Responsible Business Award academic projects

Our ReBA grant scheme is a way to harness the potential of Birmingham Business School academics, particularly early- to mid-career academics, to meet the Centre’s objectives. We offered a research pot of £25,000 and invited academics to come up with innovative research proposals from a breadth of disciplines that will contribute to new understandings of responsible business; investigate cutting-edge practices; evaluate problematic business practices to change the field of responsible business, and increase capacity for future external funding applications.

Our ReBA academic projects:

Licence to deal: did deregulation of mortgage brokering lead to risky lending?

Lead: Danny McGowan


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Danny McGowan

Synopsis >

Mortgage brokers can provide borrowers with greater access to credit. Whereas a bank’s mortgage advisor can provide a borrower with only one quote, brokers help borrowers find the lowest-cost option by working with a number of lenders. However, brokers’ profits are tied to commission fees. They therefore have incentives to direct consumers towards products with higher commissions and to engage in outright fraud to process a larger number of applications. Regulating mortgage brokers may therefore affect consumer welfare by determining brokers’ incentives.

We study this question in the United States where brokers must obtain a licence in order to originate mortgages to consumers. Over time states have strengthened licencing regulations by mandating that brokers possess certain levels of work experience, undertake examinations to obtain professional qualifications, and demonstrate their financial commitment to compensating consumers in cases where they fail to serve borrowers’ interests. We find these measures lead to the origination of less risky credit. However, in states with more stringent regulations borrowers face higher interest charges as fewer mortgage brokers enter the market.

This research is important because mortgage brokers are responsible for arranging approximately 70% of mortgage loans. Ensuring that they act in a responsible manner is important both for consumer and societal welfare. While regulation has some attractive properties, it is not a panacea. Our findings highlight the benefits and unanticipated costs of regulating this industry.

Ethical norm in fast fashion industry: the paradox of fashion design piracy and accountability of fast fashion retailers

Lead: Charika Channuntapipat


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Synopsis >

The fast fashion industry has been put in the spotlight about its promotion of unsustainability. A number of related studies have rigorously addressed issues relating to human rights; environmental impacts from the productions of fast fashion goods; and consumers’ perceptions and their buying decision in relation to ethical issues in the fast fashion business. Some studies have mentioned about the copyright infringement and the lack of concrete intellectual property protection for fashion designers.

However, limited academic attention has been placed on the issues relating to ethics of plagiarism of ideas and designs. This plagiarism has been done by not only small designers (to copy the designs from well-known brands); but also by large retailers. This exploitation of ideas and innovations seems to be acceptable, or tolerable, in the industry. This raises the issues about the ethical norm of such practice.

This research project, therefore, aims to explore issues relating to plagiarism of designs and the norm of the practice in this fast fashion industry. Also, it aims to unpack the factors contributing to the acceptance of such plagiarism though discourses from different stakeholders and sources. The findings can potentially provide a potential framework to draw the line between inspirational designs and blatant copied designs, and to reshape the norm of this industry.  

The main aims of this project are to explore the current ethical norm relating to design piracy issues in fast fashion in dusty, and to potentially propose solutions to the piracy paradox. It also aims to highlight the discourses about fashion design piracy from different stakeholders’ perspectives, including legitimising strategies used by fast fashion businesses to justify their piracy of designs, and their reactions to related lawsuits.

The findings are expected to provoke the awareness of the issues, to reshape the norm of the industry, and to make the businesses more responsible and accountable for their actions of (potential/accused) design piracy.  

Shared parental leave: driving the take up to improve gender equality in the workplace

Lead: Holly Birkett and Sarah Forbes


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Holly and Sarah

Synopsis >

Dr. Holly Birkett and Dr. Sarah Forbes are leading the Equal Parenting project with the aim of improving the use of family friendly policies in the UK and encouraging equality in the workplace.

In the case of Shared Parental Leave (SPL), Forbes and Birkett are the first academics in the UK to systematically look into the reasons for the low take up of SPL and to design interventions for improving take up at both the organisation and government level. Through the use of a strong bank of rich empirical evidence, Birkett and Forbes aim to better inform UK organisations and government departments in future decision making in this field.

Visual Representations of Sustainable Agriculture

Lead: Jane Glover


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Jane Glover

Synopsis >

Sustainable agriculture has historically primarily been investigated through an environmental scientific lens to investigate the impact of agriculture on the environment.  Jane’s project takes a more humanistic view through critically exploring visual representations. Jane’s project examines a wider notion of sustainability to include economic and social as well as environmental.

Jane’s project investigates how (sustainable) agriculture is represented in wider society through different forms of visual media. Jane has a particular focus on broadcast television and critically analyses the context of these programmes. Through critically assessing these representations, Jane aims to explore how media could affect people’s views on sustainable agriculture.

Jane aims to highlight how the public explores notions of sustainability in agriculture and food production and how media engages with the public on issues surrounding sustainable agriculture.

Jane’s work contributes to the growing interest in how multi discourse is constructed by actors and their representatives, and assimilated to the public through text and visuals (in this case television). Jane aims to analyse this media to comprehensively understand and legitimatise responses or practices in relation to sustainable agriculture and other aspects of farming.

Jane has begun to examine television programmes ranging from repeats of This Farming Life, A year on the farm, Countryfile, Love in the Countryside, The Family Farm and Spring Time on the farm. 

Jane has turned her attention to televised media due to 2017 statistics stating that on average each person watches three hours and 32 minutes of broadcast television per day (Ofcom). This does not include online services such as ‘on demand’.

One of Jane’s initial findings show that country life is often portrayed as ‘a way of life’, meaning that should hard working farmers not earn a fair living wage, this is glossed over in the media to maintain the image of the idyllic country life. She has also found that references to sustainability or responsible businesses focus on the environment, and tend to comment on the negative rather than the positive. There are little references to social elements, such as sustainable livelihood and the fabric of isolated rural communities.