Sustainable supply chain management in a global context: the perspective of emerging economy suppliers

RAUSP Management Journal

ISSN : 2531-0488

Article publication date: 19 July 2023

Issue publication date: 31 July 2023

  • Supplementary Material

This paper aims to investigate how the extant literature on sustainable supply chain management (SSCM) empirically explores the perspective of emerging economy suppliers operating in global supply chains (GSCs). It thereby explains the role of emerging economy suppliers in determining the success of SSCM.


A systematic literature review of 41 empirical papers (published between 2007 and 2021) was conducted, involving both descriptive and thematic analyses.

The findings demonstrate that emerging economy suppliers have a key role in SSCM, given their use of positive feedback loops to proactively create remedies to surpass barriers using their collaboration mechanisms, and exploit authentic sustainability outcomes as reinforcements to drive further sustainability initiatives. The authors also demonstrate that suppliers are particularly focused on the cultural and institutional dimensions of sustainability. Finally, the authors provide an explanatory analytical framework to reduce the institutional distance between buyers and their global suppliers.

Research limitations/implications

This review identifies avenues for future research on the role of emerging economy suppliers in SSCM.

Practical implications

Recognising remedies to surpass barriers and reinforcements to drive new actions can aid SSCM in GSCs and improve understanding between buyers and suppliers.

Social implications

The valorisation of cultural and institutional issues can lead to more responsible supplier interactions and improved sustainability outcomes in emerging economies.


This review only analyses the viewpoint of emerging economy suppliers, whereas prior SSCM reviews have focused on the buyer perspective. Thus, the authors reduce supplier invisibility and institutional distance between GSC participants.

  • Supplier perspective
  • Global supply chains
  • Sustainable supply chain management
  • Emerging economies
  • Developing economies
  • Systematic literature review

Pereira, M.M.O. , Hendry, L.C. , Silva, M.E. , Bossle, M.B. and Antonialli, L.M. (2023), "Sustainable supply chain management in a global context: the perspective of emerging economy suppliers", RAUSP Management Journal , Vol. 58 No. 3, pp. 197-218.

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2023, Michele Morais O. Pereira, Linda C. Hendry, Minelle E. Silva, Marilia Bonzanini Bossle and Luiz Marcelo Antonialli.

Published in RAUSP Management Journal. Published by Emerald Publishing Limited. This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) licence. Anyone may reproduce, distribute, translate and create derivative works of this article (for both commercial and non-commercial purposes), subject to full attribution to the original publication and authors. The full terms of this licence maybe seen at

1. Introduction

emerging economy suppliers have a high impact on global emissions given that this is linked to the activities of extraction, production and manufacturing ( Li et al., 2018 );

the requirements of sustainability are commonly stipulated by buyers from developed countries ( Chen & Chen, 2019 );

the context where these suppliers operate contrasts with the context of their buyers ( Park et al., 2018 ; Sancha et al., 2015 ; Zhu & Sarkis, 2007 ); and, consequently,

there is a lack of comprehension from focal companies in developed countries on why some suppliers adopt sustainability initiatives successfully while others do not ( Liu et al., 2019 ).

Hence, it becomes necessary to better understand the role of emerging economy suppliers in SSCM because it continues to be under-researched in the literature ( Jia et al., 2018 ; León-Bravo et al., 2021 ). Within this context, we understand sustainability initiatives as actions to reduce global issues such as climate change, poverty, inequality and environmental degradation, as well as to promote peace and justice ( United Nations, 2023 ). Specifically, there is a need to understand the perspective of emerging economy suppliers on how and why they implement sustainability initiatives and the factors that impact the success of these initiatives in the context of SSCM.

How does the extant literature on SSCM empirically explore the perspective of emerging economy suppliers operating in GSCs? Specifically:

How has this literature evolved?

How do the main themes in this literature explain the role of emerging economy suppliers in SSCM?

they are historically silenced voices ( Touboulic, McCarthy, & Matthews, 2020 );

they suffer the main consequences of climate change ( Touboulic & McCarthy, 2020 ); and

consumers and focal company managers remain broadly apart from these contextual challenges ( Touboulic & McCarthy, 2020 ).

Hence, this research moves the spotlight from buyer companies based in developed countries to suppliers in emerging economy contexts with different needs, institutional environments, cultures and social-economic approaches ( Fritz & Silva, 2018 ).

By focusing on emerging economy suppliers’ perspectives, this paper contributes to the literature in three ways. Firstly, to the best of our knowledge, this review is the first to comprehensively understand the need for positive feedback loops for suppliers to either apply remedies to surpass existing barriers or reinforcements to drive new actions. Secondly, this study reveals that the sustainability initiatives of emerging economy suppliers rely on institutional and cultural issues, which deserve further attention from global buyers to increase awareness and change buyer-supplier relationships. And thirdly, our analysis generates an analytical framework that explains the main factors impacting the implementation and effectiveness of sustainability initiatives in GSCs. Understanding these factors may reduce the distance between buyers and suppliers, which influences SSCM ( Busse, 2016 ) and otherwise causes misunderstandings and operational difficulties ( Jia & Zsidisin, 2014 ).

This analytical framework summarises and explains how suppliers see their role in the context of SSCM in GSCs, and demonstrates that emerging economy suppliers play a vital role in the success of SSCM. Specifically, it illustrates how they perceive drivers, mechanisms and barriers together with remedies and reinforcements to impact the outcomes of their sustainability initiatives. In addition to our main contributions, throughout our analysis of the extant literature, we also highlight specific further avenues of research. Our analytical framework can be used to guide scholars in these further endeavours.

2. Theoretical background


cultural; and

institutional ( Fritz & Silva, 2018 ).

Economic sustainability refers to the ability of organisations to generate positive financial/economic results (i.e. have capital flow and produce a constant long-term return) and promote economic growth/development ( Magon et al., 2018 ; Vachon & Mao, 2008 );

Social sustainability refers to how organisations act to promote health and safety, support equality and workforce’s well-being and generate people’s skills and capabilities to reach the needs of current and future generations by caring about individuals, local community and social development beyond companies’ boundaries ( McKenzie, 2004 ; Stiglitz et al., 2010 ; Vachon & Mao, 2008 );

Environmental sustainability involves the rational and planned use of renewable and non-renewable natural resources by companies seeking to sustain global life-support systems (i.e. reducing consumption of natural resources and preferring natural regeneration, as in Goodland, 1995 ; Vachon & Mao, 2008 );

Cultural sustainability relates to concepts, values and language used to support solutions for environmental and social problems ( Soini & Birkeland, 2014 ). This may include established traditions (e.g., indigenous ancestral practices) and local shared beliefs and values ( Fritz & Silva, 2018 ; León-Bravo et al., 2021 ; Silva et al., 2021 ); and

Institutional sustainability refers to support of sustainability policies to help organisational decision-making to balance economic, social and environmental interests ( Pfahl, 2005 ). It also refers to regulatory and economic stability, the effectiveness of policy frameworks and the level of informality and corruption ( Fritz & Silva, 2018 ; Hoskisson, Eden, Lau, & Wright, 2000 ; Silva, Silvestre, Ponte, & Cabral, 2021 ; Silvestre, 2015 ; Silvestre, Silva, Cormack, & Thome, 2020 ; Wright, Filatotchev, Hoskisson, & Peng, 2005 ; Wu & Jia, 2018 ).

The use of TBL+ as a framework of analysis is necessary due to the complexity attached to GSCs that comprise companies from diverse countries with differences in size, resources, profitability and bargaining power ( Agyemang et al., 2018 ; Awasthi et al., 2018 ). In addition, managing sustainability in GSCs is more challenging than in local supply chains due to the peculiarities of countries and the more significant number of stakeholders involved ( Agyemang et al., 2018 ; Awasthi et al., 2018 ; Koberg & Longoni, 2019 ). Despite the complexities of this context, companies still need to identify, evaluate and manage impacts and risks related to sustainability throughout the supply chain ( Awasthi et al., 2018 ; Muñoz-Torres et al., 2018 ). This is essential in modern globalised markets, given that sustainability is increasingly becoming an important competitive advantage ( Agyemang et al., 2018 ; Morais & Silvestre, 2018 ). Therefore, when crossing country borders, GSCs need to effectively inspire suppliers from emerging economies to adopt their sustainability priorities ( Morais & Silvestre, 2018 ; Muñoz-Torres et al., 2018 ).

The relationship between SSCM and country development has been raised as an important issue for conducting research and better understanding how sustainability has been managed in emerging economies ( Awasthi et al., 2018 ; Fritz & Silva, 2018 ; Jia et al., 2018 ; Silva et al., 2021 ). The role of suppliers is crucial to disseminate sustainability throughout GSCs ( Azimifard et al., 2018 ; Guarnieri & Trojan, 2019 ). Therefore, identifying supplier roles helps to better understand their reality and manage their engagement and reciprocity for sustainability in GSCs ( Soundararajan & Brammer, 2018 ). This can avoid an excessive focus on assessing them and lead to new strategic relationships with these key partners through collaboration ( Koberg & Longoni, 2019 ). Nevertheless, the previous literature on sustainability in GSCs that has focused on the mechanisms that lead to sustainability practices in emerging economy countries indicates that the main driver for companies in this context is the pressures by key stakeholders, mainly buyers, that assess suppliers using national and international standards, as well as certification rules ( Jia et al., 2018 ). Thus, collaboration is less common in the research to date ( Jia et al., 2018 ). However, where vertical/horizontal collaboration has been adopted as a mechanism for implementing SSCM initiatives, this has led to higher levels of sustainability-related performance ( Jia et al., 2018 ; Koberg & Longoni, 2019 ). Therefore, collaboration among supply chain partners can facilitate important sustainability issues such as addressing the global problem of modern slavery in the supply chain ( Benstead et al., 2018 ); reduce auditing/monitoring of supplier activities; and reduce costs and enable innovation ( Yawar & Seuring, 2017 ). However, this type of global collaboration requires each partner to understand the context of all other parties.

Research to understand the context of companies in emerging economy countries has indicated that acting sustainably in GSCs can be a challenge mainly because their operational context has more barriers compared to developed countries ( Awasthi et al., 2018 ; Jia et al., 2018 ; Liu et al., 2019 ; Park et al., 2018 ). These obstacles, also named institutional voids , include a lack or weak existence of institutions in terms of infrastructure, market instability, social inequalities and informality ( Silva et al., 2021 ; Silvestre, 2015 ; Tanco et al., 2018 ). Institutional voids can affect companies’ strategies and businesses due to their relevance for emerging/developing economies ( Khanna & Palepu, 1997 ; Silvestre, 2015 ). Internally, these companies also face barriers related to weak organisational culture, lack of knowledge and lack of top-level management commitment to sustainability ( Agyemang et al., 2018 ). Despite these barriers, suppliers in emerging economies have adopted sustainability initiatives, and, consequently, buyer and supplier sustainability performance has improved ( Jia et al., 2018 ; Koberg & Longoni, 2019 ). In particular, suppliers have benefited through knowledge/technology from their international buyers ( Jia et al., 2018 ; Liu et al., 2019 ) and built competencies enabling sustainability improvement for the entire GSC ( Pereira et al., 2023 ). Thus, when buyers have obtained knowledge regarding their suppliers’ local context, this facilitates the alignment of sustainability goals ( Koberg & Longoni, 2019 ; León-Bravo et al., 2021 ). In addition, Jia et al. (2018) evidenced positive outcomes linked to improvement of operational practices and company reputation. Nonetheless, Jia et al. (2018) also argue that outcomes from sustainability initiatives remain under-researched in the literature, particularly those obtained by suppliers from emerging economy countries.

