Our research

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The Centre for International Business at the University of Leeds' (CIBUL) research strategy is based on teamwork and co-authorship, reflecting the multidisciplinary nature of the field of international business.

Members of the centre have published their research in leading academic journals, such as Journal of International Business Studies, Academy of Management Journal, Academy of Management Review, Organization Science, Research Policy, Journal of World Business, and Academy of Management Discoveries.

CIBUL’s research has been profiled in a wide range of outlets including the Financial Times, World Economic Forum’s Agenda, World Bank Blog, ORF, and B the Change.

We also foster a supportive research culture. Read more about our PhD study environment here.

Research themes

The Theory of the Multinational Enterprise (MNE)

Research on the theory of the multinational enterprise has been a primary research concern of CIBUL since the publication of The Future of the Multinational Enterprise (by Peter Buckley and Mark Casson) in 1976. Both the theory and the phenomenon of the MNE have evolved since that time and this is reflected in the updating of the theory that nevertheless has retained its key premises on growth by internalization and least-cost location. 

The development of the “global factory” model of the modern networked MNE is the current attempt to encompass the evolution of the international firm, its strategy, and its external impact.

Projects under this umbrella include:  1) MNE’s responses to “the fracture” in the world economy caused by protectionist policies and anti-globalization rhetoric; 2) the speed of internationalization of MNEs, MNEs and CSR policies; and 3) the role of culture in MNE decision making and strategies of MNEs in the long, long, run.

This suite of projects relate strongly to the UN’s SDGs, particularly Decent Work and Economic Growth, Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, and Responsible Consumption and Production.

The Governance of Global Value Chains (GVCs)

Global Value Chains (GVCs) are critical in the functioning of the modern international economy. Their management determines the supply conditions for most of the world’s products and services. The difficulties of the global economy currently including war and conflict, inflation, transport disruption and government policies such as protectionism mean that supply chain resilience is critical for the welfare of the world. 

The fracture of the world economy into camps - “the West” and “China” is endangering the smooth supply of goods via GVCs and this includes vital supplies of food and medical products. Most GVCs are ultimately managed by a focal firm –a “global factory “ that orchestrates the GVC and often provides the key brand name or intellectual property underpinning the whole international chain. 

Given the importance of the management of GVCs, projects include; 1) the role of externalities and whether they are best corrected by government fiat or MNE action (including internalisation); 2) the development of electric cars and their associated GVCs; 3) resilience and GVCs in the food and agricultural sectors; and 4) the management of human supply chains.

The relevance of GVCs to SDGs including No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Affordable and Clean Energy, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Industry Innovation and Infrastructure, Reduced Inequality and Responsible Production and Consumption is self-evident.

Emerging Market Multinational Enterprises (EMNEs)

International Business is a phenomenological subject area. One of the most important recent elements in the world economy is the existence and rise of multinationals from emerging markets (EMNEs). This is of theoretical importance, because much of international business theories on the MNE (including internalisation theory) concern Western, private, manufacturing, and integrated firms, and EMNEs may be none of these. EMNEs, therefore, represent a stringent test for theory and theorizing. They are also important empirically and their decisions are vital for the well-being of the world economy, especially for poorer countries. 

As well as their role in inspiring the testing and extension of the internalisation theory of the MNE, projects on EMNEs include 1) investigations of reciprocal sourcing; 2) financing; 3) joint venture alliances and dynamic outsourcing; and 4) the role of entrepreneurship in emerging economies. 

A range of SDGs are relevant to work on EMNEs including No Poverty, Reducing Inequalities, and Decent Work and Economic Growth.

International Business Policy, SDGs and “Grand Challenges”

International business policies by governments are a vital component of the conduct of business operations in the modern world economy. Projects here investigate the current state of international business policy and make suggestions for its improvement. The reaction of corporate policy to both state intervention and the demands of civil society is examined. The role of business to be a force for good and to meet the “Grand Challenges” of climate change, global mobility, poverty and inequality in an atmosphere of some hostility to globalization are under investigation. 

Specific projects include 1) analysis of China’s “Belt and Road Initiative”; 2) cultural industries and Grand Challenges; and 3) the adoption of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and ESG (environmental, social and governance) strategies by MNEs. 

The role of the UN’s SDGs themselves as guides for policy, the success and failure of MNEs to aid in achieving these targets, and ways forward for both MNEs and international business academics are being researched.

