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Corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability are often defined in relation to the triple bottom line (TBL), that is economic, environmental and social performance (Elkington, 1997). In recent years, responsibility issues concerning the environmental and social dimensions in supply chains have been gaining attention (Fassin and Van Rossem, 2009; Aguinis and Glavas, 2012) alongside the “classic” economic dimension (Winter and Knemeyer, 2013). The field is multidisciplinary and in many ways hard to delimit and understand. Two challenges that can be included are the complexity of global supply chains and how responsibility for the TBL should be assigned.
Starting with the complexity of the supply chain, Miemczyk et al. (2012) distinguish three levels of analysis: the dyad, the supply chain and the industrial network. Eriksson and Svensson (2015) took a similar approach when investigating social responsibility, separating elements that affect social responsibility into company-specific, supply chain-specific and those external to the supply chain. One measure to improve the TBL is to consider the end-of-life and how resources can be efficiently recovered once a product is no longer used. As a result, the scope of activities considered may include several consecutive supply chains, where the product in one supply chain enters a new one for value recovery (Svensson, 2007).
Continuing into assignment of responsibility, it is important to acknowledge that the supply chain consists of multiple, globally dispersed, actors. Companies close to the consumer are often expected to accept responsibility for events that take place at a supplier level in the supply chain (Reuter et al., 2012). Consequently, companies operate in a landscape that is bigger than their area of formal influence (Faruk et al., 2002). Modern supply chains can also be understood as interconnected webs, where one company can have a supply base consisting of hundreds and even thousands of companies. As such, it is necessary to prioritize where to take responsibility (Egels-Zandén, 2015).
Prioritization of responsibility leads the discussion into ethical discussions on what can be expected of companies. Young (2004) outlines two viewpoints. The first is based on liability, that is to take responsibility for the damage caused. The second is called political responsibility and is instead based on taking responsibility where it is possible to achieve a difference. There is also research focusing on moral responsibility, that is the responsibility of the individual (Eriksson et al., 2013a, 2013b; Eriksson and Svensson, 2016).
As can be seen in the brief discussion above, responsibility in supply chains is a broad field, which is reflected by the breadth of research being conducted. In this special issue, this is reflected. The special issue is outlined next.
The special issue starts with Abbasi (2017), who presents a systematic literature review of themes and challenges toward socially sustainable supply chains. The special issue then continues into empirical research. Fontana (2017) investigates strategic CSR in the Bangladeshi ready-made garment supply chain with a case study; Steinfeld et al. (2017) study job tasks, social responsibility and professionalism using quantitative research methods; and Fu et al. (2017) also use quantitative methods aiming to identify factors that influence integration of the agriculture supply chain. The issue is then concluded with two conceptual papers. Eriksson and Hilletofth (2017) use a line of thinking found in transportation research, so as to illustrate connections of moral responsibility in a supply chain; and Brunninge and Fridriksson (2017) draw from the literature on corporate heritage and social memory in organizations to discuss how referencing to the past can affect how companies manage their supply chains.
The papers included in this issue show some of the different research approaches that can be seen in the field of responsibility in supply chains. The papers focus on CSR, sustainability and moral responsibility and cover different methods and data types. We can conclude that the field is heterogeneous, which is important to embrace, so as to tackle the many challenges still remaining for practitioners and researchers.
Abbasi, M. (2017), “Towards socially sustainable supply chains – themes and challenges”, European Business Review, Vol. 29 No. 3.
Aguinis, H. and Glavas, A. (2012), “What we know and don’t know about corporate social responsibility: a review and research agenda”, Journal of Management, Vol. 38 No. 4, pp. 932-968.
Brunninge, O. and Fridriksson, H.-W. (2017), “’We have always been responsible’ – a social memory approach to responsibility in supply chains”, European Business Review, Vol. 29 No. 3.
Egels-Zandén, N. (2015), “Responsibility boundaries in global value chains: supplier audit priotitizations and moral disengagement among Swedish firms”, Journal of Business Ethics, pp. 1-38.
Elkington, J. (1997), Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of the 21st Century Business, New Society, Stony Creek, CT.