Some scholars argue that the studies that do investigate supplier sustainability have done so mainly from a buyer’s perspective ( Jia et al., 2018 ), and the specific literature about supplier sustainability predominantly relates to their selection and assessment by buyers ( Kellner & Utz, 2019 ; Koberg & Longoni, 2019 ). This literature has, therefore, considered mainly North-Western domestic problems and not global challenges/barriers ( Park et al., 2018 ), with a need for systematic analysis regarding the context of emerging economy suppliers’ sustainability initiatives ( Liu et al., 2019 ). Therefore, a gap exists in identifying how local information surrounding global suppliers could help make better decisions regarding SSCM in GSCs ( Park et al., 2018 ). In particular, research from emerging economy suppliers’ perspectives can support GSC managers and scholars in reducing the distance between buyers and suppliers. It is timely, therefore, to take stock of the current literature understanding the perspective of emerging economy suppliers on SSCM as a guide for further empirical studies and to identify the critical gaps in our current understanding. To this end, this paper investigates this current understanding in detail using a systematic literature review and identifies avenues for further research, as described below.

3. Research method

material collection;

descriptive analysis;

category identification; and

material evaluation, as described below.

3.1 Material collection

“supply chain*” AND

“supplier*” AND

“sustainab*” AND

“developing countr*” OR “developing econom*” OR “emerging econom*” OR “emerging countr*” OR “global” OR “international” OR “export-oriented”.

A total of 41 (out of 521) articles were selected for detailed analysis. The criteria for exclusion at this point were: triplicate/duplicate papers in the searches due to the multiple combinations of keywords (256 out of 521) and fit of the paper to the research focus [i.e. the context that the study explores ( Tranfield, Denyer, & Smart, 2003 ); 161 out of 265]. To better refine the theoretical framework in supply chain management reviews, it is crucial to analyse beyond the title and abstract ( Durach et al., 2017 ). Thus, the abstract, introduction, research method and conclusion were evaluated to verify if the study data were obtained from the point of view of suppliers from emerging economy countries acting in GSCs. Furthermore, given that this research aim is to identify previous studies that gave voice to suppliers, we also analysed how the data was collected (e.g. interviews or questionnaires; Tranfield et al., 2003 ), ensuring that the suppliers themselves had provided the data and that they had been asked about their sustainability initiatives. Thus, other papers were excluded because they (i) considered the buyers’ perspective about their suppliers’ sustainability initiatives (22); (ii) developed secondary data analysis (11) due to the lack of assurance of deeper investigation using the perspective of suppliers. This criterion relates to the aspect of research intervention suggested by Popay et al. (2006) ; (iii) analysed local supply chains instead of GSCs (4); (iv) analysed suppliers using data from both developed and emerging economies altogether (11); (v) were focused on mathematical modelling (9); or (vi) were developed as theoretical articles (6).

3.2 Descriptive analysis

To start the analysis, we first mapped the main characteristics of the articles, such as the evolution of publications over time and the journals in which they were published ( Seuring & Gold, 2012 ). The following information was also, thus, identified and described: country of study ( Jia et al., 2018 ), sector analysed ( Zorzini et al., 2015 ), main contributions of study ( Jia et al., 2018 ), data collection technique ( Bossle et al., 2016 ), type of sustainability dimension studied ( Touboulic & Walker, 2015 ) and theory used to support the study ( Zorzini, Hendry, Huq, & Stevenson, 2015 ). In terms of sustainability, at this stage, the TBL dimensions ( Elkington, 2004 ) were adopted as this has been the main approach adopted in the SSCM literature to date ( Touboulic & Walker, 2015 ).

3.3 Category identification for thematic analysis

The main analysis was developed through deductive and inductive approaches using content analysis ( Mayring, 2000 ; Seuring & Gold, 2012 ). As shown in Table 1 , we used multiple definitions to conduct a deductive encoding process ( Simsek et al., 2021 ) according to four themes of analysis:

mechanisms; and

To better represent the main themes found in the papers analysed, we divided both drivers and barriers into two sub-themes: internal and external ( Busse et al., 2016 ; Thong & Wong, 2018 ). In addition, the outcomes from sustainability initiatives were classified according to the TBL+ approach ( Fritz & Silva, 2018 ), given that these additional themes (i.e. cultural and institutional) emerged during content analysis. Two other themes emerged from the inductive analysis but were also connected to the extant literature: remedies and reinforcement . The theme remedies first emerged from one of the analysed papers – Busse, Schleper, Niu & Wagner (2016) . Reinforcements were also added to show a more dynamic process, as the analysis suggested that some suppliers had implemented more sustainability initiatives due to positive outcomes from prior sustainability initiatives ( Thong & Wong, 2018 ).

3.4 Material evaluation

The final list of papers analysed was organised in an Excel file, facilitating the findings’ transparency ( Seuring & Gold, 2012 ). The detailed list and results are available upon request. The main findings within each theme are defined as those evidenced at least three times in the sample of articles, thus, providing triangulation of evidence. Concerning internal validation, several rounds of analysis and categorisation were undertaken to ensure that all information presented in the selected articles was included. To ensure external validity, we presented the analysis results at an international conference on sustainable operations and supply chains so that other researchers and practitioners could both assess and comment on the review, as suggested by Seuring & Müller (2008) .

4. Findings

This section presents the main results of the systematic literature review. Firstly, RQ(i) is addressed in sub-section 4.1 below with a descriptive presentation of the evolution of the publications. In addition, RQ(ii) is addressed in sub-section 4.2 (i.e. thematic analysis) to demonstrate all existing SSCM themes from a supplier perspective.

4.1 Descriptive analysis

To address the evolution of the literature, Figure 1 illustrates the recent growth in the number of publications per year. While the earliest article identified was published in 2007, most papers were published between 2018 and 2021, demonstrating this literature review’s timeliness.

These publications were identified in a range of 24 different journals ( Table 2 ), with the highest number of articles published in the Journal of Cleaner Production (5), International Journal of Production Economics (4), International Journal of Physical Distribution and Logistics Management (3), Journal of Business Ethics (3) and Supply Chain Management: An International Journal (3). For the majority of the journals, only one publication was identified, indicating that various journals (e.g. agroecology and sociology) have published research relevant to this review. Therefore, this demonstrates that SSCM research is not limited to specific disciplines and may take a multi-disciplinary approach.

Regarding additional details about these publications, the Supplementary Table summarises further information for the sample. Nevertheless, it is important to highlight the countries and sectors of the suppliers identified in the analysis. Concerning countries, the suppliers studied were mostly located in Asia (30) in comparison to Latin America (7) and Africa (4). Furthermore, an evolution was identified in our sample because, in the first years (2007–2014), only six papers were published [Asia (3), Latin America (2) and Africa (1)]. The second half of the sample (2015–2021) shows 35 publications, including Asia (27), Latin America (5) and Africa (2). Concerning sectors, the articles were based on studies of companies operating in a variety of sectors, but mainly in the clothing (14) and food (13) industries. In addition, some articles (8) analysed multiple industries in the same research.

In terms of sustainability dimensions, the extant literature highlights the scarcity of studies that investigate the social dimension in SSCM research ( Silva et al., 2017 ; Allaoui et al., 2018 ); however, in this review, we have found that most of the articles studied social aspects either in isolation or linked to other TBL dimensions (see Supplementary Table). Thus, the review shows a shift of emphasis when studying a supplier perspective compared to prior reviews (mainly from a buyers perspective) that concluded that environmental and/or economic issues are more commonly studied ( Seuring & Müller, 2008 ). This finding is significant given that these studies concern companies in emerging economies where social problems are more commonplace, and there is a lack of qualified workers ( Silvestre, 2015 ). Furthermore, it acknowledges the importance of social sustainability in supply chains, which will later (sub-section 4.2) be aligned with institutional and cultural issues ( Fritz & Silva, 2018 ). This result highlights one of the potential reasons to explain the distance between developed country buyers and emerging economy suppliers as it illustrates that sustainability management has a greater emphasis on additional sustainability elements (i.e. cultural and institutional dimensions). These findings indicate that in emerging economies, SSCM is very linked to local development and improvement of social conditions.

4.2 Thematic analysis

internal and external drivers;

mechanisms of sustainable action;

internal and external barriers evidenced in this context;

remedies (i.e. strategies to surpass barriers);

the main outcomes of sustainable action; and

reinforcements to drive new actions.

The overview of papers can be checked in the Supplementary Table.

4.2.1 External and internal drivers.

The main external drivers identified in our analysis were buyers’ stipulating requirements, pressures by stakeholders and local government regulations (see details in the Supplementary Table). Buyer’s stipulated requirements included certification adoption in 11 articles. In the further pursuit of buyer stipulated requirements, some studies emphasised the importance of suppliers participating in the establishment of SC sustainability strategies (Paper 21; Paper 22). However, the suppliers’ perception of justice prevented them from understanding buyer requirements as a motivation to be more sustainable (Paper 21). When they do not fully understand the targets for these requirements and how they can benefit from them, they consider such requirements unfair. Pressures by the local community, NGOs/other stakeholders were evidenced as a result of tragedies or instances of slave labour gaining prominence in the media (Paper 28; Paper 13).

The main internal drivers identified were organisational strategic orientation towards sustainability, improvement of competitiveness and top management commitment to sustainability goals (see details in the Supplementary Table). For example, companies in the clothing industry in Vietnam experienced increased social sustainability awareness after the Rana Plaza incident in Bangladesh in 2013 (Paper 13). Thus, a new organisational strategic orientation emerged as a consequence of this social tragedy, as it pushed them to act more sustainably. Furthermore, the importance of sustainability goals was also found in the coffee producer context, as their internal aim for adopting certifications was to increase company learning (Paper 23). Thus, we found some internal and external drivers, which were inherently linked to each other, given that internal changes towards their implementation of sustainability initiatives were often motivated by external events.

The drivers evidenced above are similar to those presented by Jia et al. (2018) ; however, new insights were identified due to our focus on the supplier perspective. For example, national regulations strongly affected suppliers and acted as an additional driver. Scholars argue that in emerging economies the national governmental laws on environmental impact and labour rights are less strict and lack regulatory enforcement ( Morais & Silvestre, 2018 ; Silva et al., 2021 ; Silvestre, 2015 ). However, from the suppliers’ perspective, we conclude that local government regulations act as regulatory pressure. Therefore, future research is needed to understand how, when and why local regulation drives emerging economy suppliers to adopt more sustainability initiatives.

4.2.2 Mechanisms.

collaboration with SC members and other stakeholders such as universities, research centres and NGOs;

sustainability certifications programmes; and

other formal governance mechanisms.

