This week we have some timely articles looking at the sustainability of global supply chain systems.

Supplier behaviour and CSR in the Bangladeshi apparel supply chain
Local supplier corporate social responsibility (CSR) in developing countries represents a powerful tool to improve labour conditions. This paper pursues an inter-organizational network approach to the global value chain (GVC) literature to understand the influence of suppliers’ collective behaviour on their CSR engagement.

This exploratory study of 30 export-oriented and first-tier apparel suppliers in Bangladesh, a developing country, makes three relevant contributions to GVC scholarship.
First, the authors show that suppliers are interlinked in a horizontal network that restricts unilateral CSR engagement. This is justified in that unilateral CSR engagement is a source of heterogeneity in labour practices; consequently, it triggers worker unrest.

Second, the authors present and discuss an exploratory framework based on four scenarios of how suppliers currently engage in CSR given their network’s pressure toward collective behaviour: unofficial CSR engagement, geographic isolation, size and competitive differentiation, and external pressure.

Finally, the authors show the need to spread CSR homogeneously among suppliers and to reconceptualise the meaning of CSR in developing countries, encouraging more scrutiny toward horizontal dynamics.

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Enrico Fontana & Niklas Egels-Zandén. 2019. Non Sibi, Sed Omnibus: Influence of Supplier Collective Behaviour on Corporate Social Responsibility in the Bangladeshi Apparel Supply Chain.
Journal of Business Ethics, 159(4), 1047–1064.


Power and diffusion of sustainability in supply networks
This paper investigates how coercive and non-coercive power impacts on the successful diffusion of sustainability within supply networks. The paper reports on four in-depth case studies of the development of sustainability initiatives, each case based on data collection from focal companies and suppliers.

The four case studies are based on 38 semi-structured interviews in total and supported by secondary data. The case studies indicate that both coercive and non-coercive power impact suppliers’ engagement in sustainability initiatives and its wider diffusion in supply networks. However, where the use of coercive power facilitates diffusion to immediate suppliers, the use of non-coercive (reward and expert) power leads to sustainability diffusion beyond the dyadic level into wider supply networks.

The study provides rich insights into understanding sustainability diffusion in supply networks and the perceptions of multiple supply network actors on the role of different types of power on the diffusion process. The authors elaborate existing theory and formulate propositions to guide future research into the role and coexistence of different types of power in diffusing sustainability in supply networks.

Osama A. Meqdadi, Thomas E. Johnsen & Rhona E. Johnsen. 2019. Power and Diffusion of Sustainability in Supply Networks: Findings from Four In-Depth Case Studies.
Journal of Business Ethics, 159(4), 1089–1110.


Freedom, autonomy, and harm in ethical global supply chains
Responding to criticism by Gordon Sollars and Frank Englander, this paper highlights a significant tension in recent debates over the ethics of global supply chains. This tension concerns the appropriate focus and normative frame(s) for these debates.

My first goal is to make sense of what at first reading seems to be a very odd set of claims: that valuing free, autonomous, and respectful markets entails a “fetish for philosophical purity” that is inconsistent with a moral theory that finds no wrong in harming workers, including the least advantaged among them.

Sollars and Englander reach these conclusions, the author believes, because their criticism assumes and relies upon the presumption of a global prioritarian frame, one which focuses individual welfare, and which they then apply at the level of individual political and economic actors. Much of Benjamin Powell and Matt Zwolinski’s work, including their criticism of political and economic activism and Powell’s indictment of organised labour, relies on a similar frame—while expanding the harms to include the freedom and autonomy of would-be sweatshop workers.

This prioritarian frame is particularly poorly suited to discussion of the ethical responsibilities of individual economic and political actors. We ought to reject it. To make progress on debates over global sweatshops, and the ethics of global supply chains in general, we need a better frame, and better standards of freedom and autonomy, than those invoked by many prominent defenders of sweatshops.

