into teams, often called ‘circles’.
In this way, explains Ted Rau, operational leader, Sociocracy for All (SoFA), no member’s voice can be ignored, and people start taking each other more seriously because they know that by the end of the discussion everyone has to find consent. This includes decisions on leadership: to stay in the role, a leader needs the consent of the team they lead.
“This system rewards different behaviour from hierarchical systems because now the trusted and knowledgeable people get selected into leadership and not the loudest,” says Rau. Plainly, this is not a system that will appeal to noisy and ineffective leaders.
Evolving to community capitalism
Another model that has gained some traction in recent years is community capitalism which, as the name suggests, prioritises the wellbeing and sustainability of the community – whether that be geographically local or a community of shared interests. An interesting example is Buurtzorg, which in a little over a decade has revolutionised healthcare in the Netherlands through 1,000-plus small, self-organising teams that deliver home nursing care all over the country. They use Buurtzorg’s ‘onion model’ to leverage a variety of available resources to provide clients with the best possible care.
Founder Jos de Blok believes capitalism has brought a lot of damage to healthcare professionals and patients. He created Buurtzorg so that nurses could work based on their professional ethics with the autonomy to do what’s needed. It’s a model he argues could work across many sectors, even in banking. “As a bank, your purpose is to sell many financial products to earn a lot of money. But a bank could say, ‘now we have a higher purpose as a bank. We want to reduce the financial problems of people and find good solutions for that. Then we will have a connection with clients based on trust and sustainable value for the future’.”
In de Blok’s opinion, moving to a community-centric model requires the right “worldview” – one with less focus on earning money. Making it happen may need businesses to become more selective about their shareholders, although the rise of ethical and ESG-driven investment should make finding investors who are keen on the model less of a problem than was once the case.
“If you want to not only talk the talk, then you have to be transparent about what you are doing – clear on the way you are doing it and on how you will share your profits,” advises de Blok. “You can’t hide behind a marketing way of doing things. If it’s not real, people will see that in the end.”
“I am very fond of saying that most large organisations are finely tuned to meet the challenges they faced 20 years ago,” says Fenton-O’Creevy. “Mindset does need to change. There are a lot of things that people take for granted in their industry and these have become so entrenched that you don’t think about them anymore, they are part of the invisible background. Rethinking those kinds of things is quite difficult, although the pandemic has loosened up a great deal of that. People have managed to do in organisations things they didn’t believe possible.”
So will we, as organisational leaders, help to reset capitalism? Or will the new post-pandemic world of work reset us?
PhD graduate Nicola Croxton has discussed her research looking at how firms use their corporate social responsibility (CSR) and corporate political activity as a means to improve their overall performance. You can watch Nicola talk about her research and why she chose OUBS here.
She successfully passed her PhD viva in October 2020 with her thesis, ‘The internationalisation of corporate social responsibility: Nonmarket strategy in a global context’. The chair was Professor Jean Hartley, the external examiner was Professor Nicholas O’Regan (Aston Business School) and the internal examiner was Dr Richard Godfrey. Her supervisors were Professor Liz Daniel, Professor Devendra Kodwani and former OU academics Professor Thomas Lawton and Dr Raquel Garcia-Garcia.