In some cases, all three mechanisms were studied together since they have close connections. Sustainability certification programmes were spotted in this review as an action to access developed country markets (Paper 4; Paper 23; Paper 9; Paper 11; Paper 3; Paper 13; Paper 35, Paper 36; and Paper 41). For example, Paper 9, studying Mexican suppliers, evidenced that export-oriented businesses need to implement sustainability certification programmes because not having certifications can hinder market entry. Paper 35 and Paper 23 evidenced the relevance of these certification programmes as guides for implementing sustainability initiatives. Most papers scanned suggest that suppliers believe that certification programmes are the primary tool to act sustainably, which also links with how buyers evaluate them (Paper 4; Paper 23; Paper 28; Paper 13; Paper 24; and Paper 9).

Research has also shown that this sustainability certification programme mechanism is often linked to collaboration, as it is often how suppliers learn (Paper 35, Paper 36). Hence, the collaboration that leads to successful accreditation has been an important mechanism for suppliers to ensure that their sustainability initiatives are acceptable to their buyers (Paper 7; Paper 12). In addition, training and raising the awareness of employees towards sustainability has been shown to be a key means of changing employee culture (Paper 25) as well as being a requirement of certifications (Paper 13).

Other formal governance mechanisms were identified to enable sustainability (e.g. Nespresso AAA programme of sustainable quality studied in Paper 4), which stipulate buyer requirements that suppliers need to follow to improve the supply chain relationship and strengthen trust and transparency throughout the supply chain. In addition, the analysed studies revealed the importance of non-traditional supply chain actors (i.e. NGOs, research centres and universities) to support supplier sustainability initiatives as these actors help to strengthen the supply chain relationships. Thus, a better understanding of the role of these non-traditional supply chain actors in emerging economy suppliers’ sustainability is required. Sometimes, these governance mechanisms start informally and later become formal to strengthen the relationships between organisations (Paper 4), and, in some cases, these mechanisms are guided by certifications and go on to further improve management/efficiency (Paper 23; Paper 36; Paper 37).

Other studies consider mechanisms to include the assessment/involvement of sub-suppliers (Paper 29; Paper 31; Paper 32; and Paper 41). Thus, this review emphasises the need to study sustainability beyond the first tier to diffuse sustainability initiatives in other supply chain tiers. Based on these findings, future research needs to investigate when and how emerging economy suppliers use these mechanisms and how this affects sustainability in GSCs. For instance, this focus on sub-supplier involvement with sustainability actions provides a multi-tier perspective on GSCs to discover when suppliers disseminate sustainability. The use of these mechanisms reveals new approaches for GSCs in which buyers are not only concerned about certification requirements, but also identify how their suppliers change their sustainability initiatives.

4.2.3 Barriers.

Barriers were categorised into internal and external barriers (see details in the Supplementary Table). Firstly, lack of manager knowledge was the main internal barrier evidenced. This barrier weakened buyer–supplier relationships and affected the suppliers’ reputation regarding sustainability (Paper 13). Secondly, non-monetary costs, such as changing mentalities and cultures, can also act as an internal barrier to change (Paper 2 and Paper 5). Thirdly, financial constraints act as internal barriers, occurring when sustainability-related adaptations/improvements demand high investments and suppliers do not receive additional payment for making these changes (Paper 5 and Paper 11). For example, the transition to organic production by South African grape and wine producers was costly due to a lack of knowledge leading to a gradual implementation through trial and error (Paper 1), acting as a long-term investment for which there was no immediate payback.

In terms of external barriers , the contextual differences between buyers and suppliers ( Silva et al., 2021 ; Silvestre, 2015 ) were evidenced in a significant number of studies. These differences included institutional and cultural settings that impact supplier operations ( Silva et al., 2021 ). In particular, some studies suggest that suppliers have complained that a lack of buyers’ understanding of these differences leads buyers to impose sustainability requirements that do not correspond to the suppliers’ context. For example, supplier managers have been found to argue that their employees want to do overtime to gain additional payments, but this contravenes certification/buyer rules on the number of hours of overtime allowed per day (Paper 5). In addition, Paper 8 and Paper 13 signalled that linguistic, geographical and cultural differences between buyers and suppliers could disrupt the negotiation process and working practices. For example, Paper 8 suggests that linguistic distance affects communication leading to inefficiencies in transmitting messages and loss of meaning. Their evidence indicates that supplier managers often prefer to send emails rather than have calls due to difficulties using buyer languages. Hence, sustainability efforts in supply chains may be hampered by misunderstandings.

Another external barrier identified was the sustainability requirements imposed by buyers. Although we often find these requirements in the literature as drivers for sustainability (see Berardi & Brito, 2015 ), in our analysis, they were also identified as barriers in multiple articles because of the imposition element. For example, Paper 21 evidenced that when focal buyers simply impose codes of conduct for their suppliers without supporting them or asking for suppliers’ commitment, these codes/standards act only as a wish list. Thus, the authors of Paper 21 evidenced buyer’s imposition of a code of conduct as an obstacle to supplier engagement with sustainability. This confirms that some requirements can work as barriers because they are not connecting buyers and suppliers properly, suppliers do not understand how to achieve these requirements or they are not achievable in some emerging economy contexts.

Weak national legislation and poor oversight in emerging economies acts as a barrier to supplier sustainability initiatives (Paper 19; Paper 32; and Paper 31). Lack of government support was also evidenced as a barrier in some studies, with Paper 17 concluding that supportive government tactics are more effective than punitive tactics. Local corruption was evidenced as an additional barrier to supplier sustainability because the outcome of government inspections is commonly influenced by bribes (Paper 5). Hence, suppliers have avoided the consequences of breaking the law through corruption (Paper 13). These barriers are very closely related to the institutional voids presented in Section 2, which influence the dynamic of GSCs.

contextual differences between buyers and suppliers;

unsupported sustainability requirements imposed by buyers; and

non-monetary costs of training/monitoring of changes.

Our study, therefore, provides a fuller understanding of the barriers faced by suppliers in emerging economy countries. Recognising these barriers becomes important as it enables companies to develop strategies to overcome them and to consider the role of various stakeholders and other supply chain agents in improving SSCM ( Jia et al., 2018 ). Thus, future research should explore how buyers can support emerging economy suppliers to face these barriers to improve the supply chain’s sustainability.

4.2.4 Outcomes.

The analysis of positive outcomes was developed according to the TBL+ perspective as follows:

Economic sustainability relates to some specificities of certification programmes triggering economic outcomes. For instance, supplier power to decide product prices was evidenced only when products were differentiated, such as by being organic (Paper 1; Paper 23). These outcomes are linked to the abovementioned barrier because most suppliers cannot take this decision as buyers require certifications/standards and stipulate the price to pay for products.

Social sustainability outcomes were highlighted as they were associated with improving employee well-being (Paper 1, Paper 2, Paper 5, Paper 6, Paper 13, Paper 34 and Paper 41). For instance, suppliers indicated reduced absenteeism and employee turnover, which led to reduced workforce-related costs (Paper 2).

Environmental sustainability impacted supplier operations because these outcomes are related to reducing the use of natural resources within their production processes (Paper 3, Paper 7 and Paper 12). In addition, an outcome identified that related directly to the agriculture sector was the improvement in water and soil use (Paper 12 and Paper 3).

Cultural sustainability aspects were identified in terms of how increased sustainability understanding and awareness of managers and employees now influence the company daily operations ( Fritz & Silva, 2018 ). For example, Paper 13 evidenced changes in the concepts applied in the SC processes as a result of worker sustainability training – for example, leading to improvements in buyer/supplier communication and a reduction of tensions due to their different cultural settings. In addition, Paper 7 found improvements in worker awareness and perception of the link between food safety and sustainability. This affected the shared beliefs and values.

Institutional sustainability outcomes were discussed in a considerable number of papers in terms of the institutional environment elements affecting business processes (Paper 1, Paper 2, Paper 5, Paper 7, Paper 10, Paper 13, Paper 14, Paper 15, Paper 19, Paper 22, Paper 23 and Paper 36). Particularly, some papers showed that suppliers gained a better reputation for tackling poor quality policy frameworks as a result of these suppliers gaining visibility, legitimacy and reliability in doing business due to certifications (Paper 23 and Paper 13). Buyers feel more secure regarding supplier performance and the quality of processes and products when they have these governance mechanisms (Paper 7 and Paper 5). Institutional outcomes have been vital in terms of GSCs sustainability management.

These findings increase our understanding of the advantages of SSCM since they do not focus on economic, social and environmental dimensions alone but also include cultural and institutional outcomes ( Fritz & Silva, 2018 ). Previous literature argued for the need for outcomes beyond the traditional TBL ( Silva et al., 2021 ; Silvestre, 2015 ; Wu & Jia, 2018 ) for SSCM. Our study particularly reveals how sustainability dimensions have been crucial for emerging economy suppliers and their positive contribution to generating reinforcement feedback (sub-section 4.2.6). In particular, this review shows that the literature suggests that within an emerging economy context, institutional outcomes include improved supplier organisational processes leading to improved reputation in the international market/GSC. Thus, future research should further explore suppliers’ and sub-suppliers’ institutional and cultural dimensions to understand how they act sustainably according to these dimensions and the resulting outcomes.

4.2.5 Remedies.

In contrast to other reviews, we identified the existence of remedies as positive feedback actions developed by companies to create strategies to surpass barriers related to their sustainability initiatives. These remedies were classified as strengthening of partnerships, close communication with other suppliers and intensification of sustainability knowledge sharing. Remedies are consciously planned management efforts to mitigate obstructive effects associated with one or more barriers (Paper 8). They represent internal planning on surpassing barriers and becoming more sustainable based on their needs and lack of knowledge. Remedies are commonly developed by suppliers without the influence of buyers (i.e. they are actions to remedy supplier losses or weaknesses). Thus, by analysing the papers, we found that when emerging economy suppliers face barriers (mainly a lack of sustainability knowledge to achieve buyer/certification/legislation requirements), these remedies were applied: strengthening of partnerships (Paper 2, Paper 8, Paper 10, Paper 22, Paper 35 and Paper 36), close communication with other suppliers (Paper 19, Paper 7, Paper 35 and Paper 36) and intensification of sustainability knowledge sharing (Paper 7, Paper 10, Paper 12, Paper 19, Paper 35 and Paper 36).

Remedies involve, therefore, a localised way to solve problems. For example, partnerships with local research institutions support actions for sustainability (Paper 35 and Paper 36). Specifically, Paper 36 identified strong horizontal collaboration among supplier members of a cooperative developed through partnerships with universities, research institutions and NGOs. This remedy was used to surpass barriers, such as lack of knowledge, sustainability requirements imposed by buyers and to reduce contextual differences. In this sense, the stronger inter-organisational relationship contributed to reducing structural inefficiencies along supply chains (Paper 12 and Paper 40) and protected relationship-specific investments (Paper 8 and Paper 22).

Analysing remedies emerged as an important contribution of our review. It demonstrates the need for further analysis of these remedies to better understand how suppliers and sub-suppliers in emerging economies have faced and mitigated barriers to sustainability. This perspective demonstrates a clear recognition of bottom-up actions from suppliers towards GSC activities. Future studies could address remedies in specific sectors and relate barriers to specific supplier strategies to overcome them worldwide. For example, further studies could support a greater understanding of strategic remedies that reduce the distance between buyers and suppliers and reduce institutional voids, that is, conditions that challenge the management of supply chains in emerging economies in terms of lack of infrastructure, social inequalities, corruption etc. ( Wu & Jia, 2018 ; Silvestre, 2015 ). Given that the existence of institutional voids hampers the development of sustainability initiatives, such research has the potential to have a powerful impact on the field of SSCM.

