Special Issue of the Journal of International Business Studies (JIBS)

Starts:  Jul 1, 2024 09:00 (ET)
Ends:  Jul 31, 2024 17:00 (ET)
Associated with  Human Resources Division (HR)


Special Issue of the Journal of International Business Studies (JIBS)


Industry 4.0 Technologies in a Geopolitically Fragmented World: Behavioral, Strategic, and Societal Considerations for Multinational Enterprises


Special Issue Editors:  


Deadline for Submission: July 31, 2024 


Motivation for the Special Issue 

Digitalization of international business (IB) has garnered growing attention among IB researchers in recent years. Yet, so far, research in this area has largely focused on understanding the implications of digital platforms and ecosystems for multinational enterprises (MNEs), and to limited extent, the implications of MNEs’ digital transformation initiatives, primarily from strategic perspectives (Meyer, Li, Brouthers, Jean, 2023) (see Table 1). Industry 4.0 (4IR) technologies—which bring together elements of smart automation, intelligence based on big data, cyber-physical connectivity, decentralized networks, and edge computing—portend a more transformative global business landscape with profound implications on not only where and how MNEs create and capture value but also how they impact the wellbeing of employees, local communities and the broader society (Babina, Fedyk, He, & Hodson, 2020; Lazarova, Caligiuri, Collings, & De Cieri, 2023; Luo & Zahra, 2023; Nambisan & Luo, 2022; Strange & Zucchella, 2017). This special issue seeks to bring IB researchers’ attention to such a broader set of issues and challenges that ensue from the deployment of 4IR technologies by MNEs and to promote the adoption of a broader canvas – one that incorporates strategic, behavioral, and societal perspectives – to study them.


4IR technologies that include artificial intelligence (AI), Internet-of-Things (IoT), digital sensors, robotics, blockchain, virtual/augmented reality (VR/AR), and 3D printing promise new pathways to mobilize global resources, bundle firm-specific and country-specific advantages, redesign business models, offerings, and operations, as well as orchestrate global value chains (Nambisan & Luo, 2022; Nambisan, 2023). 4IR technologies are agentic, autonomous, adaptive, self-generating and can operate in a collective manner with other artificial agents (at scale) as well as with human agents in problem solving and decision making. As companies incorporate such technologies in their global operations and offerings, critical questions arise related to MNE organization (structures, decision-making processes), governance, and ethical/moral responsibilities. For example, MNE organizational structures that allow for human-artificial agent collaboration in decision-making may enhance operational efficiency; however, when such agents are dispersed across national and/or organizational borders, local formal/informal institutions could play a critical constraining role. Similarly, 4IR-enabled cyber-physical connectivity that enhance operational agility may also raise important data privacy issues that would need to be addressed taking into consideration varying localized data regulations and policies in host countries. Further, while big data and AI-based algorithms may enable MNEs to optimize their decision-making in different functional areas including HR (e.g., employee recruitment, Erel, Stern, Tan, & Weisbach, 2021; Acemoglu & Restrepo, 2018), marketing (e.g., customer hyper-personalization), innovation (Cockburn, Henderson, & Stern, 2018; Bartel, Ichniowski, & Shaw, 2007), and contracting (Cong and He, 2019), the absence of appropriate culture-specific guardrails in different host countries could lead to their potential misuse with profound ethical and moral implications. Also, while 4IR technologies enable new forms of connectivity and knowledge sharing across enterprises, they also raise several concerns about MNEs’ ability to protect their intellectual properties and hold implications on organizing and internal network structures for IPR protection (Yan, Li & Zhan, 2022). More broadly, the opportunities presented by 4IR technologies are often accompanied by risks that are highly localized, and MNEs will need to consider both carefully (Nambisan & Luo, 2023). 


