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The differences in agent effects on sustainable supply chain management: an activity theory construction

Mohsin Malik (Swinburne University of Technology, Hawthorn, Australia)
Salam Abdallah (Abu Dhabi University, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates)
Stuart Orr (Department of Management, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia)
Uzma Chaudhary (Abu Dhabi University, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates)

Supply Chain Management

ISSN: 1359-8546

Article publication date: 28 June 2019

Issue publication date: 21 August 2019




This paper responds to calls from the literature for research identifying the difference between the effect of internal agents and external agents, such as customers, suppliers and government on sustainable supply chain management (SSCM). The paper also determines whether there is a dynamic or interactive relationship between the two types of agents.


Activity theory was used as the theoretical framework for understanding how internal and external agents affected both SSCM motivation and facilitation and possible interactions between the two. A cluster analysis identified how internal and external agents affected SSCM initiatives, interactions, the conditions under which this occurs and the mechanisms of this effect.


Internal and external agents differ in the type, sequence and diversity of their effect on SSCM. While external agents had both an SSCM motivating and facilitation effect, internal agents only had a facilitating effect. Customers were only a significant SSCM motivation in 35% of the cases. Government regulations had a dynamic effect, changing from motivation to facilitation as the SSCM initiative developed. External agent SSCM motivation and facilitation were more internalized in organizations which were more internationally oriented.

Practical implications

Local institutional frameworks motivate and facilitate SSCM initiatives, while head office initiatives and international best practice agencies encourage an integrated combination of external agent motivation and facilitation and internal facilitation.


The findings extend the SSCM literature by identifying the processes of agent SSCM motivation and facilitation, the dynamic nature of agent SSCM effects and the mechanism through which externally motivated and facilitated SSCM becomes internalized.



This research is funded by a grant from the Abu Dhabi education council, UAE.


Malik, M., Abdallah, S., Orr, S. and Chaudhary, U. (2019), "The differences in agent effects on sustainable supply chain management: an activity theory construction", Supply Chain Management, Vol. 24 No. 5, pp. 637-658.



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