4.2.6 Reinforcements: outcomes as new drivers.

Other positive feedback actions are related to reinforcements. The findings indicate that feedback resulting from suppliers’ sustainability outcomes acts as a motivating factor to reinforce or further develop sustainability drivers. This happens because when suppliers receive positive outcomes from their sustainability initiatives, this reinforces/drives them to make further sustainability-related changes. For instance, the evidenced outcomes can generate improvements in processes that turn into new drivers (e.g. reduced losses resulting from collaboration lead to strengthening this collaboration) for more sustainability initiatives (Paper 12 and Paper 17). In addition, Paper 21 found that when buyers recompense suppliers for their sustainability outcomes, this reinforces new drivers for their sustainability initiatives. The authors of Paper 21 also found that suppliers were motivated by their positive perception regarding justice and rewards associated with their relationship with buyers. Finally, continuous improvement projects also acted as new drivers for sustainability because companies aimed at further improving their scores on certification programmes (Paper 23).

Identifying feedback as reinforcements for new drivers for sustainability initiatives provides a more dynamic interaction between factors related to emerging economy suppliers. Further studies should investigate the flow of information to understand a more dynamic interaction between reinforcements and drivers, especially to identify nuances related to internal and external drivers for SSCM.

5. Discussion

The findings above explain how the literature on SSCM from the perspective of emerging economy global suppliers has evolved over time – this is an important contribution as it responds to several calls to better understand SSCM from the perspective of these suppliers ( León-Bravo et al., 2021 ). To open doors for future research based on our review, we propose the framework below, which links the factors affecting the sustainability initiatives of emerging economy global suppliers ( Figure 2 ). This analytical framework revealed drivers, barriers and mechanisms aligned with the existing literature on GCSs and with prior SSCM literature reviews from the perspective of developed countries ( Jia et al., 2018 ; Koberg & Longoni, 2019 ); however, we make three additional theoretical contributions to the literature as a result of our thematic analysis. Firstly, to the best of our knowledge, this is the first review to explain how emerging economy suppliers exploit positive feedback loops in the context of their sustainability initiatives. Secondly, we explain how institutional and cultural issues impact the role of emerging economy suppliers involved in SSCM. Thirdly, we contribute by explaining the extant literature understanding of the perception of emerging economy suppliers on their SSCM role, which can aid in reducing the institutional distance between these suppliers and their buyers in GSCs.

Our findings suggest that emerging economy global suppliers have developed positive feedback actions in the context of their sustainability initiatives. These positive feedback actions were either related to remedies to overcome the effects of existing barriers or reinforcements that exploited sustainability outcomes to support new drivers for sustainability initiatives ( Figure 2 ). These results refer to our first theoretical contribution, as we systematically show the relevance of remedies and reinforcement as suppliers’ positive feedback actions to act towards SSCM. During the analysis of our sample, on the one hand, remedies emerged to represent the ability of suppliers to surpass their difficulties to operate sustainably ( Benstead et al., 2018 ; Jia et al., 2018 ; Koberg & Longoni, 2019 ). Thus, improving inter-organisational relationships worked as a source to enhance partnerships, communication and sustainability knowledge sharing.

Emerging economy global suppliers proactively generate remedies to surpass barriers related to their sustainability initiatives when this is enabled by mechanisms involving collaboration.

Sustainability outcomes act as reinforcements that boost drivers for sustainability initiatives when emerging economy global suppliers perceive these outcomes to be authentic in benefitting their context.

SSCM in a GSC context succeeds more often when drivers lead to mechanisms that lead to positive institutional and cultural outcomes.

Finally, our findings provide insights into reducing the institutional distance between buyers and suppliers, as our thematic analysis explains how emerging economy suppliers perceive their role within SSCM. The proposed framework ( Figure 2 ) presents the relationship between the drivers that motivate supplier sustainability initiatives, their mechanisms of action for sustainability initiatives, the barriers to adopting these initiatives, the remedies (strategies to cope with barriers) and the reinforcements (outcomes acting as new drivers). Understanding these links can help to reduce the distance between buyers and suppliers in different institutional and cultural settings. In addition, as claimed by León-Bravo, Jaramillo-Villacres & Silva (2021) , more attention needs to be given to supplier priorities, competences and resources, which are often overlooked by buyers of GSCs. Based on these reflections, we open doors for future research in this context as we show throughout the findings section how each of these elements leads to reduced institutional distance.

6. Conclusions

In this study, we have demonstrated how the literature that empirically captures the perceptions of emerging economy global suppliers explains their role within SSCM in GSCs. Our results provide theoretical implications, as explained in the previous section. In addition, managerial implications were identified by this research. Specifically, this paper contributes by demonstrating how global suppliers manage sustainability and how positive feedback actions motivate both new sustainability strategies and a way to surpass barriers. Therefore, on the one hand, managers in supplier companies should explore how to exploit these feedback actions to strengthen their sustainability initiatives in GSCs. For example, a constant barrier identified was the lack of (sustainability) knowledge. Therefore, these managers can use these feedback actions (such as greater levels/more types of collaboration as a result of successful collaboration) to improve their knowledge and reduce their dependence on buyers in this regard. On the other hand, managers of buyer companies should use these feedback actions as a path to better support their suppliers. For example, they should try to better understand which of the existing sustainability outcomes motivate suppliers, and this understanding can then impact the SSCM external and internal drivers.

Still regarding managerial implications, our results on the relevance of the cultural and institutional sustainability dimensions provide new insights to managers of both supplier and buyers companies. Specifically, these insights suggest that managers should increase their awareness of how to obtain authentic benefits for sustainability initiatives throughout the GSC, thereby improving global performance as well as that of the emerging economy context. Moreover, managers should strengthen existing drivers to give additional support for mechanisms that lead to positive outcomes on all TBL+ sustainability dimensions in the entire supply chain. This action would improve SSCM in GSCs and reduce the distance between buyer and supplier contexts.

Some policy implications also emerged from this study. In particular, the findings demonstrated the importance of considering institutional and cultural settings as part of SSCM. Therefore, policymakers should develop policies to reinforce national regulations that protect their local cultural practices and also improve company competitiveness and sustainability, thereby aiding economic transactions with international buyers. This research also revealed the relevance of public policies to support research institutions, NGOs and universities, as they have an essential role in promoting global supplier sustainability initiatives. Finally, social implications emerge as this study highlighted how to manage sustainability involving emerging economies’ suppliers effectively. Specifically, our findings show the role of employee well-being and the maintenance/improvement of local cultures in emerging economy suppliers. Thus, people in these places will benefit when GSC members pay greater attention to these elements.

A limitation of this study is that we did not find evidence of negative outcomes of SSCM from the perspective of the emerging economy suppliers, as no such outcomes were highlighted in the analysed literature. Future research should validate our theoretical contributions focusing on understanding the role of local government regulations and how research institutions can contribute to supplier sustainability in emerging economies; investigating the influence of cultural aspects surrounding supplier sustainability initiatives and the impact of these aspects in this context; exploring how GSC members have used remedies to surpass barriers to sustainability; and identifying the influence of reinforcements to strengthen positive sustainability outcomes in GSCs (i.e. how these benefits have reinforced sustainability initiatives). Further empirical studies should investigate these points in different GSCs, comparing country and industry contexts. Finally, it is necessary to increase research on how emerging economy suppliers have been involved in local social and institutional sustainability initiatives and how they include their buyers in these initiatives.

research paper on sustainable supply chain management

Evolution of publications over years

research paper on sustainable supply chain management

Linking the factors impacting the sustainability initiatives of emerging economy suppliers

Categories of analysis and respective definitions

Source: Table by authors

Supplementary materials

Supplementary materials of this article can be found online.

Author contributions : Michele Morais O. Pereira: conceptualization (Lead), methodology (Equal), investigation (Lead), formal analysis (Lead), validation (Equal), writing – original draft (Lead), writing – review & editing (Equal); Linda C. Hendry: conceptualization (Supporting), methodology (Supporting), formal Analysis (Supporting), Validation (Equal), writing – original draft (Supporting), writing – review and editing (Equal); Minelle E. Silva: conceptualization (Supporting), methodology (Supporting), formal analysis (Supporting), validation (Equal), writing – original draft (Supporting), writing – review and editing (Equal); Marilia Bonzanini Bossle: conceptualization (Supporting), methodology (Supporting); formal analysis (Supporting), writing – review and editing (Supporting); Luiz Marcelo Antonialli: conceptualization (Supporting), methodology (Supporting), Writing – review and editing (Supporting).

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The Importance of Corporate Reputation for Sustainable Supply Chains: A Systematic Literature Review, Bibliometric Mapping, and Research Agenda

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Corporate Reputation (CR) is essential to value generation and is co-created between a company and its stakeholders, including supply chain actors. Consequently, CR is a critical and valuable resource that should be managed carefully along supply chains. However, the current CR literature is fragmented, and a general definition of CR is elusive. Besides, the academic CR debate largely lacks a supply chain perspective. This is not surprising, as it is very difficult to collect reliable data along supply chains. When supply chains span the globe, data collection is especially challenging, as the chain consists of multiple suppliers and subcontractors, positioned at different tier levels. Recognizing this, the paper examines firstly the current state of CR research through a systematic literature review from a business perspective. The review is combined with a bibliometric mapping approach to show the most influential research clusters, representative of CR research streams and their contributors. This process highlights that the connection between CR and supply chain issues represents a major research gap. Consequently, this paper introduces a research agenda connecting these the two traditionally separated research fields.

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Corporate Reputation (CR) is an intangible and critical asset in sustaining business operations. Despite many years of efforts and initiatives in the private sector, politics, and academic research, addressing the importance of reputation, reputational risks, and reputation management along entire supply chains, the management of CR has not yet become established as an important part of strategic management decisions in practice. Although the many advantages that a positive CR brings to individual organizations (improving the bottom line, being a decisive factor in some customers’ choices, buffering for risks, etc.), CR cannot be seen in isolation (Dhingra & Krishnan, 2021 ). The shaping of stakeholders’ CR perceptions occurs through the interaction of stakeholders, especially business partners that make up the supply chain (Mani & Gunasekaran, 2021 ; Nguyen & Phan, 2021 ) Thus, a corporation’s overall reputation is influenced by the actions and behavior of its supply chain partners (Saleheen & Habib, 2022 ). Over time, however, a better understanding of the important role CR plays in the successful and sustainable development of companies emerged. Consequently, the CR topic has been discussed via a strategic management lens, over the past two decades. However, supply chains represent a nascent topic in CR debates, given that CR is an important dimension of supplier relationships with wider implications in chain settings (Fan et al., 2021 ).

This paper addresses two major research gaps regarding the interplay between supply chain management (SCM) and CR research. The first gap originates from the traditionally separated fields of CR and supply chain research, which have been treated as two different units of analysis, often in isolation and without understanding the linkages between them (Blom & Niemann, 2022 ). The second gap concerns the absence of a research agenda connecting these two fields of research, including the most pressing topics to be explored. Consequently, this paper aims to provide an agenda for future research on the combination of CR and in supply chains, derived from a systematic literature review.

