Navigating a Humanitarian Crisis: Trapped in a System of Law: Role Ambiguity and its Consequences for the Shipping Industry

Tania Grønbæk

Student thesis: Master thesis


There are numerous examples of private businesses increasingly taking on a political role. Several strands of literature have addressed this phenomenon, albeit all with the assumption that this politicized role is taken on voluntarily by private actors.
The Mediterranean migration crisis poses a new challenge to this assumption, as the shipping industry is involuntarily performing a key role in Search and Rescue operations across the Mediterranean Sea.
This thesis is consequently an inductive case study of the role and responsibilities of the shipping industry under the current European migration crisis, and its implications for the industry. The complexities inherent in the case makes it a “grand challenge”, and the study employed a constructivist framework in order to best capture these complexities. The study carried out nine interviews with different actors from the shipping industry, NGOs and intergovernmental organizations in order to get an understanding of their perceptions of the situation. Secondary data in terms of press releases, official statements and articles were used to ensure triangulation of the data, thus validating the interview data further.
The results confirmed that the shipping industry has played a central role in the migration crisis involuntarily. The results further indicated that a distinction between roles and responsibilities is crucial, in order to understand the fluidity and complexity of the case. Responsibilities are de jure static while roles are de facto dynamic, thus signifying that role ambiguity makes the shipping industry an actor of last resort. Coping mechanisms have been deployed by the shipping industry in order to maintain their current role, again emphasizing the dynamic nature of roles. The analysis further enlightens how diverse actors have managed to cooperate through collective institutional entrepreneurship, and how the institutional framework is key in understanding Corporate Citizenship
This indicates that there is a theoretical gap, and a need for revising the current literature on Corporate Citizenship, incorporating role ambiguity in order to grasp the situation in the Mediterranean Sea.
It moreover appears that the analytical framework of Collective Institutional Entrepreneurship is applicable to these types of complex cases, but that it can also be used in cases where the intent to employ the drivers is lacking.

EducationsMSc in International Business and Politics, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2017
Number of pages126
SupervisorsJasper J. Hotho