In deploying 4IR technologies, much of the emphasis of MNEs so far has been on enhancing the efficiency, adaptiveness, agility, and productivity of the enterprise and/or of the extended value chain. Yet, the capabilities offered by these new technologies also portend promising possibilities for MNEs to adopt a broader set of goals that reflect the role and the contribution of industry to society (Ciulli & Kolk, 2023; Ocelík, Kolk, & Ciulli, 2023; Srinivasan & Eden, 2021). The European Union (EU) has envisioned Industry 5.0 as an approach that complements 4IR and “places the wellbeing of the worker at the center of the production process and uses new technologies to provide prosperity beyond jobs and growth while respecting the production limits of the planet” (Breque, De Nul, & Petridis, 2021). Industry 5.0 thus represents a shift away from a sole focus on economic value towards a broader concept of societal value and wellbeing prioritizing a human-centric, sustainable, and resilient industry. For example, effective collaboration among humans and machines (or collaborative robots) calls for business models, organizing structures, and work processes that take into consideration not only enterprise-centered goals such as efficiency, personalization, and responsiveness but human-centered goals such as employee empowerment, creativity, and autonomy as well (Lazarova et al, 2023). Given their global footprint and the potential to make broad-based social impact, MNEs hold particular responsibility in adapting technologies and strategies to pursue such a goal (Sachs & Sachs, 2021; Van Tulder et al., 2021) and provide “solutions to challenges for society including the preservation of resources, climate change and social stability” (Breque et al., 2021). Yet, MNEs’ initiatives in this regard are complicated, given the widely varying formal and informal institutions, as well as technological infrastructures that operate in different host countries and shape both stakeholder expectations and initiative outcomes. Thus, in the context of 4IR technologies, there is critical need for IB scholars to deepen their inquiries about how MNEs “decide to divide their attention to varying social and sustainability goals and to different types of countries … and how they develop the organizational capabilities necessary to address them” (Luo & Zahra, 2023). 


In realizing the above promises offered by 4IR technologies—whether they be enterprise-focused or societal-focused—MNEs are also confronted with the harsh geopolitical realities that point to an increasingly decoupled or fragmented global business landscape (Cha, Wu, & Kotabe, 2021; Petricevic & Teece, 2019; Witt, 2019; Witt, Lewin, Li, & Gaur, 2023). Issues ranging from national security concerns to geopolitical rivalry have provoked a slew of governmental acts and regulatory policies in various countries (e.g., US CHIPS Act, China Critical Information Infrastructure law) that may curtail MNEs’ ability to fully leverage the flexibility and connectivity enabled by 4IR (Nambisan & Luo, 2021, 2022). As a recent IMF report noted, the underlying “geopolitical tectonic plates will drift further apart, fragmenting the global economy into distinct economic blocs with different ideologies, political systems, technology standards, cross border payment and trade systems, and reserve currencies” (Gourinchas, 2022). Such a geopolitically fragmented world economy presents new sets of challenges to MNEs and calls upon them to pursue a new path of ‘reglobalization’ (Hilsenrath & DeBarros, 2023) rerouting the pathways of global trade and finance (Verbeke & Yuan, 2021).  


In addition, the rising significance of the Global South—for example, countries such as India, Indonesia, China, Brazil, Argentina, Egypt, Kenya and Nigeria—as the world’s major economic and geopolitical force (e.g., Agrawal, 2023; Kotabe & Kothari, 2016) calls for re-contextualizing the opportunities and challenges related to 4IR. Arguably, much of the focus of the IB digitalization research has been on the markets and economies of the Global North or on the MNEs from there. Emerging market MNEs (EMNEs) are presented with a unique set of economic, political, and social conditions, and 4IR technologies may offer them with novel opportunities to pursue both economic and social goals as they grow and expand.


Thus, more broadly, 4IR technologies, particularly those related to intelligence and automation, present a critically important research area for IB scholars, with a distinctive set of research issues and questions that remains unexplored. Further, extant IB digitalization research has by and large neglected behavioral and societal perspectives even though digitalization, and specifically 4IR technologies, bring to the fore important issues related to individual privacy, wellbeing, dignity, and other humanistic and societal concerns. Finally, while digital technologies play a critical role in ongoing decoupling or de-risking efforts (Luo, 2022a), whether it be from national security concerns (e.g., foreign companies having access to host country’s digital infrastructure), national rivalry issues (preventing access to technologies and talent in critical fields such as AI), or industry composition (Varian, 2018), there has been limited effort paid to examine such de-risking and decoupling through a digitalization or 4IR lens (Nambisan & Luo, 2021).


Aims and Scope of the Special Issue  

We seek scholarly contributions that can help advance our understanding of the opportunities and risks that MNEs will face in deploying 4IR technologies—with regard to achieving both the enterprise-focused goals as well as the broadened social engagement goals set out in Industry 5.0. We are particularly interested in contributions that adopt behavioral and societal perspectives to develop a more holistic understanding of the implications of 4IR technology deployment by MNEs. We also seek to draw IB researchers’ attention to examining how geopolitical and nationalistic issues evident in different parts of the world are likely to shape 4IR-related opportunities and risks.


More broadly, the special issue seeks to highlight topics at the intersection of the two new subdomains that the JIBS editor-in-chief recently articulated – 4IR and global sustainability (Tung 2023)—along with the theoretical perspectives that are appropriate to consider both strategic and humanistic issues that MNEs will be faced with in a world that is digitally connected and geopolitically fragmented. 


