In November, Brown named Richard Locke, currently the head of the
political science department and deputy dean of the Sloan School of
Management at MIT, as the new director of the Watson Institute. Locke’s
research has most recently focused on labor and environmental
sustainability issues in global supply chains. Cambridge University
Press will publish his new book, Improving Labor Rights in a Global
Economy, this year.
RL Watson can build on Brown’s extremely strong base in the humanities and social sciences and the University’s interdisciplinary approach to research to create something unique. I want us to build upon the strong area studies that already exist at Brown and strengthen our focus on issues like development, global health, and cybersecurity.
BAM Is there a practical role for the Institute to play in formulating public policy?
RL People should know something about the world. The issue then is how does one use that knowledge in trying to address the world’s challenges? The big issues today cannot be solved by states, nongovernmental organizations, or the free market alone. I would like to see us work on systems of governance that are more effective.
BAM Your research focuses
on labor and environmental conditions globally. This focus on how we
conduct business with a social conscience seems to be a quintessential
RL I was so inspired by everyone I spoke to who was basically trying to combine rigorous analysis with an ethos of doing good in the world. That’s exactly what my work is about.
BAM There has been a lot of controversy lately over harsh and unsafe labor conditions at overseas factories that produce goods and products for American companies. The companies say they regularly monitor working conditions there, but how effective is that inspection system?
RL What’s currently in place is a private policing mechanism. They write up code violations and say you need to behave better. But at best it’s a method for gathering information, because there are still no incentives in place for making changes.
What works is when the managers, workers, and companies have the
capabilities they need to succeed in running a good business. These
aren’t evil people. They were just never trained in modern business and
human resource management. As a result, they’re running
their businesses in a very old-fashioned way that doesn’t lead to good labor practices.