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Perspectives on sustainability in humanitarian supply chains

Ira Haavisto (HUMLOG Institute, Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland)
Gyöngyi Kovács (HUMLOG Institute, Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland)

Disaster Prevention and Management

ISSN: 0965-3562

Article publication date: 28 October 2014




The purpose of this paper is to develop a framework for analysing how humanitarian organisations (HOs) address different expectations regarding sustainability.


Quantitative and qualitative content analysis is used to assess the annual reports (ARs) of HOs for their discussions on sustainability overall, and in relation to contextual expectations, subsystems and supply chains, organisational structure and strategy.


HOs address sustainability primarily from the perspective of contextual expectations from society and beneficiaries. Some fits between supply chain design and societal expectations are attended to, but fits between programmes and contextual expectations are not discussed explicitly.

Research limitations/implications

ARs express what organisations want to portray of their activities rather than being direct reflections of what occurs in the field, hence the use of ARs for the study delimits its findings. However, HOs rarely publish sustainability reports.

Practical implications

Even though there is a general pursuit of the elusive aim of aid effectiveness, organisational structures need to be further aligned with societal aims as to support these.

Social implications

Beneficiaries are still seen as external to the humanitarian supply chain and humanitarian programmes, though their role may change with the introduction of more cash components in aid, voucher systems, and ultimately, their empowerment through these.


The suggested conceptual framework combines elements of contingency theory with a prior four perspectives model on sustainability expectations. The framework helps to highlight fits between the humanitarian context, operations and programmes as well as misalignments between these.



This research would not have possible without the generous support of the Academy of Finland project “Resilience in Disaster Relief and Development Supply Chains”.


Haavisto, I. and Kovács, G. (2014), "Perspectives on sustainability in humanitarian supply chains", Disaster Prevention and Management, Vol. 23 No. 5, pp. 610-631.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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