This week, the CIRHR welcomes its newest faculty member, Assistant Professor Greg Distelhorst. Greg comes to us from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was an Assistant Professor of Global Economics and Management. Previously, Greg was Associate Professor of International Business at the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford and lived in mainland China for five years, including fellowships through the U.S. Fulbright Program and the Yale-China Association. Greg received a BA in Cognitive Science from Yale University and a PhD in Political Science from MIT.
Greg’s research sits at the intersection of multinational management, industrial relations, and political economy. He explores the social impact of multinational business and the ways in which multinational companies engage with labour-intensive manufacturers in the developing world. Greg also studies Chinese politics and public policy, examining how citizens take advantage of institutions of government responsiveness and accountability and what prompts unelected officials to respond to citizen’s demands.
Greg will be a familiar face to members of the CIRHR community who attended the Sefton/Williams Memorial Lecture in March, or the LERA conference in June, or Greg's own CIRHR Lunchtime Seminar in February, “A Firm-level Race to the Bottom? Labor Standards and Global Purchasing Practices.”
What research will you be working on at the CIRHR?
I have some really good projects going on right now, including new work on agricultural work in North America. There remains so much we don't know about how multinational enterprises shape working conditions in their supply chains. Is the best lever for improvement changing purchasing practices or changing the economies they work in? How effective are ethical certifications at separating the good employers from the bad? Joining the Centre is a great opportunity to continue and enrich this research agenda with the expertise and tremendous human capital in our faculty and students.
What first got you interested in global trade and worker rights?
Honestly, this research emerged from unexpected opportunities, rather than following some self-directed plan. As a graduate student I had a chance to join a project led by Richard Locke on labour standards in the electronics supply chain. They needed someone who could get around China, and I happened to have lived and worked there for a few years. On that project I visited over a dozen electronics manufacturers around China. Those interviews impressed on me the challenges that workers faced in securing even the most basic fair treatment such as getting paid—on-time and in the proper amount—for their labour. I'm also constantly surprised by how many blindspots we have about what happens at work for the hundreds of millions of working people in developing countries, although this is getting better with time.
What is your favourite thing to do away from academia?
It's tough to pick a favourite. I like lots non-academic things—running, seeing wild animals, gaming, genre fiction—but I really like karaoke. One great thing about living in China: no one was hung up about singing in front of others, even the bad singers. It was just expected that people sang a lot in their free time. As foreigners we just did our best to keep up with local custom. Toronto has a really solid, multilingual karaoke scene.