As argued by Hoejmose et al. ( 2014 ), only a few studies consider the issue of CR across the supply chain context, with many only drawing on narrowly focused data or observations (Rajagopal et al., 2021 ). Wolf ( 2014 ) echoed this point and highlighted that more research should explore reputation and supply chains in combination to understand the linkages between them. At present, the academic literature provides interesting discussions, highlighting the overarching role of CR for business studies. However, there is a need to develop a theoretical foundation that will guide future research. Therefore, we undertake a literature review to address the following research goals:

Provide a state-of-the-art literature review, highlighting the historical development of the research field of CR.

Identify the most influential journals and authors which have shaped CR research.

Develop a current and consolidated definition of CR.

Highlight the importance of CR and its connection to the supply chain environment.

Outline an agenda for future CR research, relevant for supply chain topics.

For tackling the research goals, we divide this article into four parts. We begin with outlining CR and its connection to supply chain aspects, continue with the methodology section, before moving on to the evolution of CR as a research field and a conceptualization of CR. This provides the basis for a consolidated definition of CR. Then, we address the connection between CR and supply chain issues and highlight the importance of CR in a supply chain context. We conclude with a research agenda that can guide future CR researchers and practitioners to embark on their explorations in a targeted and structured approach.

CR and Its Connection to Supply Chain Aspects

The market offerings, communications, and actions of a company’s supply chain partners pose a reputational risk, particularly for those operating in large supply networks as well as those involved in chains that span multiple countries where poor transparency, corruption, and human rights records are common. Thus, it is difficult to mitigate reputational risks in supply chains that are globally dispersed. Rajagopal et al. ( 2021 ) and Rajagopal et al. ( 2017 ) introduced the idea of looking at risk drivers from upstream and downstream supply chain partners, arguing that reputational risk is clearly overlooked in the supply chain literature. In addition, Dhingra and Krishnan ( 2021 ) explored social and environmental reputation costs along the supply chain and identified the importance of reputational risk sharing between supply chain partners. They highlight the lack of research in a supply chain context regarding reputation risk management and call for research to identify ways of substantially reducing reputational risks in supply chain settings. Mani and Gunasekaran ( 2018 ) echo these concerns, exploring how ethical behaviors and actions along global supply chains affect firm reputation. Their research highlights a need for further investigation of the role of reputation mechanisms in supply chain networks, influencing ethical and social actions, upwards and downwards the supply chain. Fan et al. ( 2021 ) document the risk of reputational spillover effects between supply chain partners. They recommend adopting a sustainability perspective when studying supply chains’ reputational risk. Likewise, Nguyen and Phan ( 2021 ) conclude that additional research is needed to explain reputational effects throughout supply chains and how to minimize reputational risks. Taking this further, Blom and Niemann ( 2022 ) argue that reputational risks along the supply chain have a predominant influence on a firm’s CR. However, despite the importance of this topic for practitioners and academics, the above authors found little literature on the topic. Reflecting on recent calls, further research is necessary to explore the topic of reputation in a supply chain context more holistically, including Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and environmental risks as influencing factors.

Dahlmann and Roehrich ( 2019 ) highlight that the engagement of an organization with its supply chain partners is crucial for the development of sustainable supply chains. This research field is complex because changes in a firm’s CR, resulting from the actions of one or more of its partners, can alter profoundly its relationships with other stakeholders. For example, during the Covid-19 pandemic, sales of internet-based fast fashion retailer surged. However, in July 2020, newspaper reports identified that some of Boohoo’s suppliers paid employees below the minimum wage, and failed to follow appropriate social distancing guidelines (Thomond, 2020 ). An independent report, commissioned by Boohoo, found that the allegations were ‘substantially true’ (Levitt, 2020 ). In the wake of the controversy, several institutional investors sold their shares, denting Boohoo’s share price. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) quit as its auditor and other leading accountancy firms ruled out working with the retailer.

A corporation’s reputation, as the vignette illustrates, is co-created by organizations and their stakeholders. Therefore, CR is a dynamic construct, subject to external influences (e.g., customer perceptions) and is, thus, in a constant state of flux and development. Consequently, it varies in value over time (Veh et al., 2019 ). Hence, in this paper, we argue that CR matters in a supply chain context—a notion that has recently been heightened by developments in the EU. Specifically, EU businesses are facing increasing regulations concerning ethical sourcing and mandatory supply chain due diligence, forcing them to pay greater attention to the practices of their supply chain partners (European Parliament, 2021 ). Namely, the draft EU Directive on Mandatory Human Rights, Environmental and Good Governance Due Diligence envisages that companies falling within its scope will have to make appropriate efforts to identify their suppliers and subcontractors and implement actions to ensure that their business partners’ act in accordance with the company’s due diligence strategy. This includes measures relating to workload, occupational safety, working hours, exploitation, occupational health, fair trade, social compatibility, child labor, production of waste, and the sustainable use of natural resources (European Parliament, 2021 ). Other states and international organizations are also seeking to improve transparency in supply chains, especially in efforts to combat modern slavery (Australian Government, 2018 ; UK Parliament, 2015 ). The focus of CR is, thus, moving beyond the corporation’s own actions to also include those of their supply chain partners, posing the question as to how to manage CR within a supply chain context?

As the case demonstrates, end-customers may not be the only actors shaping CR but it could be any stakeholder along the chain (Dewalska-Opitek & Bilińska-Reformat, 2021 ). Despite the current literature’s focus on the customer’s perspective, the scientific paradigm is highly likely to shift its focus toward a more comprehensive perspective (Bendixen & Abratt, 2007 ; Dahlmann & Roehrich, 2019 ; Jelinkova & Lostakova, 2016 ; Martin-de Castro, 2021 ; Panzone et al., 2016 ). This change is helpful when examining reputational spillover effects in a supply chain context. Following the argument of Petersen and Lemke ( 2015 ), one actor can utilize reputational triggers (i.e., offering, communication, and action) which may cause reputational aspects of the initiating actor to spill to others. For instance, ‘being innovative’ may spill from the supplier to the manufacturer when working with this supplier. These receiving organizations are CR borrowers , and the spill can happen willingly or unwillingly.

Between both owner and borrower are stakeholders that care about what is happening; they mediate the process. For instance, a supplier may employ children in the production process. As soon as the caring stakeholder is aware and perceives this action to be relevant (e.g., customers), it ‘reflects’ CR aspects directly from the owner to the borrower (e.g., from the supplier that employs children to the manufacturer that integrates this part in a wider system). This is a CR spillover, and the caring CR reflector is almost exclusively assumed to be the customer. However, the CR reflector could be any stakeholder who cares about what companies design and create, say, and how they behave (e.g., investors, policy makers, assessors, industry experts, communities, societies).

Recent global crisis heightened strains on supply chains, affecting CR. For instance, the Covid-19 pandemic placed enormous pressure on reputation management within global supply networks (Blom & Niemann, 2022 ). Many companies worldwide ran into difficulties, due to supply chain bottlenecks, as experienced, for example, at seaports, trade centers, and entire specialized economic zones (Phillips et al., 2022 ). Supply chains without any resource buffers, that were purposely designed for lean management, just-in-time, and cost optimization, showed little resilience during the Covid-19 pandemic (Phillips et al., 2022 ). Supply chain disruptions apparent during the pandemic were further exacerbated by the war in Ukraine. In the wake of such crises, many supply chains experienced domino and butterfly effects where small alterations caused large effects in complex systems (Hosseini & Ivanov, 2022 ; Yu et al., 2022 ). In response, many corporations sought to reintegrate sourcing and production into national and local regions.

In such an environment, reputation and supply chain management must be flexible and resilient enough to respond to global crises in real time. Consequently, corporations will need to continuously reassess their engagement with supply chain partners to assess and reduce risks. For mastering the risk challenge, an understanding of CR mechanisms is critical for supply chains and its corresponding stakeholders, as discussed earlier. However, literature on this topic is limited, in part because of CR and supply chains have been traditional regarded as separate ‘silos’ and due to data availability. Based on the high complexity of supply chain networks, companies do not always have a complete picture of their suppliers and sub-suppliers. Moreover, even if they possess the data, their willingness to share with the public (including research institutions) is limited, to preserve competitive advantage (Aamer et al., 2020 ; Quintana-García et al., 2021 ; Shaikh et al., 2020 ). Thus, empirical studies based on supply chain data are scarce. Nevertheless, understanding the mechanisms that co-create, transfer, and destroy CR along the supply chain is recognized as an important research topic (Marketing Science Institute, 2018; Syed Alwi et al., 2020 ). However, research on CR is fragmented across several disciplines and lacks a concerted supply chain perspective. To address this deficiency as well as to respond to recent calls for advancing CR research (Pérez-Cornejo et al., 2019 ; Veh et al., 2019 ), we conduct a Systematic Literature Review (SLR). When working with companies in CR, we recognize that the following areas are currently concerned with managing this topic: marketing, finance and accounting, general management, strategy, organizational studies, and supply chain management. The idea of this research paper originated from a business perspective, on the meso level (i.e., supply chain). To contribute to the currently underrepresented literature, due to data availability, practitioners’ insights offer new perspectives and knowledge in the field (Aguinis et al., 2022 ; Schön, 2017 ; Stokes, 2011 ). During the development of this research project, and acknowledging its relevance for supply chain topics, we realized that CR is not very well featured in the supply chain literature domain. Therefore, before discussing CR in relation to supply chain aspects, it is important to have a clear view of the CR literature. In this article, we continue with the methodology of our SLR and bibliometric mapping. This leads us to a consolidation of existing CR definitions.

Systematic Literature Review (SLR)

To provide an overview of the literature and develop a consolidated definition of CR, we carried out a SLR of CR research. A SLR is a powerful means for detecting and making sense of conceptual as well as methodological issues (Boell & Cecez-Kecmanovic, 2015 ; Crossan & Apaydin, 2010 ; Grewal et al., 2018 ; Sarmento & Simões, 2018 ; Veh et al., 2019 ). It is also suitable for identifying critical areas for further research and informing theory development (Köhler et al., 2017 ; Kohtamäki et al., 2018 ). Hulland et al. ( 2018 ) highlight the demand for empirical studies to systematically detect and better understand specific research areas and their gaps, as well as their future research potential. The aggregation of studies from different disciplines allows us to attain a comprehensive overview of the body of knowledge, and to highlight the inter-relationships of various constructs, research areas, and broader literature fields (Bier et al., 2020 ; Burgers et al., 2019 ).

