Drivers and barriers for implementing social sustainability in supply chains: A qualitative investigation of a developing country's multi-tier suppliers

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

International Journal of Logistics Management




School of Business and Law




Nath, S. D., Eweje, G., & Barua, S. (2023). Drivers and barriers for implementing social sustainability in supply chains: A qualitative investigation of a developing country's multi-tier suppliers. International Journal of Logistics Management. Advance online publication.


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to investigate why multi-tier apparel suppliers integrate social sustainability practices into their supply chains and what barriers these suppliers encounter while embedding social sustainability practices. Design/methodology/approach: This study employs a qualitative research design, drawing on data from semi-structured interviews with 46 owners and managers from 33 multi-tier apparel suppliers in Bangladesh, an important outsourcing hub for the global apparel industry. To corroborate research findings, the views of owners and managers were triangulated by further interviewing 11 key representatives of institutional actors such as third-party auditors, a donor agency, industry associations, regulatory agencies and a non-governmental organisation (NGO). Findings: The authors' findings suggest a range of divergent institutional drivers and barriers – coercive, mimetic and normative – that determine the implementation of multi-tier suppliers' social sustainability practices. The key reported drivers were buyers' requirements, external stakeholders' expectations, top management commitment and competition. Conversely, cost and resource concerns and gaps in the regulatory framework were identified as key social sustainability implementation barriers. In particular, owners and managers of second-tier and third-tier supplier firms experienced more internal barriers such as cost and resource concerns than external barriers such as gaps in values, learning and commitment (i.e. compromise for mutual benefit and non-disclosure of non-compliance) that impeded effective social sustainability implementation. Research limitations/implications: Social sustainability in supply chain management has received significant attention from academics, business practitioners, governments, NGOs and supranational organisations. However, limited attention has been paid to investigating the drivers and barriers for social sustainability implementation from a developing country's multi-tier supplier perspective. The authors' research has addressed this knowledge gap. Practical implications: The evidence from the authors' study provides robust support for key assumptions of institutional theory and has useful implications for both managers and policy-makers. Originality/value: The authors' study contributes to the embryonic research stream of socially sustainable multi-tier supply chain management by connecting it to the application of institutional theory in a challenging institutional context.



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