International Business, Migration, and Society   

Businesses are operating today in a different context because of shifts occurring over the past couple of decades in global migration patterns. These changes are in migrants’ origins and destinations, ethnicity and legal status, and educational levels. And while companies across the board continue to capitalize on the labour of migrants as well as their consumerism, innovation, and enterprise, multinational firms are increasingly reliant on lower- and semiskilled workers in their factories and on high-skilled migrants in the ranks of management. In short, migration has moved from being an isolated and specialized factor for a few international companies to one increasingly relevant at all levels and all aspects of corporate operations and management.

Executives at the very top of the corporate ladder with responsibility for their firms’ strategic direction are directly affected and struggling to come to grips with the issues at the intersection of immigration policies, socioeconomic aspects, and the needs of their businesses.

This theme includes such projects as (1) how multinationals’ actions affect the flows of global labour migration; (2) defining the roles the largest multinationals and industry alliances such as the Responsible Business Alliance and The Consumer Goods Forum should play in dealing with migrants’ human and labour rights; (3) how to resolve the challenges Industry 4.0 developments pose for migrants at lower skill levels and the immigration policies associated with their availability; (4) the interface between global cities, their relationship with migrant communities, and the effects on businesses; (5) dealing with diversity and inclusiveness in the workplace; and (6) recognizing and countering factors that weaken attitudes toward migration while promoting the pro-trade benefits of migration and its contributions to development.

This theme also incorporates projects directed at specific elements that support the SDGs of the UN Agenda 2030. These include combating human trafficking, safeguarding migrants’ labour rights, and securing legal identities for all migrants.

Global Health and International Business  

International Business is closely linked to Global Health. They have common antecedents, including history, geography, politics, economics, and institutions. On the one hand, International Business operations, such as cross-border activities related to production, distribution and consumption and cross-border flows of capital and human resources impact on global population health, health and social care delivery, finance, and governance. On the other hand, Global Health challenges, including pandemics, epidemics, and poor health infrastructure coupled with poor population health have direct effects on International Business operations.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the bidirectional relationship between International Business and Global Health. For example, Research and Development by Global pharmaceuticals were fundamental in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic; and COVID-19 had a dramatic effect on International Business operations through ceasing completely or slowing down cross-border trade and flows of workforce and capital.

Projects under this theme include 1) impacts of cross-border workforce mobility restrictions, arising from Brexit, on the quality of health and social care in the UK, and how these may moderate the effects of COVID-19 on health and care service users, workforce, and businesses in the UK health and social care sector; 2) effects of foreign private equity structure for workforce pay and conditions, service quality, and financial performance of private service providers in adult social care in developed economies; and 3) implications of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) on maternal and child malnutrition in emerging markets.

Projects under this theme relate strongly to SDGs, particularly Good Health and Well-being, Reduced Inequality; SDGs 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6 that directly relate to reducing health disparities, primarily in developing countries, and Decent Work and Economic Growth.

Cross-cultural Management, Diversity, and Inclusion

Cultural diversity plays an important role in how well modern companies perform. The differences in perspective, ideas, and perceptions that individuals from different cultures can instil in firms are as advantageous as their more easily recognized skills of multilingualism, international ties, and cross-cultural competencies. In short, migrants often come as a complete package that can help firms, especially multinationals, achieve their goals.

However, companies seeking to capitalize on advantageous differences among their culturally diverse employees must recognize that yes, their newly arrived employees are different and try to ensure that their workplaces can accommodate differences. The goal is easier to articulate than to achieve. Barriers to its achievement can be host country employees’ ethnocentrism, prejudices, and insensitivity to cultural differences. For their part, migrants are often characterized by various features including gender, religion, language skills, variations in legal status, and educational attainments. Human resources professionals are continuing to struggle with how to implement integrative practices for these individuals that go beyond traditional support with visas, work permits, and training sessions.

This theme includes projects directed at (1) how to conceptualize culture and cultural differences and communicate them to native employees and migrants alike; (2) developing skills in intercultural business communication; (3) analysing the role of emotions in intercultural interactions; (4) exploring policies to retain culturally diverse employees while helping them ensure their health and well-being needs are met; and (5) examining what business cultures, policies, and routines work best to integrate them into the workplace.

These projects relate to the UN’s SDGs, especially to those dealing with Reduced Inequalities and Good Health and Well-Being.


Research activities