The literature review process began with a planning phase, including the development of inclusion/exclusion criteria for the selection of published materials (Grewal et al., 2018 ; Kohtamäki et al., 2018 ). The study focuses solely on scientific peer-reviewed articles in top tier journals. We only reviewed English contributions, published in journals listed in the ABS Ranking (that also includes FT50 journals). Specifically, we took the ABS ranking as a guidance framework and limited inclusion to papers published in journals ranked ABS2 to ABS4*. Our intention is not to downplay non-English or low/unranked articles. We rather sought to identify a literature pool that has greater potential to be highly cited. Setting a recent timeframe is recommended by Hox et al. ( 2017 ), to reveal the current state of the art and research directions within a field. Our data set includes articles published between 1996 and 2021. Prior to 1996, the CR literature was limited and the number of publications on CR substantially increased from less than 2 to over 40 per year (see Fig.  1 ).

figure 1

Key events of corporate reputation and related publications per year (1975–2021)

The SLR followed the procedures recommended by Sarmento and Simões ( 2018 ). In the first stage, robust citation index services were identified. Scopus, produced by Elsevier, allows a subject search with citation tracking in the sciences and social sciences with over 69 million records (Scopus, accessed on 17.04.2021). This, in combination with Web of Science, generated more than 90 million records (Web of Science, accessed on 17.04.2021). The overall number of publications on Google Scholar containing the exact phrase ‘corporate reputation’ in the title, abstract, or keywords is approximately 72,500 (date: 17.04.2021). Besides Google Scholar, the search was also conducted in the Web of Science, EBSCO, Social Science Research Network (SSRN), and Scopus databases for identifying articles dedicated to ‘corporate reputation.’ There is a noticeable publication uptake in 2011 (Fig.  1 ), which served as a suitable starting point for further assessment. Working with the literature of the past ten years ensured that we capture the current understanding of CR. This initial sample contained 1922 articles, suitable for our bibliometric mapping analysis. For the SLR, the titles, abstracts, and key words of the 1922 relevant articles were examined for relevance to the topic ‘corporate reputation.’ This was the second stage. In some cases, although the title and key words appeared promising, the content of the abstract was of little relevance for our SLR. These articles were discounted, following Kohtamäki et al. ( 2018 ), who argued that generic articles with no particular contribution to the research question should be excluded. This filtering reduced the dataset from 1922 peer-reviewed articles to 235 scientific papers relevant for the study.

In the third stage, coders searched for the phrase ‘corporate reputation’ in every article, using the electronic search function. Two coders worked through the 235 articles independently. The content of the 235 articles relating to CR was selected by the coders and then transferred to an Excel spreadsheet. Each coder indicated whether they regarded the content as relevant or not. Discrepancies between markers, based on their individual assessments, were discussed and agreement reached. Two weeks later, this procedure was repeated. Only those articles regarded as relevant on both occasions by both coders proceeded to the next coding phase. This process ensured consistency in the classification of articles, suitable for further analysis.

In the third stage of coding, the content of the articles where CR was explained, defined, or distinguished from other concepts was highlighted. Coded sentences or paragraphs were transferred into a new Excel sheet. The extracted sections and definitions identified by both coders were then compared. For 37 text phrases where the two coders disagreed, they reached agreement through a negotiation process. In eight cases, the two could not come to an agreement, so these text passages were discarded and not considered further in the process. Overall, the two coders identified and agreed on over 583 text passages suitable for the next stage of coding.

In the fourth stage of coding, within the selected text blocks, words and short text phrases that dealt directly with CR were identified. We adopted ‘descriptive coding’ to develop “an inventory of topics for indexing and categorizing” (Miles et al., 2019 , p. 65). In the initial coding of the text block data, highlighted text chunks represented distinct meanings, which is typical in ‘first cycle coding’ (Saldaña, 2016 ). The text passages were printed twice on separate cards. Each coder worked separately with the identical card set, allocating the highlighted text chunks to meaningful categories. In the ‘second cycle coding’ step, the coding material was then categorized, following the principles of ‘pattern coding’ (Saldaña, 2016 ). Cards containing more than one code were categorized in multiple ways, a process known as ‘simultaneous coding’ or ‘double coding’ (Saldaña, 2016 ). The two coders’ classification of manually categorized cards (i.e., highlighted text chunks) were copied into an Excel spreadsheet, and an inter-coder reliability index computed. The two coders discussed any disagreements, as part of the negotiation process.

In qualitative research that explores rich interview data, inter-coder reliability tests could be repeated multiple times, resulting in an eventually high level of agreement between coders (e.g., Campbell et al., 2013 ; Lemke et al., 2011 ; MacPhail et al., 2016 ). In our study, the inter-coder agreement was 94.3% after just one coding round. Agreement by chance is eliminated by a Cohen’s Kappa of 91.3%, which exceeds substantially the recommended threshold (88.4%), as suggested in the literature (Cohen, 1968 ; Lombard et al., 2002 ; Perreault Jr & Leigh, 1989 ). Both results may not be surprising, given that the coded text were existing definitions and CR descriptions in academic publications, which were intended to be clear and precise, leaving little room for ambiguity and subjective interpretation. The resulting words and text passages and content gathered in this analytical stage provided the basis for formulating a holistic definition of CR. Although CR has been a research topic for over four decades, the understanding of the term has evolved in different sub-disciplines, resulting in fragmented perspectives (Gomez-Trujillo et al., 2020 ; Khan & Digout, 2018 ).

Corporate Reputation as a Research Field

The origins of research on CR are mostly USA-based, with the stock market crash of 1929 laying the foundations for an awareness of CR on a broader scale (Jones et al., 2000 ; O'Neill, 1977 ; Stevens, 1975 ). During the following decade, due to several corporate scandals based on discrimination against women, Jews, African Americans, and other minorities, the US government began to curtail unethical behavior and to restrain the power of corporations (O'Neill, 1984 ). Consequently, in the 1930s, a new system of regulations and regulating institutions emerged in the US. Following US military occupation after World War II, several regulatory standards were transposed and influenced standards for transnational companies across Western Europe (Maier, 1977 ; Majone, 2002 ). From the mid-1960s onwards, a slowly increasing number of publications on the topic indicate a rising awareness in academia—CR turned into a public issue. Figure  1 shows the distribution of peer-reviewed publications on the topic of CR, from 1975 until 2021. Given that the number of publications continues to rise, it seems unlikely that the research field has yet reached a peak, especially given the growing public awareness about CR and its media coverage (Fragouli, 2020 ; Gatzert, 2015 ; Money et al., 2017 ; Veh et al., 2019 ).

The mid-1970s witnessed a heightened interest in CR among academics, as the post-war consensus on business-state relationships in western societies dissolved. Specifically, Friedman ( 1970 ) and other Chicago School economists prompted debate on whether businesses were over-regulated to the detriment of macroeconomic performance. They argued that a company’s only responsibility was to its shareholders, while adhering to the legal system in which they operated. In the 1980s, the development of CR as a scientific topic began, utilizing theoretical approaches from business economics. In this context, CR theory was founded on game, signaling, and stakeholder theories (Weigelt & Camerer, 1988 ). In the 1990s, sociological perspectives informed academic perspectives on CR, drawing on organizational and social identity theories (Walker, 2010 ).

The origins of CR as a research subject are multi-theoretical. Historically, many prominent theoretical contributions come from game and signaling theory (Fombrun & Shanley, 1990 ; Rindova et al., 2005 ; Veh et al., 2018 ). This emphasizes that CR serves as a signal of a firm’s credibility attributes, products, or services (Saxton, 1998 ; Shapiro, 1983 ). In addition, Weigelt and Camerer ( 1988 ) connect game and signaling theory and outline how reputation can emerge from the past actions and behaviors of a firm. Turban and Greening ( 1997 ) combine the concepts of social identity and signaling theories to develop the concept of social performance as an aspect of CR. Johnson and Greening ( 1999 ) elaborate on this with the idea that good social performance enhances a firm’s overall reputation. Thus, proactive CSR creates a reputation that a firm is reliable and honest, and signals to customers (Sethi et al., 2016 ) that the corporation offers a superior product and service quality (Mishra et al., 1998 ; Purohit & Srivastava, 2001 ; Rao et al., 1999 ). Fombrun ( 2005 ) argues that the problem of a concrete definition regarding the concept of CR stems from diverse studies, which examine the construct of CR from different disciplinary perspectives. Both highlight the need for an integrated view. Thus, the Integrative School of Thought was born. Figure  2 provides a snapshot of the theoretical foundation.

figure 2

Theoretical Foundation of Corporate Reputation Research in the 1980s and 1990s

Barney ( 1986 ) and Dierickx and Cool ( 1989 ) developed CR theory from a Resource-Based-View (RBV) perspective. Accordingly, CR is used for developing an advantage over competitors, and Hall ( 1992 ) emphasizes that CR can differentiate a company from its competitors. Shielding reputational barriers can hinder competitors’ entry to a market or an industry where an existing company’s reputation is strong. Overall, organizational strategists consider CR a competitive and, thus, strategic asset to distinguish a company from its competitors (Rindova & Fombrun, 1999 ).

DiMaggio and Powell ( 1983 ) and Meyer and Rowan ( 1977 ) use institutional theory to inform their stream of CR research. This influenced the work of Staw and Epstein ( 2000 ) on how CR emerges in organizational interactions. Rindova et al. ( 2005 ) redefined the idea of CR as a social construct derived from the collective awareness and acceptance of an organization in its stakeholder environment. Referring to the theoretical concept of CR, CSR, and stakeholder theory, Mitchell et al. ( 1997 ) mapped out the connection between CR and CSR. Considering these findings, a conceptual basis for empirical studies was formed. The aim was to demonstrate how corporate social performance is linked to different corporate performance indicators, i.e., CR (Brammer & Pavelin, 2006 ; Turban & Greening, 1997 ).

Fombrun and Van Riel ( 1997 ) draw on sociological perspectives and stakeholder theory. They explored the connection between social constructs, such as rankings and reviews, and considered their influence on relationships between organizations and their stakeholders. Granovetter ( 1985 ) and White ( 1981 ) point out how social rankings and reviews strongly influence stakeholders’ perceptions of CR. Thus, CR represents an aggregated assessment of a firm from the perspective of both its stakeholders and their peer groups. Consequently, although CR is difficult to imitate for other companies (Fombrun & Zajac, 1987 ), it essentially is a perception that is largely outside the direct control of the organization.

Analogous School of Thought

The theory of reputation and its definition derives from psychology. The concept of self-identity thus informed the creation of reputation as a research field. Martineau ( 1958 ) defines corporate image as a sum of functional qualities and psychological attributes that exist in the mind of the consumer. This view is mainly influenced by the idea of reputation as a behavioral construct as part of self-identity theory. However, Kennedy ( 1990 ) argues that corporate image is synonymous with CR. Early studies stemming from the Analogous School of Thought focused on the concept of corporate image rather than on CR. The choice of terminology was a child of its time. In the 1960s and 1970s, corporate image research was very fashionable, while the term CR had not yet been established. Rindova ( 1997 ) notes that those authors from the Analogous School of Thought largely have a background in public relations and have, therefore, focused on the concept of corporate image rather than CR. As a result of the research undertaken by this school of thought, many regard the terms corporate image and CR as identical. Hence, ambiguity about the conceptualization of CR persists.

Differentiated School of Thought

Authors from the Differentiated School of Thought consider CR and corporate image as two different but interrelated theoretical concepts. This approach generated two ideas. Firstly, a firm’s reputation is one layer of a corporate image. While, secondly, CR is influenced by multiple images perceived by a company’s stakeholders. Many authors of this school (Bromley, 2001 ; Fombrun, 1996 ; Fombrun & Shanley, 1990 ; Gray & Balmer, 1998 ; Rindova, 1997 ; Saxton, 1998 ) argue that CR reflects a firm’s image over time perceived by its stakeholders. It is shaped by the thoughts and words of its stakeholders. In addition, Fombrun ( 1996 ) suggests that CR is essentially backwards looking, characterized by customers experiences created in the past.