Joshua Preiss. 2019. Freedom, Autonomy, and Harm in Global Supply Chains.
Journal of Business Ethics, 160(4), 881–891.


Implementing socially sustainable practices in seven developing country supplier cases
The implementation of socially sustainable practices in suppliers situated in challenging institutional contexts is examined using institutional theory, both in terms of how institutional pressures affect implementation and what explains the decoupling of practices from the day-to-day reality.

A multi-case study approach is employed based on seven apparel industry suppliers in Bangladesh. Cross-case analysis highlights the coercive, mimetic, and normative pressures on suppliers to implement socially sustainable practices. A key pressure identified that has not previously been highlighted in the literature is horizontal collaboration between buyers, which intensifies coercive pressure on suppliers and increases the consequences of non-compliance.

The factors that contribute to decoupling are categorised into firm-, supply chain-, and environment-related factors. Further, six propositions are developed on how specific forms of institutional pressure can tackle particular decoupling factors to support implementation.

The paper responds to recent calls for greater scrutiny of why and how firms decouple ethical practices and supports the development of the literature specifically on social sustainability, which lags behind that on environmental sustainability and has been largely focused on the Western buyer perspective. The findings have implications for the diffusion of ethical practices into supply chains, especially distant suppliers in very different and challenging institutional contexts.

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Fahian Anisul Huq and Mark Stevenson. 2020. Implementing Socially Sustainable Practices in Challenging Institutional Contexts: Building Theory from Seven Developing Country Supplier Cases.
Journal of Business Ethics, 161(2), 415–442.


Collaborative governance for addressing labour issues in global supply chains
Labour issues in global supply chains have been a thorny problem for both buyer firms and their suppliers. Research initially focused mostly on the bilateral relationship between buyer firms and suppliers, looking at arm’s-length and close collaboration modes, and the associated mechanisms of coercion and cooperation.

Yet continuing problems in the global supply chain suggest that neither governance type offers a comprehensive solution to the problem. This study investigates collaborative governance, an alternative governance type that is driven by buyer firms setting up a coalition with competitor firms to increase leverage and address the supplier and/or host country-specific labour issues.

Based on interviews with managers involved in the establishment and management of such coalitions and supplier firms in the garment industry, the authors examine the rationale behind collaborative governance and discuss its opportunities and challenges in addressing labour issues in global supply chains.

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Sun Hye Lee, Kamel Mellahi, Michael J. Mol and Vijay Pereira. 2020. No-Size-Fits-All: Collaborative Governance as an Alternative for Addressing Labour Issues in Global Supply Chains.
Journal of Business Ethics, 162(2), 291–305.


Impediments to workplace unionism in global value chains functioning well
Improving working conditions at the bottom of global value chains has become a central issue in our global economy. In this battle, trade unionism has been presented as a way for workers to make their voices heard. Therefore, it is strongly promoted by most social standards. However, establishing a well-functioning trade union is not as obvious as it may seem.

Using a comparative case study approach, the authors examine impediments to farm-level unionism in the cut flower industry in Ethiopia. For this purpose, the authors propose an integrated framework combining two lenses, namely a vertical one (governance and structure of global value chains) and a horizontal one (socio-economic context).

The authors identify 10 impediments that point to three major dimensions contributing to unionisation. These three dimensions include awareness of and interest from workers, legitimacy of trade unions, and capacity of trade unions to act. Furthermore, the results suggest that private social standards may, in certain cases, be counterproductive for the efficient functioning of trade unions.

Although the authors argue that there is no ‘quick fix’ solution to weak workplace unionism at the bottom of global value chains, they stress the importance of considering the dynamics of, and interactions between, the impediments when designing potential support measures that mitigate negative impacts.

Céline Louche, Lotte Staelens and Marijke D’Haese. 2020. When Workplace Unionism in Global Value Chains Does Not Function Well: Exploring the Impediments.
Journal of Business Ethics, 162(2), 379–398.