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Supplier development for sustainability: contextual barriers in global supply chains

Christian Busse (Department of Management, Technology, and Economics, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland)
Martin C. Schleper (Department of Supply Chain Management and Logistics, German Graduate School of Management and Law (GGS), Heilbronn, Germany)
Menglei Niu (LeasePlan Supply Services AG, Rotkreuz, Switzerland)
Stephan M. Wagner (Department of Management, Technology, and Economics, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland)

International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management

ISSN: 0960-0035

Article publication date: 6 June 2016

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to explore contextual barriers to supplier development for sustainability (SDS) in global supply chains and managerial remedies to mitigate such barriers.

Design/methodology/approach

A dyadic case study design was adopted with a Western European buyer and six of its Chinese suppliers. The database consists of 41 interviews and 81 documents.

Findings

Contextual barriers to SDS in global supply chains derive from complexities in the sustainability concept, socio-economic differences, spatial and linguistic distance, as well as cultural differences between buyers and suppliers. Partial remedies include effective joint communications, an open organizational culture, and the fostering of cross-contextual understanding.

Research limitations/implications

The findings contribute to theory development at the intersection of sustainable and global supply chain management research. They help to explain why scarce sustainability-related progress in global supply chains has occurred in recent years.

Practical implications

The identified barriers facilitate managerial decision making that will expedite SDS progress in global contexts.

Social implications

By diffusing knowledge regarding available remedies, the study contributes to improving SDS effectiveness, thereby fostering sustainability capabilities and performance of suppliers.

Originality/value

This research highlights the criticality of contextual barriers to SDS. The barrier effects that stem from differing real-world conceptions of sustainability may inform future sustainable supply chain management research within and beyond SDS.

Keywords

Citation

Busse, C., Schleper, M.C., Niu, M. and Wagner, S.M. (2016), "Supplier development for sustainability: contextual barriers in global supply chains", International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management, Vol. 46 No. 5, pp. 442-468. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJPDLM-12-2015-0300

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited