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Social Sustainability in Fashion Supply Chains—Understanding Social Standard Implementation Failures in Vietnam and Indonesia Using Agency Theory

Deniz Köksal () and Jochen Strähle ()
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Deniz Köksal: School of Textiles and Design, Reutlingen University, Alteburgstraße 150, 72762 Reutlingen, Germany
Jochen Strähle: School of Textiles and Design, Reutlingen University, Alteburgstraße 150, 72762 Reutlingen, Germany

Sustainability, 2021, vol. 13, issue 4, 1-36

Abstract: This paper explores why and how dominant international social standards used in the fashion industry are prone to implementation failures. A qualitative multiple-case study method was conducted, using purposive sampling to select 13 apparel supply chain actors. Data were collected through on-site semi-structured face-to-face interviews. The findings of the study are interpreted by using core tenets of agency theory. The case study findings clearly highlight why and how multi-tier apparel supply chains fail to implement social standards effectively. As a consequence of substantial goal conflicts and information asymmetries, sourcing agents and suppliers are driven to perform opportunistic behaviors in form of hidden characteristics, hidden intentions, and hidden actions, which significantly harm social standards. Fashion retailers need to empower their corporate social responsibility (CSR) departments by awarding an integrative role to sourcing decisions. Moreover, accurate calculation of orders, risk sharing, cost sharing, price premiums, and especially guaranteed order continuity for social compliance are critical to reduce opportunistic behaviors upstream of the supply chain. The development of social standards is highly suggested, e.g., by including novel metrics such as the assessment of buying practices or the evaluation of capacity planning at factories and the strict inclusion of subcontractors’ social performances. This paper presents evidence from multiple Vietnamese and Indonesian cases involving sourcing agents as well as Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers on a highly sensitive topic. With the development of the conceptual framework and the formulation of seven related novel propositions, this paper unveils the ineffectiveness of social standards, offers guidance for practitioners, and contributes to the neglected social dimension in sustainable supply chain management research and accountability literature.

Keywords: social sustainability; social standards; fashion/apparel industry; SSCM; developing countries (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: O13 Q Q0 Q2 Q3 Q5 Q56 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2021
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