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A pragmatist perspective on sustainable global value chain governance – the case of Dr. Bronner’s

Hedda Ofoole Knoll (Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences, Universität Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany)
Sarah Margaretha Jastram (Department of Strategy and Leadership, Hamburg School of Business Administration, Hamburg, Germany)

Society and Business Review

ISSN: 1746-5680

Article publication date: 7 February 2018

Issue publication date: 13 February 2019




This paper aims to highlight the challenges and opportunities of sustainable global value chain governance, it demonstrates strong theoretical deficits in this field and offers new pragmatist conceptual perspectives.


The empirical analysis is based on document analyses, 47 expert interviews and on field observations in Ghana, Africa.


Based on an in-depth analysis of a US firm operating a fair trade value chain in an intercultural environment, the authors show that universalistic value chain-oriented governance instruments often fail because of strong institutional and cultural distances. Against the prevailing strategies of top-down management, the authors suggest a more bottom-up, pragmatist and collaboration-based approach to sustainable global value chain governance.

Research limitations/implications

The results of an in-depth case study are not generalizable. Instead, they provide holistic insights into a so-far insufficiently examined field and an empirical fundament for further research on sustainable governance in global value chains. In particular, research on pragmatist, collaborative, dialogue based, bottom-up approaches of sustainable value chain governance will be of great value to further theoretical development of this field.

Practical implications

This study is relevant to researchers and practitioners in the field of sustainable value chain governance. It reveals several misunderstandings about the effectiveness and impacts of sustainable governance in less developed countries and thus builds a foundation for better and more effective problem-solving approaches in international sustainable management activities.

Social implications

Nontransparent supplier networks and (illegal) sub-contracting, as well as the strong influences of institutional, cultural and sub-cultural factors, make responsible value chain management a challenging task for any firm with international value creation activities. This leaves workers in local factories vulnerable to infringements of their fundamental human rights and the environment unprotected against long-lasting damages. Addressing these challenges and developing new solutions, therefore, can have strong impacts on the lives of workers in international supply chains.


The authors contribute, first, a differentiated empirical description and analysis of a sustainable value chain approach in a less developed country in Africa. Second, using an example of the field study, the authors highlight limitations of value chain-related governance theory based on a field study by illustrating the challenges and barriers and a lack of existing concepts concerning effective sustainable governance in global value chains. Third, the authors show different managerial responses to these cultural and institutional challenges between universalism and relativism, and, fourth, the authors suggest a more collaborative, bottom-up and pragmatist approach to sustainable value chain governance.



Knoll, H.O. and Jastram, S.M. (2019), "A pragmatist perspective on sustainable global value chain governance – the case of Dr. Bronner’s", Society and Business Review, Vol. 14 No. 1, pp. 12-30.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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