Dr. Kernaghan Webb, LLB, LLM, LLD
Law and Business
Ted Rogers School of Business Management
Founding Director, Ryerson University Institute for the Study of Corporate Social Responsibility
Kernaghan Webb, who has Bachelor’s, Masters and Doctorate degrees in law, began teaching at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management (TRSM) in 2007, bringing extensive government legal policy experience to the classroom. Prior to joining TRSM, Dr Webb worked for the Law Reform Commission of Canada conducting in-depth studies focusing on regulatory reform at the federal level, and he acted as Senior Legal Policy Advisor and Chief of Research for the federal Office of Consumer Affairs.
His regulatory reform research led to a law journal article concerning the constitutionality of regulatory offences that was drawn on and quoted with approval by the Supreme Court of Canada in two court decisions. His work for the Office of Consumer Affairs came at a time when there was little appetite for new consumer laws. "It was very interesting work that mandated consumer protection," Webb said, "but in the deep recession of the 1990s, there were no dollars to create laws that would put business at a further disadvantage, so we had to look at other ways to get businesses to do what we wanted."
Webb spearheaded a major effort to explore how corporate self-regulation could be used to support public policy objectives. One of most successful initiatives flowing from this work was development of a voluntary standard pertaining to protection of personal information (the CSA Model Privacy Code), worked out by a multistakeholder group involving industry, consumer organizations and government agencies. This voluntary standard then became the basis for a federal law (the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, or PIPEDA) when certain industry sectors came forward to champion the conversion of the CSA standard into a law. In Webb’s opinion, “we would likely not have a federal law today protecting personal information of consumers were it not for development of a voluntary standard as a first step.”
The transformation of a voluntary standard into a law demonstrated to Webb the value and potential of business self regulation as a supplement or complement or precursor to law. Webb’s work on industry self regulation evolved into a broader interest in and support of corporate social responsibility (CSR) -- the social and environmental commitments of businesses that reinforce and go beyond the legal requirements. Today, CSR forms an important foundation for his teaching, research and service work at TRSM.
"These commitments, once made, can become legally binding," Webb said. “This is true whenever a company communicates to consumers a policy on consumer privacy, reduction of climate changing products, no testing on animals, organically grown food, or “fair trade” coffee.” In the extractive sectors, the environmental, social and economic commitments companies make to communities are not required by law, but once made, they can becoming legally enforceable contracts.
"The linkages between a firm’s social and legal licence to operate are a fascinating area for study.”
Webb currently teaches Law and Corporate Social Responsibility, the Law of the Marketplace and Mining, CSR and Sustainability.
"Corporate social responsibility is work with a global dimension," Webb said. "It's fantastic to be teaching it in class, because the students here come from every part of the world and bring with them an understanding of how things are there in other parts of the world.”
"The issues are so fast moving and incorporate current events into my classes -- so there is always something new to discuss. And students are realizing that a business that CSR can be an important basis for success, but only when the legal dimensions are thoroughly understood and addressed."
Webb's research focuses on innovative approaches to business regulation, and the connections to CSR. Currently, he is looking at CSR, consumer protection, and legal dimensions to regulation of the retail and resource extraction sectors. He is also the director of TRSM's Institute for the Study of Corporate Social Responsibility, a network of professors in diverse fields whose research involves CSR issues.
In addition to his teaching and research responsibilities, Webb serves as the faculty advisor for the CSR Student Association and the Ryerson Commerce and Governance Association. He is an advisor to government, the private sector and civil society organizations on CSR, consumer, and legal policy issues, and by the media as an expert commentator on CSR issues. He is also the co-chair of the CSR Centre for Excellence for the Extractive Sector (part of the federal government’s CSR extractive sector strategy), and has chaired and developed a number of ISO standards.
"These days, I'm pretty much CSR and the law, 360 degrees, 24/7," Webb said with a smile.
Read Kernaghan Webb's bio to learn more about him.
The law and business major at the Ted Rogers School of Business Management focuses on critical thinking and applying legal knowledge to issues facing corporations and businesses today. Students gain the legal knowledge necessary to succeed as executives who will need an understanding of such diverse topics as contract negotiations, human resources and policy development.