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Towards socially sustainable supply chains – themes and challenges

Maisam Abbasi (SUDEC, Malmö, Sweden)

European Business Review

ISSN: 0955-534X

Article publication date: 8 May 2017




The purpose of this article is to explore and classify the pattern of themes and challenges in developing socially sustainable supply chains.


The methodology is based on a systematic review of the peer-reviewed literature to explore what major themes and challenges have been discussed and the significant gaps where opportunities for further research can be found.


In total, four categories of themes were identified, namely, human-centric, focal organization-centric, supply chain-centric and governance-centric. Challenges were classified into seven categories, namely, inadequate and asymmetric knowledge, difficulties of operationalization, shifting the values, subjectivity in evaluation, governance complexity, difficulties of small- and medium-sized enterprises and sustainability fade.

Research limitations/implications

The focus of the article is on the social pillar of sustainable development in the context of supply chains. A more holistic systematic investigation of synergy of all the three pillars/bottom lines of sustainable development (economic, environmental and social) can be an opportunity for further research.

Practical implications

Taking a more holistic view of the pattern of currently discussed themes and challenges may be beneficial in increasing the absorptive capacity of industrial and business practitioners, by accumulating and assimilating external knowledge, when they design and operationalize innovative strategies in developing sustainable supply chains.


This article may increase awareness about the social responsibilities of supply chains actors and stakeholders in different scales. It may also guide managers, decision makers and practitioners to better understand the difficulties, obstacles or dilemmas that can hinder the sustainable development of supply chains. The results section presents a framework driven from the emerged themes, and the discussion section provides propositions for tackling the challenges and opportunities for further research.



Abbasi, M. (2017), "Towards socially sustainable supply chains – themes and challenges", European Business Review, Vol. 29 No. 3, pp. 261-303.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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