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Inside the Buying Firm: Exploring Responses to Paradoxical Tensions in Sustainable Supply Chain Management

Xiao, C., Wilhelm, M., van der Vaart, T. & van Donk, D. P., Jan-2019, In : The Journal of Supply Chain Management. 55, 1, p. 3-20 18 p.

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An instrumental perspective still dominates research on sustainable supply chain management (SSCM). As an alternative, this study presents a paradox perspective and argues that sustainability and other business aims are not always compatible, particularly in an emerging market context. Often, paradoxical tensions originate in conflicts between the socioeconomic environment of emerging market suppliers and their Western customers' demands for both cost competitiveness and sustainability. We argue that Western buying firms can play a key role in moderating such tensions, as experienced by emerging market suppliers. Specifically, we explore how purchasing and sustainability managers within buying firms make sense of and respond to paradoxical tensions in SSCM. We conduct an in-depth case study of a Western multinational company that sources substantially from Chinese suppliers. While we found strong evidence for a persisting instrumental perspective in the sensemaking and practices of purchasing and sustainability managers, we also observed an alternative response, primarily by sustainability managers that we labeled as "contextualizing." Contextualizing can alleviate the tensions otherwise present in SSCM by making sustainability standards more workable in an emerging market context, and it can help individual managers to move toward paradoxical sensemaking. We outline the value of paradoxical sensemaking in bringing about changes toward "true sustainability" in SSCM.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-20
Number of pages18
JournalThe Journal of Supply Chain Management
Volume55
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan-2019

    Keywords

  • supplier sustainability, paradoxical tensions, emerging markets, buying firms, MANAGERIAL SENSEMAKING, LABOR CONDITIONS, BUSINESS, CONDUCT, CONTRADICTIONS, EXPLOITATION, PERSPECTIVES, EXPLORATION, INNOVATION, CHINA

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