Founded by the distinguished Professor Peter J. Buckley OBE in 1995, the Centre for International Business at the University of Leeds (CIBUL) is a leading research centre in the discipline. Its network unites experts in the field of international business worldwide and is one of the largest groups of international business academics in the United Kingdom.
CIBUL works to tackle global challenges by conducting innovative research and creating long-term sustainable solutions that benefit both society and business. CIBUL is particularly interested in the role multinational enterprises (MNEs) play in addressing society’s most pressing issues. Our main line of inquiry concerns whether and how MNEs can be part of the solution. Our members conduct rigorous and multidisciplinary research that helps management teams to engage with social, economic and political challenges, aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and to pursue those goals without compromising their business objectives.
Since its launch in 1995, CIBUL has pursued a research strategy based on teamwork and co-authorship, well-suited to the multidisciplinary nature of its field.
CIBUL is ranked first according to figures compiled by International Business Review:
- By degree of international business research focus, measured by subject relatedness between bibliographically coupled documents based on publications between 2007 and 2016
- By weighted number of articles in high quality academic journals
CIBUL is known globally as 2nd in the world for International Business Research, according to studies such as Rialp, Merigó, Cancino, and Urbano (2019), Lahiri and Kumar (2012), Adler and Harzing (2009), Harzing (2008), and Chan, Fung, and Leung (2006).
CIBUL has developed strong connections with major public sector bodies and private organisations. It is a hub for experts from multiple disciplines to collaborate and generate inspiring research and its effective applications to real world problem-solving. Working alongside major public sector bodies and private companies, such as UNCTAD, UNIDO, World Bank, OECD, United Nations, ASEAN, the European Union, the Commonwealth, MOFCOM, Nestlé, and Flex, CIBUL focuses on a range of topics related to international business and sustainability.
In April 1995, CIBUL was formally accredited as a University Research Centre by the Council of the University of Leeds. It was firstly associated with the Department of Business and Economics which later became Leeds University Business School. Its first recruits during 1995 and 1996 included its founder, the distinguished academic Professor Peter J. Buckley OBE, and the Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration and International Business, Professor Jeremy Clegg. Drawing on the resources of the University, CIBUL has united leading experts in international business, and formed one of the largest international business experts groups in the UK, and a pioneer research-led institute globally.
As International Business (IB) scholars, we consider it our responsibility to address pressing societal challenges. These challenges are not confined or defined by national borders, by cultural perspectives, or by academic disciplines. Neither are we. Our motivation is to understand these challenges and arrive at workable solutions that are not only compatible with international business, but also eliminate barriers to its ongoing creation of greater global societal and economic benefits.
We work in a society that increasingly demands that MNEs confront and work to resolve societal challenges wherever they operate. This means we also recognise that this demand imposes a greater political role for corporations than ever before. Profitability no longer defines success nor guarantees an environment for continued existence and growth. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognises this critical role of business, recognition that makes business a partner in fulfilling worldwide hopes of sustainable and inclusive international development. This expanded role for business means that business and social values are inescapably linked yet in this link corporate social improvement efforts will also pay off in improved business performance.
The power of business is undeniable. In 2021, the combined revenues of the world’s 500 largest corporations accounted for more than a third of global GDP. It would be difficult to argue that the MNEs among this elite group lack the skills or resources to be dominant change agents in their spheres of operations. They have the capacity and potential to provide long-term foundations for sustainable development.
Nevertheless, recent evidence reveals that the private sector has a long way to go in reaching generally accepted sustainability goals. The Ten Principles of the United Nations Global Compact - the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative – and the SDGs at most businesses have not yet become integral elements of their goals, governance, and daily operations and remain largely invisible in corporate behavior. Most companies explain the lack of prominence of their commitment to SDGs in terms of the challenges of incorporating their sustainability approach into their supply chains. The past decade shows almost no progress in this regard. Progress in gender equality may be worse—257 years away, at the present pace, from achievement, according to some estimates. The attention given to those women who have ascended to leading Global 500 companies tends to obscure the fact that they represent only 4.6% of the CEOs in these 500 firms.
Research in IB on MNEs and their interaction with SDGs along with elements of international business policy that foster their adoption by firms has barely begun. Despite their unique position to analyze and address this interaction, IB scholars face a big challenge in studying how MNEs fulfill their commitments to social action.
We believe that IB scholarship should be at the forefront in providing evidence-based recommendations to (future) business leaders on implementing these SDGs that include goals such as reduced inequality, gender equality, peace, justice, and strengthening institutions.
The system-level change required to achieve these goals demands a stronger voice from IB scholars in the present multi-stakeholder dialogue.
Our core tenets
Recognising the power of business: We believe that MNEs can and should play a vital role in tackling the world’s most pressing societal challenges
Finding solutions to global challenges relies more than ever on actions by MNEs because of their unique positioning to operate across borders. The IB community is well-equipped with tools to analyse, develop, and communicate practical ways to embed the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into MNEs’ strategies and operations:
No poverty (SDG1): Firms can work to alleviate poverty through the working conditions they provide their employees and requiring their suppliers to do the same.