Integrative School of Thought

Authors from this school argue that a bilateral dynamic relationship between a firm's reputation and its projected corporate images build the foundation of a company’s reputation. Thus, CR is not static and needs to be constantly managed with planned, formal, sensitive, and target-oriented communication activities. They define CR as an umbrella construct which includes different layers: corporate image, organizational identity, organizational culture, and stakeholder perceptions of past behavior and action (Cian & Cervai, 2014 ). Thereby, CR is rooted in both internal and external stakeholder groups which are influenced in their perception of CR by the company’s image, identity, culture, and communication activities. However, the conceptualization of CR remains debatable, and Walker ( 2010 ) argues that researchers across disciplines need to be open to new concepts and definitions. The historical development of CR is outlined in Fig.  3 a.

figure 3

Source : Adapted from 1. (Singh & Lumsden, 1 990 ), 2. (Whetten, 1 987 ), 3. (Gotsi & Wilson, 2 001 ). b : Consolidated School of Thought

a School of Thoughts in corporate reputation research history.

Consolidated School of Thought

The integrative school of thought regards CR as the expectation of stakeholders toward the company’s future actions to secure CSR aspects as well as to show true engagement in sustainability along their corporate value chain system. In this sense, CR is not merely backwards oriented—it is rather the trust that stakeholders place in companies when it comes to fulfilling their promises and adhering to the values they communicate. This includes the traceability and transparency of their value chains. Since the late 2000s, climate, environmental, and sustainability factors have increased the pressure for companies to focus more on conservation aspects of their CR. Additionally, Dahlmann and Roehrich ( 2019 ) point out that the engagement of an organization with its partners along its supply chains is crucial for the development of long-term sustainability and to ensure green and sustainable supply chains in the future.

The prevailing view in the contemporary CR literature derives from a focus on end-consumers (Dijkmans et al., 2015 ; Kiessling et al., 2016 ; Quintana-García et al., 2021 ; Walsh et al., 2014 ; Wies et al., 2015 ), which continues to endure (Brønn & Brønn, 2017 ; Camilleri, 2017 ; Walsh et al., 2018 ). It is surprising to see that the end-consumer perspective still serves as a reference point for directing and guiding the reputational debate, given that CR is created, shaped, interpreted, and is meaningful throughout the entire chain of business’s operations (Guo et al., 2020 ; Quintana-García et al., 2021 ).

Consolidated Definition of CR

Definitions providing new insights and contemporary knowledge were coded manually before we entered them into Excel. At first, we searched the entire paper, using our search term, ‘corporate reputation.’ In doing so, we identified the relevant paragraphs in which definitions appeared and read these carefully. In the analysis, we did not work with a pre-defined list of codes that has the risk of losing important information. Rather, two independent researchers coded the definitions stemming from the research papers and compared them. They then ranked the grouped content of the CR definitions according to frequency, identifying the most important and most frequently mentioned terms and incorporating them into the definition. The goal was not to go into as much detail as possible and to characterize the individual underlying foundations of CR, but to look for definitions that had a high degree of similarity with each other and could, thus, be consolidated. Our synthesized definition of CR derives from the 235 coded articles, of which 183 or 77.87% have been incorporated or reflected in the consolidated CR definition proposed in this paper. We, thus, have a solid basis that offers a contemporary definition of CR to provide researchers and practitioners with common ground for conceptualizing CR.

Corporate reputation is a unique, intangible, status-based asset, emerging from the stakeholders’ perception of the firm’s future commitments and how closely it previously acted within the overall expectations of its stakeholders, based on their beliefs and values. This is judged by their evaluation of future commitments and past experience with the company (i.e., prior actions, performance, and behavior). The perception represents the aggregated opinion of the stakeholder community and is co-created by the interplay of organizations, their stakeholders, and the competitive environment.

Bibliometric Mapping—Identifying Key Clusters in the Current CR Literature

In order to identify the most important journals and influential CR authors, as well as to identify the key dimensions of CR, we undertook a bibliometric analysis (Singh & Dhir, 2019 ). This analysis includes a variety of techniques that are used to support a SLR (Fellnhofer, 2019 ; Gurzki & Woisetschlaeger, 2017 ; Samiee & Chabowski, 2012 ; Vogel, 2012 ). Bibliometric visualization is a comprehensive method to identify the most influential authors in a research domain along with the most important topics associated with it (Fellnhofer, 2019 ; Ji et al., 2020 ; Leydesdorff et al., 2016 ; van Eck & Waltman, 2017 ). Small ( 1973 ) introduced co-citation analysis as an effective tool to highlight the interlinkages between different knowledge fields and their underlying intellectual structure. The VOSviewer mapping technique works with co-citation linkages between authors and key words (Meng et al., 2020 ; Van Eck et al., 2010 ). This allows for plotting networks and citation maps to visualize the relationships between diverse topics, publications, authors, or other items of interest.

For defining CR, we worked with our smaller set of 235 articles (Table 1 ). For creating a bibliometric map, however, we wanted to display a more holistic view that displays the connections between networks of CR studies. For the latter, the dataset of 1922 suitable articles was merged into a comma-separated value file (CSV) and imported as tabulated data into Microsoft Excel. In a second step, network maps were generated to visualize the co-citation analysis and highlight the most influential authors in the CR field. We used the visualization program VOSviewer, version 1.6.14 (VOSviewer, accessed on 17.04.2021), to perform this analysis. The input file was used by the VOSviewer algorithm to locate items in a low-dimensional space. This was necessary to define the distance between sets of items as an indicator of their relatedness. Publications are concentrated in the following journals: Corporate Reputation Review, Journal of Marketing, Journal of Business Ethics and Strategic Management Journal (Fig.  4 ). Based on the total number of 1922 publications in high impact journals, CR developed from a niche topic into one that is of general interest. The specialized Corporate Reputation Review is the dominant publication outlet and is placed at the center of the bibliometric map. Its aim is to be the main communication platform for CR research (Fombrun & Van Riel, 1997 ).

figure 4

Bibliometric mapping of journals for the topic corporate reputation (1975–2021)

In the network analysis, a dot represents a journal and dot sizes indicate the volume of publications on the CR topic. The analysis also illustrates the proximity of journals, based on co-referencing frequency. When working with the 1922 publications, we identified the most cited CR authors between 1975 and 2021, grouping authors with fifty or more citations, and plotted co-citation maps (Fig.  5 ).

figure 5

Co-citation map of the research field corporate reputation between 1975 and 2021

The dotted lines demarcate four clusters, each with a center point indicating the leading author. This author has been cited most often by related authors in the cluster space, signaling the lead author’s influence—or contribution—to the work of others. The clusters are clearly distinguishable while still being visually interconnected. The four clusters capture influential researchers in the field of CR and different research directions. The typology can provide researchers with an orientation to the CR topic. Consequently, it can thus help researchers plan their own future investigations.

Cluster 1—Organizational Perspective

Researchers from this cluster connect CR with relationship marketing and CSR (Hildebrand et al., 2011 ). Most publications appeared between the years 2000 and 2015 and their geographical setting is principally Germany, USA, and Australia. Most authors in this cluster come from the fields of marketing and organizational studies. Against this background, the research cluster typically has the customer-company relationship as a dyadic focus and explores how sustainability, social, and ethical aspects influence CR in a diverse stakeholder environment (Bhattacharya et al., 2010 ; Brammer & Pavelin, 2005 , 2006 ; Greening, 1995 ). The research design of papers often follows those employed in organizational theory and organizational psychology (Cable & Turban, 2003 ; Einwiller et al., 2010 ). Consequently, multiple researchers specializing in human resources contribute to this cluster and studies are usually conducted from the perspective of employees (Cable & Turban, 2003 ; Greening & Turban, 2000 ). Surveys, event studies, and experiments are preferred for empirical analysis.

Cluster 2—Empirical Perspective

CR research in Cluster 2 consists of papers mostly by German marketing academics. Research forming this cluster is typically data driven and part of performance marketing (Raithel & Schwaiger, 2015 ). Studies often draw on German or European samples of respondents and companies (Schwaiger et al., 2010 ). Since 2000, the researchers have used Structure Equation Modeling in customer-based reputation research (Schloderer et al., 2014 ) to understand how CR is associated with customer satisfaction, loyalty, and trust (Walsh et al., 2014 ). Researchers from this cluster are also interested in the development and utilization of other regression-based statistical methods in marketing research (Schwaiger, 2004 ; Wilczynski et al., 2009 ).

Cluster 3—Individualistic Perspective

CR researchers in Cluster 3 were most active in the years 2000 to 2010. The majority are UK-based academics, and their research relates to the fields of marketing and consumer behavior. They sought to explain CR with findings from organizational research, drawing on concepts from social identity and corporate branding theories (Balmer, 2008 ; Balmer & Greyser, 2006 ; Melewar, 2003 ). These scholars wrote seminal papers, separating the concepts of corporate identity, corporate image, corporate branding, and CR (Abratt & Kleyn, 2012 ). Increasingly, topics from the field of social media marketing and digital marketing attracted attention, such as a consideration of e-reputation (Chun & Davies, 2001 ). Overall, this cluster focuses on CR as a customer-centric concept (Walsh et al., 2015 ).

Cluster 4—Conceptual Perspective

Cluster 4 is almost exclusively dominated by US-based scholars, active since the 1990s (Abratt & Kleyn, 2012 ; Barney, 1991 ; Deephouse & Carter, 2005 ; Fombrun & Shanley, 1990 ; Fombrun & Van Riel, 1997 ). Articles explore the topic of CR often on a sectoral basis, beginning with the fashion industry and the banking sector (Fombrun, 1995 ; Preece et al., 1995 ). Based on the findings generated from these industries, the first empirical studies attempting to estimate the effects of CR on financial performance emerged in the early 2000s (Barnett et al., 2006 ; Roberts & Dowling, 2002 ). Later, additional dimensions were added such as product and service quality, leadership performance, and CSR (Barnett, 2007 ). The authors in this cluster laid the foundations for CR as a distinctive field of research. They developed measures of CR which have since been adapted and further refined (Fombrun et al., 2000 , 2015 ; Ponzi et al., 2011 ). In terms of theory, most of the initial published research is based on signaling and stakeholder theories (Baumgartner et al., 2020 ), as well as those related to crisis and communication management (Coombs, 2020 ). The table below contrasts and compares the theories applied in the four clusters, listed in order of popularity:

As Table 2 shows, Cluster 1 has a greater CSR focus which we also find in the theories applied. Cluster 2 is almost exclusively concerned with the end-consumer which explains the preference from working with theories stemming predominantly from marketing. Cluster 3 adopts an individualistic perspective and works with the theories that shed light on individual actors and their identities. Cluster 4 typically explores questions around theory development and methods of measurement (Table  2 ).

The Importance of CR in the Supply Chain

As witnessed in the case, the CR of firms in a supply chain is interconnected. Often, suppliers must adjust their own strategies to fit with the business concept (and thus, intended CR) of manufacturers or retailers (Hoejmose et al., 2014 ; Petersen & Lemke, 2015 ; Quintana-García et al., 2021 ). Thereby, CR frames the process of how stakeholders obtain superior value from their supply chain partners.