Importantly, the underlying topics and issues span multiple functional domains and connect with key subthemes in IB research such as changing global workforce and future of work, sanctions and corporate business diplomacy, sustainable marketing, and corporate taxation (e.g., Doh, Dahan, & Casario, 2022; Gande, John, Nair, & Senbet, 2020; Griffith, 2021; Luo & Witt, 2022; Meyer, Fang, & Panibratov, 2023; Menges, Cohen, Hall, Howe, &  Jachimowicz, 2022; Samiee, 2020). 


We welcome submissions using a diversity of research methods including quantitative and qualitative approaches and conceptual/theoretical contributions. Possible topics that would be suitable for this SI include (but are not limited to): 

·         Future of work and 4IR technologies: 4IR technologies hold important implications for global talent management and international human resource management in MNEs—for example, reskilling more employees to humanics, repatriating work away from developing countries if low-cost technology and labor costs are less of an issue in MNEs, and a greater reliance on AI for jobs that were once the purview of humans, such as creative and support work (Lazarova et al, 2023).  The 4IR changes will influence the way employees are hired (e.g., AI resume screening and natural language processing replacing interviews), managed (e.g., digital evaluation of performance using facial recognition) and supported (e.g., AI chatbots providing support, career coaching, and advice).

·         Psychological implications of 4IR: Understanding what MNEs can do to help employees manage the psychological implications of 4IR warrants future research.  For example, with automation and AI taking over tasks traditionally performed by humans, many employees may experience job insecurity, job stress, and skill obsolescence. Remote working arrangements enabled by 4IR can improve work-life balance with greater flexibility while blurring the boundary between work and home. With increased digitization, there may be concerns about personal data privacy leading to feelings of unease, anxiety, and mistrust towards employers or the organization.  


·         Societal impacts of MNE 4IR initiatives: It is evident that MNEs will need to acknowledge and carefully manage the potential impacts of their 4IR initiatives beyond the organization walls. For example, MNEs may need to adopt a human-centric approach in applying 4IR technologies (such as AI/cognitive computing and collaborative robots) in operations so as to prioritize worker empowerment and wellbeing. Similarly, MNEs will need to carefully anticipate and manage digital harms—ranging from algorithmic bias to perceived loss of worker autonomy—that ensue from their 4IR initiatives in varied national cultural and institutional contexts. More importantly, MNEs’ 4IR initiatives may have indirect effect on a broader set of societal issues including digital equity and inclusion, human rights, weakening of democracy and democratic institutions, environmental sustainability, and social isolation. 

·         4IR initiatives and MNE de-risking strategies: Rising geopolitical and nationalistic concerns have led MNEs to pay increased attention to de-risking strategies in a host of areas including finance, innovation, supply chains, and operations. 4IR technologies could potentially play a critical role in that. For example, decentralized organizational structures and decision-making processes enabled by 4IR technologies (e.g., blockchain) may help MNEs deploy novel de-risking strategies to address constraints from geopolitical fragmentation (Nambisan & Luo, 2022). Similarly, new forms of 4IR-enabled physical-digital connectivity may redefine MNEs’ relationships in the extended global value chain allowing for isolating emergent risks (Nambisan, 2023). Going beyond specific application areas, MNEs may need to revisit and transform their corporate business diplomacy to better suit conditions in a fragmented global digital economy.

·         4IR technologies and the Global South: Rapidly changing demographics of the world (Leatherby, 2023) combined with other factors (e.g., new South-South alliances) indicate the ongoing shift towards the Global South becoming the major source of economic and geopolitical power. 4IR technologies may shape or amplify the new market opportunities offered by the Global South, for both EMNEs as well as MNEs from the Global North. At the same time, MNEs may need to adapt the approaches to manage 4IR technologies to fit the unique contexts of the Global South. Countries in the Global South also face critical social and environmental problems ranging from climate change and air/water pollution to urban poverty and depletion of natural resources. MNEs could potentially co-opt 4IR-based solutions to address both the novel market opportunities and the social challenges in the Global South.


·         International legal frameworks and regulation of 4IR technologies: Challenges exist for tech MNEs (i.e., MNEs that develop 4IR technologies) since there does not exist an international standard on how countries should regulate ever-evolving technological capabilities. Though various organizations governing countries such as European Commission, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the United Nations have taken steps to provide legal frameworks that will work toward standardized regulation for countries, there remain many challenges in the international adoption of 4IR-related regulation. Differences in either formal or informal institutions as they relate to legal structure pose challenges with regard to oversight, accountability standards, and enforcement of any laws created. For example, the diversity in legal regimes and culture allows for conflicts or inconsistencies in how various AI platforms are regulated. Making matters even more difficult for tech MNEs, the pace of the adoption of AI-related regulation is insufficient to effectively manage this rapidly developing technology. Finally, questions also arise regarding the optimal international legal framework needed to encourage not only responsible development of 4IR technologies by tech MNEs but also responsible use of 4IR technologies by other MNEs. 

