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Inside the multi-tier supply firm: exploring responses to institutional pressures and challenges for sustainable supply management

Shobod Deba Nath (Department of International Business, University of Dhaka, Dhaka, Bangladesh)
Gabriel Eweje (School of Management, Massey Business School, Auckland Campus, Auckland, New Zealand)

International Journal of Operations & Production Management

ISSN: 0144-3577

Article publication date: 15 July 2021

Issue publication date: 19 August 2021




The purpose of this study is to examine how multi-tier suppliers respond to the institutional pressures for the implementation of sustainable supply management (SSM) practices in supply chains, and what institutional logics allow them to do so.


This study employs a qualitative research design, drawing on data from semi-structured interviews with 46 owners and managers of multi-tier suppliers and 18 key informants of diverse stakeholders. Following an abductive approach, institutional theory conceptually guides the analytical iteration processes between theory and interview data.


The findings demonstrate two kinds of thematic responses to institutional pressures – coupling (good side) and decoupling (dark side) of the supply chain – used by the factory management of multi-tier suppliers. This paper also identifies multiple institutional logics – market-led logic, values-led logic and holistic sustainability logic – that are perceived to conflict (trade-offs) and complement (synergies) the SSM implementation.

Research limitations/implications

By investigating the perspectives of the factory management of upstream apparel suppliers, this study enhances the understanding of the connection between (de)coupling responses and institutional logics inside the multi-tier supplier firms. Further research would be required to include more downstream tiers including the ultimate users.

Practical implications

The findings may be of particular attention to brand-owning apparel retailers, industry leaders and policymakers who are seeking to understand multi-tier suppliers' challenges, conflicts and (de)coupling responses, and become aware of how they can be dealt with.


This study contributes to and expands the embryonic research stream of sustainable multi-tier supply chain management by connecting it to the wider application of institutional theory.



The authors sincerely thank the guest editors and the reviewers for their insightful, detailed and helpful comments throughout the revision process.


Nath, S.D. and Eweje, G. (2021), "Inside the multi-tier supply firm: exploring responses to institutional pressures and challenges for sustainable supply management", International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Vol. 41 No. 6, pp. 908-941.



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