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Supply chain learning of sustainability in multi-tier supply chains: A resource orchestration perspective

Yu Gong (Southampton Business School, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK)
Fu Jia (Department of Management, School of Economics, Finance and Management, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK)
Steve Brown (Southampton Business School, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK)
Lenny Koh (Management School, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK)

International Journal of Operations & Production Management

ISSN: 0144-3577

Article publication date: 21 February 2018

Issue publication date: 21 March 2018

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to explore how multinational corporations (MNCs) orchestrate internal and external resources to help their multi-tier supply chains learn sustainability-related knowledge.

Design/methodology/approach

An exploratory multiple case study approach was adopted and three MNCs’ sustainable initiatives in China were examined. The data were primarily collected through 43 semi-structured interviews with managers of focal companies and their multi-tier suppliers.

Findings

The authors found that in order to facilitate their supply chains to learn sustainability, MNCs tend to orchestrate in breadth by internally setting up new functional departments and externally working with third parties, and orchestrate in depth working directly with their extreme upstream suppliers adopting varied governance mechanisms on lower-tier suppliers along the project lifecycle. The resource orchestration in breadth and depth and along the project lifecycle results in changes of supply chain structure.

Practical implications

The proposed conceptual model provides an overall framework for companies to design and implement their multi-tier sustainable initiatives. Companies could learn from the suggested learning stages and the best practices of case companies.

Originality/value

The authors extend and enrich resource orchestration perspective (ROP), which is internally focused, to a supply chain level, and answer a theoretical question of how MNCs orchestrate their internal and external resources to help their supply chains to learn sustainability. The extension of ROP refutes the resource dependence theory, which adopts a passive approach of relying on external suppliers and proposes that MNCs should proactively work with internal and external stakeholders to learn sustainability.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors gratefully acknowledge financial support from Newton Caldas Institutional Link grant funded by British Council (Grant No. 172727857).

Citation

Gong, Y., Jia, F., Brown, S. and Koh, L. (2018), "Supply chain learning of sustainability in multi-tier supply chains: A resource orchestration perspective", International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Vol. 38 No. 4, pp. 1061-1090. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJOPM-05-2017-0306

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited