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Implications from the Rana Plaza Disaster (Guest Post by Brian Jacobs and Vinod Singhal)

Today’s guest post comes from Brian Jacobs and Vinod Singhal, who present the results of their recent research on social issues in global textile supply chains.

Rana Plaza, an eight-story building in Bangladesh that housed garment factories employing approximately 5000 workers, collapsed on April 24, 2013. The resulting fatalities (over 1100) and injuries (over 2400) made it one of the worst industrial accidents in history. The scale of this tragedy increased awareness of the risks and costs of sourcing from low-cost countries. Such risks and costs are often assumed to be sufficient to motivate firms to source production in developed, high-cost countries rather than developing, low-cost countries. To examine this assumption, we studied the stock market reaction to 39 global apparel retailers with significant sourcing in Bangladesh. We found that although stock market reaction to retailers on the day of the Rana Plaza disaster was negative, its magnitude and significance dissipated by the following day. Our research shows that capital market forces alone are insufficient to prevent tragedies such as the Rana Plaza disaster, or to motivate large scale changes in sourcing patterns. In fact, garment exports from Bangladesh have increased since 2013 even though substandard working conditions persist. While managers should weigh ethics and their moral obligation in addition to financial considerations, it is doubtful that firms can affect the needed changes without participation by non-market forces such as NGOs and policymakers. For full details of our research, please see our article The Effect of the Rana Plaza Disaster on Shareholder Wealth of Retailers: Implications for Sourcing Strategies and Supply Chain Governance, forthcoming in Journal of Operations Management.

Vinod Singhal is a Professor of Operations Management and holds the Charles W. Brady Chair at the Scheller College of Business, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia. Brian Jacobs is an Associate Professor of Supply Chain Management at the Eli Broad College of Business, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan.

Jacobs, B., & Singhal, V. (2017). The Effect of the Rana Plaza Disaster on Shareholder Wealth of Retailers: Implications for Sourcing Strategies and Supply Chain Governance. Journal of Operations Management DOI: 10.1016/j.jom.2017.01.002

Value of Air Cargo: Air Transport and Global Value Chains

I recently found an interesting report: Value of Air Cargo: Air Transport and Global Value Chains, published by Developing Trade Consultants. The authors write: “Global Value Chains (GVCs) represent a new trade and development paradigm. They enable countries to specialize in narrowly defined tasks, such as component production, research and development, or assembly. Tasks originating in a variety of countries are then combined through a complex network of trade and investment links, to produce finished goods […].” The report analyzes data to investigate the linkages between GVC trade and air cargo. It shows that countries engage in more trade in value terms if they have better air cargo connectivity – which is measured by an “Air Connectivity Index”. A strong association is found between a higher ACI score (i.e. stronger air connections to more countries) and a higher total trade value: “[O]ne percent increase in air cargo connectivity is associated with a 6.3% increase in total exports and imports.”

Shifting from “Linear Thinking” towards “Circular Thinking”

Shifting from “company thinking” to “supply chain thinking” has successfully replaced the system, managers had in mind when making their decisions. This shift has put some of the parts of what has formerly been considered the company’s unmanageable environment into their unit of analysis. A supply chain, however, is per definition linear. In the age of sustainability, we might thus need to go one step further and shift from “linear thinking” towards “circular thinking”. The circular economy (or closed-loop supply chain) could replace the linear system by a circular system in the minds of decision makers. This is illustrated in a video released by the European Commission.

The Conceptual Leap in Qualitative Research

You should all read this interesting article: Approaching the Conceptual Leap in Qualitative Research by Klag & Langley (2013), which is useful for researchers who build theory from qualitative data. Its central message is “that the abductive process is constructed through the synthesis of opposites that [the authors] suggest will be manifested over time in a form of ‘bricolage’.” The authors use four dialectic tensions: deliberation—serendipity, engagement—detachment, knowing—not knowing, social connection—self-expression. One of the poles of each dialectic has a disciplining character, the other pole has a liberating influence: On the one hand, overemphasizing the disciplining poles “may result in becoming ‘bogged down’ in contrived frameworks (deliberation), obsessive coding (engagement), cognitive inertia (knowing) or collective orthodoxy (social connection)”. On the other hand, overemphasizing the liberating poles “can also be unproductive as researchers wait for lightning to strike (serendipity), forget the richness and nuances of their data (detachment), reinvent the wheel (not knowing) or drift off into groundless personal reflection (self-expression)”.

