Signature plan

Signature Plan: Connecting Organizations: Private, Fiscal and Technology-Driven Relations in a Sustainable Society

In this Signature Plan, we investigate how new models and strategies of organizing business and economic activities (e.g. platforms, networks, blockchains) are regulated by the law and whether that regulation needs rethinking in the light of modern society, in which sustainability, technology and servitization become ever more dominant drivers of change.
Existing legal frameworks, including rules stemming from contract law, company law, insolvency law, labour law, (intellectual) property law, tax law, and/or tort law, may not sit well with these developments. Accordingly, they can impede innovation.
However, the legitimate interests that these legal frameworks safeguard (e.g. social rights for consumers and workers) may require updating or new interpretation of the underpinning rules in order to ensure continued protection.

Leading questions for this signature plan involve: 

  1. How do technology and sustainability objectives inform modern organizational arrangements?
  2. What, from a legal perspective, are the characteristics, advantages and drawbacks of these arrangements?
  3. What rules (or rule design) are needed to protect the legitimate interests and control negative externalities concerned with these arrangements?

Themes 

The research questions are addressed in relation to three analytically distinct, yet overlapping themes: 

Sustainability

This theme investigates how a sustainable society can be supported by cooperative activities between organizations and actors that establish long-term value creation and corporate social responsible behavior.[1] 

The law can enable these actors to be appropriately motivated, organized and equipped. New sustainable cooperative and governance models can contribute to sustainability, also with the help of new technological instruments, but also needs to protect legitimate interests and control negative externalities resulting from these new phenomena.

Research topics and related KPIs (see under V.) include inter alia:  

  • Involvement and engagement of different actors (including shareholders, employees and other stakeholders) in public and private businesses to enhance sustainability; 

  • Sustainability, social rights and contractual remedies;  

  • Sustainability (including circularity) in global value chains.  

[1] Today, also other terms like ‘Corporate sustainability’ and ‘Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues are used. It is broader than environmental sustainability, also including for instance sustainable (tax) governance, social issues and non-financial reporting standards.  

Servitization

Servitization concerns the offering of services instead of or combined with the sale of products. It gains prominence as a business model and is promoted to further sustainability goals.

As servitization creates long-term interdependencies between multiple economic actors, existing legal concepts and categories are not easily applied, a struggle that is exacerbated where algorithms, online platforms and other technologies underpin servitization.

The quest is out for new rules to adequately balance the interests involved. Research topics and related KPIs (see under V.) include inter alia: 

  • Protection of rights (of e.g. consumers, workers, owners) in product-service-systems; 

  • Contractual networks in construction, health care, and production and trade;  

  • The role of information and liability in servitization, in particular when offered through online platforms.  

Technology

Digital technology is embedded in both servitization as well as sustainability. Servitization is mainly feasible with the aid of smart networked communication, and many sustainable activities build on the presence of new forms of digital technology.

Technology has a wider impact however: it leads to shifts in information, control and power, and influences relationships and organizations, as well as legal practice and legal research.

To understand and regulate technology, it is imperative to appreciate both the actual operation of technology and envisage how it affects in practice the operation of the law and legally protected interests.

Our research includes hands-on experience with data science, AI and blockchain technology in legal research and practice, taking in consequences on tech users, contract practice, and external liability to third parties. The lessons learned here can be applied to the use of technology in connecting organizations, in particular in new forms of organization such as platforms and blockchain networks.

Research topics and related KPIs (see under V.) include inter alia: 

  • Blockchain technology, smart contracts and their (legal) applications; 

  • New forms of organizations, including platforms and networks; 

  • Data science and AI in legal research (including legal analytics).  

Methodology  

Because of the interdisciplinary nature of this research plan with promising synergies bundled in challenging group KPIs, the research methodologies are interdisciplinary too, varying inter alia from legal analytics and quantitative and qualitative empirical to legal theoretical and comparative methods.  
The methods and techniques used are: 

  1. Doctrinal (comparative) research across a wide spectrum of disciplines internal to private law, business law, and tax law (including contract law, construction law, consumer law, corporate governance, family law, labour and social security law, property law, and tort law);  

  1. Quantitative and qualitative empirical research methods (like econometric models and semi-structured interviews); 

  1. Multidisciplinary research by using methods of disciplines such as, economics, organizational and social policy research to assess new organizational structures and sustainable workforce management, and computer science and network science for knowledge about technological specifics and the role of information and communication in networks.