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Multinational enterprises and economic inequality: A review and international business research agenda

Asmund Rygh (University of Manchester, Manchester, UK)

Critical Perspectives on International Business

ISSN: 1742-2043

Article publication date: 12 October 2019

Issue publication date: 20 May 2021




This paper contributes to laying a foundation for a research agenda in international business (IB) on multinational enterprises (MNEs) and economic inequality, through an extensive literature review and development of a conceptual framework.


The author conduct a systematic review of studies on economic inequality in IB literature, complemented by a broader selective review of studies in general management, economics, political science, sociology and other disciplines.


The review confirms that economic inequality has received little attention in IB research. Most contributions are recent conceptual studies, while empirical studies are scarce. Studies in economics and other disciplines provide further insights on the effects of MNEs on inequality, although specific findings are somewhat mixed.

Research limitations/implications

The author develop a simple framework outlining channels of effects from MNEs activities on different forms of inequality, discuss challenges and opportunities for IB in addressing this topic and identify some avenues for future IB research on economic inequality.


This paper is the first comprehensive review of literature in IB on economic inequality. It also presents relevant literature on MNEs and economic inequality from various other disciplines and outlines the contributions that the IB discipline can make to the study of this topic.



The author is grateful to the Special Issue Editors for their guidance and valuable input in the work with this paper. The usual disclaimer applies.

This paper forms part of a special section “Do Multinational Enterprises Contribute to, or Reduce Global Inequality?”, guest edited by Sasha Zhao.


Rygh, A. (2021), "Multinational enterprises and economic inequality: A review and international business research agenda", Critical Perspectives on International Business, Vol. 17 No. 1, pp. 72-102.



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