Zero hunger (SDG2): MNEs can also leverage their distribution expertise to ensure improved access to healthy foods, thereby reducing hunger and malnutrition (SDG2).
Reduced inequalities (SDG10): Similarly, careful design of products, services, and business models that are inclusive of vulnerable and marginalised populations can go a long way toward reducing inequality.
Providing service to business and society through rigourous IB research
We aim to create an environment in which science leads to policy and improved practices which go towards meeting the SDGs. This requires scaling and speeding up the system in which research is conducted. The goal is an alignment between science, policy, and practice. Achieving it means that IB scholars must become more involved in knowledge co-creation. These challenges are complex and confronting them requires a willingness to resort to theories, multidisciplinary approaches, and up-to-date methodologies. At CIBUL, we hold it our responsibility to conduct rigorous, transdisciplinary research at the intersection of MNEs, governments, institutions, and society to design corporate and policy solutions targeted at contributing directly to social aspects as embedded in the SDGs.
Valuing multidisciplinary collaborations: We stimulate important conversations on global development with scholars from allied social sciences
Achieving the goals of sustainability and resiliency demands coordinated and sustained efforts from scholars with interdisciplinary backgrounds in recognition that the challenges and solutions in these goals are interrelated. “Global cities”, or intensified urbanisation, exemplify this complexity. Since 2008, urban areas have been home to more than half of the world’s population. The benefits of cities as generators of almost 80% of global GDP are increasingly offset by air pollution, land use disputes, and difficulties in providing basic services for their residents. Forced displacements of residents because of conflicts or climate-related events are increasing factors in patterns of urbanisation, especially in the creation of slums. In “global cities” the presence of MNEs can be both a blessing and a curse in the course of generating capital and knowledge while simultaneously contributing to socioeconomic polarisation. Overcoming these challenges requires a multidisciplinary approach, building upon research in economic geography, urban studies, migration, sociology and environmental sciences and bridging these disciplines with IB theoretical perspectives—in short, widening the lenses through which IB conducts research and broadening its engagement with allies in the social sciences.
Fostering cross-sector partnerships: We connect business leaders, policymakers and human rights experts and work together towards implementing the SDG Agenda producing the latest thinking and creating scientific knowledge
The United Nations Global Compact has altered the environment in which international businesses operate. In bringing responsible business leaders under the UN umbrella, to participate in setting global agendas, the old “do no harm” common approach is no longer operative in a world of high expectations of business and new perspectives of its responsibilities. It is critical that we fully participate in these ongoing conversations about the new expectations of international business and discussions of evolving new ground rules. Even more importantly, we should be the matchmakers in connecting the national and international leaders in business, academia, science, government, NGOs, and any other fields necessary to ensure an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary front in confronting the business and social challenges of our times. At CIBUL, we are committed to the hard work of leadership in research and networking to strengthen the role of IB and emphasise its relevance to the changing landscape of international business.
Impacting policy and practice: We generate actionable business solutions and policy proposals with the potential to inform some of the world’s most powerful decision-makers
At the core of CIBUL is the aim to reflect on the role MNEs can play in addressing society’s most pressing issues. Our scholarly publications are a first step in the journey to exert this impact. To bring the voice of IB scholars into global agenda-setting discussions and expand our outreach, it’s essential to actively work on generating policy papers, development briefs, and actionable business solutions.
Leveraging the potential of higher education: We’re developing the responsible leaders of tomorrow
As part of our responsibility for engagement with real-world problems, we as IB scholars and educators have a moral responsibility to equip future business leaders with the skills common to business and also encourage them to develop newer and better ones suited to the future problems and circumstances they will encounter. By embracing this responsibility, we pave the way for a new sustainable normal.
To achieve the vision and objectives highlighted in this position paper, at CIBUL we cultivate open-mindedness toward undertaking impact-focused research; this focus is particularly prominent among our junior faculty and new hires. We guide them in how to communicate complex scientific ideas for practice and policy recommendations as well as for broader public consumption.
Our PhD students are enrolled in transdisciplinary doctoral programmes. By engaging with colleagues in different disciplines and learning from diverse disciplinary backgrounds they have the opportunity to expand their knowledge and study pressing global challenges. This approach also helps them to frame questions in ways that generate both a theoretical hook and societal relevance.
We actively work on establishing and nurturing cross-sectoral collaborations. We aim to extend CIBUL’s reach beyond academic circles, disseminate interdisciplinary research on business and society, and facilitate valuable field research opportunities that produce both rigorous and impactful results.
We create forums for interactions among managers, policymakers, faculty and students (public events on business and society, cross-disciplinary and cross-sectoral webinars/workshops). These forums involve industry and policy people in identifying pressing problems that should be taken up and researched by IB faculty and students and by scholars sharing actionable research insights.