·         4IR technologies and international finance: As 4IR technologies—perhaps especially blockchain, which has led to cryptocurrencies—develop and expand across countries around the world at different rates, the heterogeneous capabilities and regulatory structures will likely impact global capital markets, and by extension, the financing of MNEs. Gains in efficiency from 4IR technologies in given countries will likely impact the access to and cost of capital for these firms. MNEs will face challenges as they navigate this yet to be determined dissemination, which will make predicting cash flows more difficult and could lead to suboptimal financial decisions, such as underinvestment. Relatedly, MNEs will have to handle the changes in global capital flows that occur when costs of production and capital are reduced at heterogeneous rates, thereby affecting international competition and ultimately foreign exchange rates. Increased uncertainty about cash flows and foreign exchange rates may require MNEs to re-evaluate hedging practices, international tax strategies, and/or plans for expansion through mergers and/or acquisitions.


·         4IR-enabled international marketing strategy: 4IR technologies, especially AI, create unique opportunities for MNEs to serve their target markets better than their competitors by developing superior international marketing strategies.  These strategies help sustain their target markets’ brand loyalty through improved service encounters, integrated customer journeys, and seamless personalized marketing, thereby creating customer value and increasing market performance. 4IR technologies also help improve channel effectiveness and efficiency by reducing channel integration complexity (e.g., omnichannels) and optimizing channel resource utilization. However, significant challenges exist from instantaneous negative electronic word-of-mouth communication and concerns over data security, privacy, and algorithmic bias. 


·         4IR technologies and consumer behavior: 4IR technologies shape consumer behavior in numerous ways that have significant financial and societal implications. For example: voice-AI devices increase consumers’ consumption when shopping online without cannibalizing the same firm’s PC and mobile channels (Sun et al., 2021). Consumers may prefer non-human (e.g., AI) over human-delivered service in embarrassing situations (Pitardi et al., 2021).  Also, there is an increased likelihood that consumers engage in unethical behavior when interacting with non-human (vs. human) agents, such as AI and robots, due to a reduced anticipatory feeling of guilt (Kim et al., 2023). The proliferation of 4IR technologies in services requires MNEs to have a better understanding of how consumers in different countries may behave when interacting with intelligent machines. 


·         4IR and global supply chain management for sustainability: Supply chain management as we know it today has been based on a “linear economy” (i.e., make, use, and dispose) paradigm in which the primary role of firms is to develop, manufacture, and distribute products downstream to final consumers at a minimum total cost. The disposition of those products after their service life has not been woven into supply chain management thought. For resource sustainability, the idea of a “circular economy” (i.e., make, reuse, remake, and recycle) has been advocated by Stahel and Ready-Mulvey (1981). A circular economy would turn products that are at the end of their service life into resources for others by creating a closed-loop industrial system to minimize resource inputs and reduce waste, pollution, and carbon emissions (Stahel, 2016). A circular economy could be achieved if a functioning circular global supply chain were made possible by the collective actions of stakeholders creating a closed-loop industrial system with government agencies’ appropriate oversight and regulations. 4IR could improve its feasibility by addressing this multi-faceted complexity in an international context.


·         4IR and international entrepreneurship: AI and other 4IR technologies imply different ways and modes to pursue international entrepreneurship (Nambisan & Luo, 2022; Zahra, 2021) with important economic and societal implications. For example, AI could enable new ways of opportunity prospecting in foreign markets, devising new forms of FSA-CSA combinations and business models, and low-cost foreign customer engagement and service automation (Chalmers et al., 2021). Yet, such applications of AI may also involve algorithmic biases, systemic abuse of private information, promotion of addictive products, and other issues that reset the power balance between international ventures and their foreign customers raising ethical and societal concerns.  Similarly, 4IR technologies may also redefine the ways and means of scaling of international new ventures in the presence of rising geopolitical forces and regionalization.


Deadline and Submission Instructions  

Authors should submit their manuscripts between July 15, 2024, and July 31, 2024, via the Journal of International Business Studies submission system at https://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/jibs. All submissions will go through the standard double-blind review process.


The guest editors plan to host a paper development workshop for manuscripts that have advanced through the revision process. We also plan to organize a symposium for the final selected papers for publication, aiming to increase their visibility and impact. 


Questions about the Special Issue may be directed to the guest editors or the JIBS Managing Editor (managing-editor@jibs.net).


Please see the full call for papers at https://resource-cms.springernature.com/springer-cms/rest/v1/content/25920462/data/v1 for Table 1, the reference list, and the guest editor bios.



Paula Caligiuri