Klag, M., & Langley, A. (2013). Approaching the Conceptual Leap in Qualitative Research. International Journal of Management Reviews, 15 (2), 149-166 DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2370.2012.00349.x

Jay W. Forrester (1918–2016)

Jay Wright Forrester was “an electrical engineer whose insights into both computing and organizations more than 60 years ago gave rise to a field of computer modeling that examines the behavior of things as specific as a corporation and as broad as global growth”, as the New York Times writes in an obituary. Forrester was a pioneer of systems dynamics, which “deals with how things change through time, which includes most of what most people find important”, as he once wrote. Forrester’s (1961) book Industrial Dynamics had a huge impact on the development of supply chain management. Herein, he studied “the behavior of industrial systems to show how policies, decisions, structure, and delays are interrelated to influence growth and stability”. His analysis of what we call “supply chain” today revealed an effect now known as the bullwhip effect – undoubtedly the single most important theory in supply chain management. Forrester died last week at his home in Concord, Massachusetts.

Forrester, J.W. (1961). Industrial Dynamics. ISBN 0262060035

Future Research Themes in Supply Chain Management

What are the future dominant research themes in supply chain management? In my new article, Mapping the Landscape of Future Research Themes in Supply Chain Management, co-authored with Robert Handfield and Christian Durach and published in the Journal of Business Logistics, we make an attempt to answer this important question. Our research is based on survey data collected from 141 SCM scholars. Big data ranks 1st on the list of topics that scholars expect will become important in the next years. Interestingly, this topic does not even appear in the top 10 of the list of topics that scholars think should become important. This list is led by sustainability and risk management instead. We calculated the differences between the will-become-important and should-become-important topics. The largest discrepancies can be found for: (1) the “people dimension” of SCM, (2) ethical issues, (3) internal integration, (4) transparency/visibility, and (5) human capital/talent management. These five under-represented topics could thus be good choices for future research projects or special journal issues.

Wieland, A., Handfield, R., & Durach, C. (2016). Mapping the Landscape of Future Research Themes in Supply Chain Management. Journal of Business Logistics, 37 (3), 1-8 DOI: 10.1111/jbl.12131

If you don’t have access to the journal, please feel free to request a copy of the paper via ResearchGate (blue button on their page).

Citations of Excellence Awards 2016

Each year, Emerald awards certificates to highly cited papers, hereby also taking into account the content of the papers (see my previous post). I identified five Citations of Excellence winners related to SCM this year: (1) Technology Designed to Combat Fakes in the Global Supply Chain by Li; (2) The Reduction of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Freight Transport by Pooling Supply Chains by Pan, Ballot & Fontane; (3) Ensuring Supply Chain Resilience: Development and Implementation of an Assessment Tool by Pettit, Croxton & Fiksel; (4) Closed-Loop Supply Chains: A Critical Review, and Future Research by Souza; and (5) Data Science, Predictive Analytics, and Big Data: A Revolution that Will Transform Supply Chain Design and Management by Waller & Fawcett. All of these articles were selected from articles published in 2013. It can again be observed that articles dealing with sustainability or resilience seem to have a good chance to become highly cited, but also articles about innovative technologies turn out to be quite popular.

Li, L. (2013). Technology Designed to Combat Fakes in the Global Supply Chain. Business Horizons, 56 (2), 167-177 DOI: 10.1016/j.bushor.2012.11.010

Pan, S., Ballot, E., & Fontane, F. (2013). The Reduction of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Freight Transport by Pooling Supply Chains. International Journal of Production Economics, 143 (1), 86-94 DOI: 10.1016/j.ijpe.2010.10.023

Pettit, T., Croxton, K., & Fiksel, J. (2013). Ensuring Supply Chain Resilience: Development and Implementation of an Assessment Tool. Journal of Business Logistics, 34 (1), 46-76 DOI: 10.1111/jbl.12009

Souza, G. (2013). Closed-Loop Supply Chains: A Critical Review, and Future Research. Decision Sciences, 44 (1), 7-38 DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-5915.2012.00394.x

Waller, M., & Fawcett, S. (2013). Data Science, Predictive Analytics, and Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform Supply Chain Design and Management. Journal of Business Logistics, 34 (2), 77-84 DOI: 10.1111/jbl.12010

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