Eriksson, D. and Hilletofth, P. (2017), “Foliated networks to analyze moral responsibility: a conceptual model”, European Business Review, Vol. 29 No. 3.
Eriksson, D. and Svensson, G. (2015), “Elements affecting social responsibility in supply chains”, Supply Chain Management: An International Journal, Vol. 20 No. 5, pp. 101-122.
Eriksson, D. and Svensson, G. (2016), “The process of responsibility, decoupling point, and disengagement of moral and social responsibility in supply chains: empirical findings and prescriptive thoughts”, Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 134 No. 2, pp. 281-298.
Eriksson, D., Hilletofth, P. and Hilmola, O.-P. (2013a), “Linking moral disengagement to supply chain practices”, World Review of Intermodal Transportation Research, Vol. 4 Nos 2/3, pp. 207-225.
Eriksson, D., Hilletofth, P. and Hilmola, O.-P. (2013b), “Supply chain configuration and moral disengagement”, International Journal of Procurement Management, Vol. 6 No. 6, pp. 718-736.
Faruk, A.C., Lamming, R.D., Cousins, P.D. and Bowen, F.E. (2002), “Analyzing, mapping, and managing environmental impacts along supply chains”, Journal of Industrial Ecology, Vol. 5 No. 2, pp. 13-36.
Fassin, Y. and Van Rossem, A. (2009), “Corporate governance in the debate on csr and ethics: sensemaking of social issues in management by authorities and CEOs”, Corporate Governance: An International Review, Vol. 17 No. 5, pp. 573-593.
Fontana, E. (2017), “Strategic CSR: a panacea for profit and altruism? An empirical study among executives in the Bangladeshi RMG supply chain”, European Business Review, Vol. 29 No. 3.
Fu, S., Zhan, Y. and Tan, K.H. (2017), “Managing social responsibility in Chinese agriculture supply chains through the ‘a company + farmers’ model”, European Business Review, Vol. 29 No. 3.
Miemczyk, J., Johnsen, T.E. and Macquet, M. (2012), “Sustainable purchasing and supply management: a structured literature review of definitions and measures at the dyad, chain and network levels”, Supply Chain Management: An International Journal, Vol. 17 No. 5, pp. 478-496.
Reuter, C., Goebel, P. and Foerstl, K. (2012), “The impact of stakeholder orientation on sustainability and cost prevalence in supplier selection decisions”, Journal of Purchasing & Supply Management, Vol. 18 No. 4, pp. 270-281.
Steinfeld, J.M., Mccue, C. and Prier, E. (2017), “Professionalism as social responsibility in procurement and administration”, European Business Review, Vol. 29 No. 3.
Svensson, G. (2007), “Aspects of sustainable supply chain management (SSCM): conceptual framework and empirical example”, Supply Chain Management: An International Journal, Vol. 12 No. 4, pp. 262-266.
Winter, M. and Knemeyer, M. (2013), “Exploring the integration of sustainability and supply chain management: current state and opportunities for future inquiry”, International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management, Vol. 43 No. 1, pp. 18-38.
Young, I.M. (2004), “Responsibility and global labor justice”, The Journal of Political Philosophy, Vol. 12 No. 4, pp. 365-388.
About the authors
David Eriksson (PhD) is a Researcher and Lecturer at Jönköping University in Sweden. He holds a PhD in Textile Management and has a research background in logistics and transportation. Furthermore, he is an engaged scholar in the international research community. He is an author of international journal articles and international conference contributions. His research agenda consists of various research subjects including corporate social responsibility, methodology, new product development, reshoring, supply chain management, sustainability and waste management. He is currently in the Editorial Board for World Review of Intermodal Transportation Research and the Editorial Review Board for Industrial Management & Data Systems.
Per Hilletofth (PhD) is a Professor of Operations and Supply Chain Management at Jönköping University in Sweden. He holds a PhD in Technology Management and Economics (with specialization in Logistics and Transportation Management) from Chalmers University of Technology (Sweden). His research focuses on operations and supply chain management with an emphasis on demand supply integration, operations strategy, supply chain relocation, product development and information systems. He is currently in the Editorial Board for the Industrial Management and Data systems, World Review of Intermodal Transportation Research, International Journal of Logistics Economics and Globalization and International Journal of Management in Education.