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02/14/2023 | In­sti­tu­te of Ma­nage­ment and Busi­ness Stu­dies

Research for Practice: Financial Times Prize for Kassel Professor

A research article with authorship from the University of Kassel was awarded the Financial Times Responsible Business Education Award in the category "Academic Research with Impact on Practice". In a study spanning several years, the researchers used the example of modern slavery in the construction industry in Great Britain to examine certain interpretive schemes that have a significant influence on how actors assess and address a problem.

Image: Kassel University
Prof. Dr. Stefan Gold, Head of Sustainable Corporate Management.

Whether at the Olympic Games in Brazil or the soccer World Cup in Qatar - in recent years, increasing attention has been paid worldwide to working conditions in the construction sector. The honored scientists took this as an opportunity to investigate the dynamics of the media and professional discussion about this. Between 2014 and 2019, they collected and analyzed data in the form of 15 interviews with stakeholders from the construction industry, observations at meetings and conferences, and 106 articles from a variety of English-language media. The research found that certain implicit interpretive schemas, known as "frames," influence how people perceive a problem, who they blame for it, and what solutions they consider appropriate.

"When we pay attention to an issue, we automatically make choices about which aspects we emphasize and which we tend to neglect," said Prof. Dr. Stefan Gold, co-author of the study and head of the Department of Sustainable Management at the University of Kassel. "These frames decisively influence our interpretation of social reality. Frames in competition with each other are continuously negotiated between different participants and can ultimately lead to solution-oriented new patterns of action or prevent them."

The researchers were able to observe that the public debate about modern slavery in the construction industry went through three phases - from the initial emergence of the issue, to the social and media peak of the debate, to its cooling off. In each of these three phases, certain frames came to the fore while others were pushed back. Four frames emerged, and the researchers further examined their evolution over time. For example, most actors in the construction industry framed modern slavery as either a human rights issue, a moral issue, a management issue, or a social justice issue. Depending on which of these frames was prevalent among them, who they saw as primarily responsible also differed, as did the solutions they valued as appropriate. For example, actors who framed modern slavery primarily as a social justice problem mostly assessed it as structurally caused. They advocated for stronger government controls, expansion of union rights, and more protective laws for workers. By contrast, actors who saw modern slavery as a human rights problem, and in a later variation as a "hidden crime," focused more on individual traffickers and individual victims. They tended to reject the idea of holding companies more comprehensively accountable. They often favored stronger prosecution of trafficking crimes as a solution.

The Financial Times Responsible Business Education Award recognizes academic work that helps companies and other organizations operate more responsibly at a practical level. Through co-authors Dr. Gabriela Gutierrez-Huerter O (King's College London) and Prof. Alexander Trautrims (University of Nottingham), the study fed into the new BSI (British Standards Institution) standard BS 25700, which provides guidance to organizations on managing the risk of modern slavery in their operations, supply chains and wider business environment. The standard gives companies a toolkit to actively address modern slavery in their operations and their supply chains, rather than hiding behind the interpretation of modern slavery as inevitably inherent in our economic system.  

To the story in the Financial Times, January 16, 2023: Academic research award: tipping point for action | Financial Times (

Gutierrez-Huerter O, G., Gold, S., Trautrims, A. (2023). Change in Rhetoric but not in Action? Framing the Ethical Issue of Modern Slavery in a UK Sector at High Risk of Labor Exploitation. Journal of Business Ethics, 182, 35-58.


The article can be found here.



Prof. Dr. Stefan Gold

Phone: +49 561 804-3082

E-mail: gold[at]uni-kassel[dot]de