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Global supply chains and transfer pricing: Insights from a case study

Timo Seppälä (Department of Industrial Engineering and Management, Aalto University Aalto, Finland; and the Research Institute of the Finnish Economy, Helsinki, Finland)
Martin Kenney (Department of Human and Community Development, University of California, Davis Davis, CA)
Jyrki Ali-Yrkkö (The Research Institute of the Finnish Economy, Helsinki, Finland)

Supply Chain Management

ISSN: 1359-8546

Article publication date: 3 June 2014



The purpose of this paper is to integrate the issue of transfer pricing and logistics costs to understand trade statistics and the operation of supply chains by using invoice-level data for a single globally sourced product of a multinational firm.Supply chains are central to understanding wealth creation and capture in an increasingly globalized production system. The increasing disaggregation and dispersal of supply chains is profoundly affecting the geographical distribution of value added, input costs and profits of multinational firms. This suggests that understanding supply chains and where the activities and accounting for these activities take place is crucial for understanding the causes and consequences of contemporary globalization.


By using a case study of a single product and invoice-level data, it was possible to capture the actual costs incurred by a firm using a relatively simple global supply chain. The authors show how corporate intra-firm transfer pricing determines which business unit and location captures profits. A single firm provided the core data in this paper, including product- and firm-level information on intermediate product prices and input costs for all internal transfers.


This paper advances interesting insights into trade in value added and shows that, though not often considered significant, transfer pricing is a critical issue for understanding the geographical distribution of value added. The authors conclude with some observations about the nature of global supply chains, the value of international trade statistics and a hidden advantage of an integrated firm operating on a global scale the ability to somewhat arbitrarily select the activities to which profits should be allocated. For nation states, as supply chains become more international and complex, critical measures, such as gross domestic product, worker productivity, etc., are becoming ever more imprecise. The economic geography of cost of inputs and profits continue to separate as multinational enterprises drive the disaggregation of value creation and value capture.

Research limitations/implications

The case study facilitates an understanding of complex supply chain issues, thereby extending and deepening findings from previous research. This case study of transfer pricing in supply chains will assist other scholars in better formulating testable propositions for their studies and sensitize them to the internal complexities corporate managers face when making operationalizing decisions.


The case study suggests that understanding the configuration of and accounting in supply chains is vital for accurately measuring any national economic statistics. This case study provides some bottom-up evidence that national accounts and international trade economics undertaken without a deep understanding of supply chain organization is likely to generate misleading results. The methodology of using invoice-level data can provide a more granular understanding of how supply chains are organized and where the value is added and captured. For practitioners, the data suggest that firms should think very carefully about which of their activities generate the most value, and value those accordingly.



The research is a part of the research project SUGAR – Finnish Firms in Global Value Networks (2010-2012) and has been finalized as part of the ongoing research project Value Creation and Capture – The Impact of Recycling and Global Dispersion of Intangible Capital (2013-2014) both funded by the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation (TEKES).


Seppälä, T., Kenney, M. and Ali-Yrkkö, J. (2014), "Global supply chains and transfer pricing: Insights from a case study", Supply Chain Management, Vol. 19 No. 4, pp. 445-454.



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