Within the supply chain context, CR has the potential to strengthen stakeholder attachment and commitment to a corporation. For example, suppliers adjust their behavior and management ethics toward their downstream customers to ensure that they are in the position to make the value proposition for their buyers stronger. Consequently, CR parallels the flow of micro-interactions and exchanges of offerings serve like a tier-to-tier baton that contributes to the competitive advantage of an entire supply chain. When the offering is ‘in use’ (e.g., a tier 1 supplier obtains raw material), a new offering becomes created (e.g., for the manufacturer). At the risk of simplification, Fig.  6 introduces the concept in a generalized supply chain setting.

figure 6

Source : Based on Lemke and Petersen ( 2013 )

Corporate reputation in a simplified supply chain context.

Figure  6 presents a linear input-through-output process of a supply chain, where CR is formed along the supply chain. Resource integration happens at each stage of the chain and the smaller squares on the left symbolize the beginning at the raw material stage. Consequently, CR becomes part of designing a new offering for the next chain member, which becomes larger, more substantial, complete, and tailored toward the needs of the end-consumer market. We indicate this in the form of the increasing ‘competitive advantage’ that all supply chain members co-create.

The analysis of the literature resulted in the identification of twelve dimensions of CR, and Table 3 provides an overview in alphabetical order:

The dimensions of CR displayed in Table 3 represent an additional pillar of CR that must be included in a holistic discussion of CR today. Regarding the dimensions, we further developed an idea of a Consolidated School of Thought from our historical analysis of CR (see Fig.  3 b). This school views CR on a broader canvas—one that is embedded in the stakeholder environment, framed by the dimensions derived from our research. We believe that this understanding must be included in a modern and consolidated version of CR. Thus, a theoretical model should reflect the dimensions of CR to meet the requirements of contemporary and preventive reputation management in the stakeholder environment of any business organization.

We aim to identify the emerging research gaps relevant in the current literature, formulating a CR agenda that can guide future CR research. In doing so, it is critical to identify how important the supply chain topic is for strategic decision making when it comes to CR, especially with all its complexity added by hundreds or even thousands of different chain members, resulting in a global network from which reputational damage can arise very quickly via spillover effects, as the Boohoo case shows. To ensure a sustainable supply chain, all stakeholders of a company will increasingly demand information, transparency, and traceability, seeking greater control. In a chain setting, managing these demands is challenging with IT advancements, such as cloud solutions for mitigating risk during global crises, becoming increasingly prevalent. Specifically, companies are moving applications and parts of their IT infrastructure to the cloud to simplify data management to minimize risks, including reputational risks, along the supply chain (Colicchia et al., 2018 ; Singh, 2021 ). A traceable and transparent information management system is critical, especially when deliveries of important components for production are delayed or not delivered at all (Colicchia et al., 2018 ; Golan et al., 2020 ).

When it comes to information management, transparency and traceability, cyber-attacks can significantly damage and compromise a company’s reputation and, thus, create new risk factors. Similarly, companies along the supply chain can jeopardize CR if they do not perform due diligence or do not comply with the legal regulations that are in place for the enforcement of human rights and sustainability. The primary focus of companies is understandably often on their customers, but given the interlinked nature of CR, they also need to understand their suppliers’ behavior just as well. The pressure on companies to create more transparency regarding the origin of raw materials and the nature of production processes is, therefore, increasingly substantial (Gualandris et al., 2021 ; Mollenkopf et al., 2022 ; Roy, 2021 ).

To capture and manage CR, all stakeholders of a corporate environment should be considered. Looking at the CR concept holistically, it is only possible to manage it along the entire supply chain with all parties actively engaged. The bibliometric mapping shows the multiple fields that connect with CR. It remains, therefore, challenging to capture or explain every detail about the meaning of reputation in a single model. This is particularly important in the supply chain setting, as the Covid-19 pandemic brought to light (Gereffi et al., 2022 ; Panwar et al., 2022 ; Phillips et al., 2022 ), resulting in interdependencies and associated risks of being dependent, when looking at global chains (Alexander et al., 2022 ; Sauer et al., 2022 ; Seuring et al., 2022 ).

Theoretical advancements in CR are needed to offer recommendations for responding to the changing conditions. Those maintaining their CR in the long term will have to do more than ‘communication’ in the future. It will take a great deal of effort, especially in the changing demands on supply chain issues, that requires that all CR dimensions are utilized (see Fig.  3 b).

The figure shows the fourth cycle of the scientific path, and it is, thus, a continuation of the first three modes of thinking, indicated in Fig.  3 a. Overall, the school of thoughts have the stakeholder approach in common, which is the unifying theoretical foundation over the course of time. This becomes particularly noticeable, since the 2000s. Researchers agree that the topic of CR must be covered from a broader stakeholder perspective, which renders a single-dimensional approach insufficient. It is necessary to go a step further and consider a holistic assessment of CR, including not only financial aspects, but also environmental, ethical, social, cultural, legal, and technical dimensions, which we tried to achieve by identifying and exploring the different dimensions of CR (Baldarelli & Gigli, 2014 ; De Castro et al., 2006 ; Singh & Misra, 2021 ). These are currently manifested in the literature and allow for a forward-looking school that consolidates the insights made thus far.

Recommendations for Future CR Research in the Supply Chain Context and Beyond

The research questions listed in Table 4 were extracted from the pool of SLR articles dating from 2018 onwards. In the time span considered, we identified a total of 172 questions for further research. To avoid repetition, we summarized and thematically clustered these into 52 questions. Based on our literature assessment, we added 13 CR questions that are specifically relevant for supply chains, resulting in 65 research questions that await empirical treatment to advance theory. On this basis, the implications for further research were assigned to the clusters identified in the bibliometric mapping (right-hand side of Table 4 ).

We divide the research questions into ten different themes, indicating distinct research directions. The supply chain section, for example, focuses on how CR originates and develops along the chain and, thus, affects the reputation of individual chain members (Manello & Calabrese, 2019 ). In addition, questions arise as to what extent reputational effects result from a crisis in the supply chain and how the CR of other chain members could be affected (Lemke & Petersen, 2018 ; Tannous & Yoon, 2018 ).

Quite visibly, yet surprisingly, CR academic research in a supply chain context is noticeably underrepresented, and specific CR questions in this area are listed in Table 4 (highlighted in gray). Furthermore, we continued with the ranking of questions beginning with the ones that are currently critical to move the field forward and others that are suitable for subsequent exploration. We encourage future researchers to adopt a supply chain perspective in their CR investigations. The chain setting adds complexity, but it is important to recognize the impact that this research stream can make on supply chain theory development and practice.

Researchers from Cluster 1 — Organizational Perspectives note the possibility that the reputation of one company can override that of another (Burke et al., 2018 ; Cooper et al., 2018 ; Park et al., 2020 ). This work recognizes the importance of understanding how to prevent the transfer of a negative reputation during a crisis. In a similar vein, it is also interesting to learn how to make use of a positive reputation of one supply chain partner to add reputational value to others. This requires further study of spillover effects (Lemke & Petersen, 2018 ). While it is recognized that CR spills over from one actor to another, it is not known how this occurs in practice. Some CR dimensions may spill directly, while others can spill in an indirect fashion. Some may not spill at all, as they are heavily tied to a single actor (Petersen & Lemke, 2015 ). Some may spill immediately, while others spill much more slowly. For future research, this raises the questions of which CR dimensions (e.g., innovativeness, working environment, etc.) spill, how far they spill, and what determines the magnitude of the spill. It would be fruitful to explore also which dimensions have the tendency to re-spill from one actor to another and, subsequently, to other actors—like skimming stones on a lake’s surface. Finally, the effect of reputation spills on actors in other supply chains and associated networks is another promising avenue for research.

Within this cluster, organizational authenticity and its influence on corporate purpose as well as CR has been a key area in recent research. One strand of literature seeks to understand the future of work and its influence on organizations (Jiang et al., 2022 ; Valdés et al., 2022 ). According to this line of argumentation, the working environment impacts on the overall attractiveness of a firm and, thus, influences its CR. Adding to this, the influence of social regulation (especially CSR) and its regulatory effect on organizations is regarded as an important area for future research. Specifically, work is warranted regarding how CSR leads to spillovers of reputational risks between chain members and ultimately influences stakeholders’ perceptions. This research cluster also identifies a need to address shortcomings in our understanding of how transformative technologies—such as social media—influence the process of reputational spillovers and reputational damage (Nardella et al., 2022 ). Similarly, the complex role of the state in the formation and evolution of CR is similarly regarded as insufficiently researched. Thus, insights into regulatory efficacy, as well as alternative social regulatory mechanisms effectively shaping CR in the organizational context are called for.

Researchers from Cluster 2 — Empirical Perspective emphasize that the development of reputation in the supply chain warrants further investigation (Karamchandani et al., 2021 ; Mani & Gunasekaran, 2021 ; Nurchayati et al., 2020 ). Specifically, questions arise regarding the impact of crises on CR and on the supply chain (Coombs & Laufer, 2018 ; Gomez-Trujillo et al., 2020 ). In this context, there are also considerations in how far reputational crises affect business partners. Extant research stemming from Cluster 2 recognizes that CR is transmitted throughout a supply chain. However, how such a transfer works and what dimensions of reputation can be transferred remains unclear (Cole & Aitken, 2020 ; Dhingra & Krishnan, 2021 ; Wang & Franke, 2020 ). Hence, research on reputational owners and reputational borrowers is recommended (Petersen & Lemke, 2015 ).

Current research from this cluster deals mostly with quantifying the relationship between CSR and CR. It calls for more longitudinal, in-depth assessments (McWilliams et al., 2019 ). A broader range of methods, including ethnomethodological ones and experiments are needed to provide better evidence of causality, and overcome the limitations of cross-sectional survey-based research. Regarding topic focus, this cluster does not pay particular attention to the supply chain context but perceives a need for greater research regarding how to defend and enhance CR in a digital environment (Ertz et al., 2022 ; Syed Alwi et al., 2020 ). This involves testing whether digitization is inevitably accompanied by greater customer integration, making the customer an even more integral part of the formation of CR (Morgeson III et al., 2020 ; Schaarschmidt et al., 2021 ). For instance, in a social media environment, do company’s customers become more visible, so that its CR becomes more dependent on how others perceive their customers?

Research from Cluster 3 — Individualistic Perspective considers the impact of reputational crises on a company’s market offering and the value co-creation process. Here, researchers call for further attention to be paid to risk management strategies (Arora et al., 2021 ; Dhingra & Krishnan, 2020; Pérez-Cornejo et al., 2019 ). Specifically, this should involve preventing reputation loss and restoring lost reputation in a context where supply chains are becoming increasingly complex, globalized, and highly digitalized (Lemke & Petersen, 2018 ; Quintana-García et al., 2021 ; Rajagopal et al., 2021 ; Walsh et al., 2015 ). Communication styles, company actions, and strategies in such a context also warrant further research (Ajayi & Mmutle, 2021 ; Busse et al., 2017 ; Ingenhoff et al., 2018 ; Singh & Misra, 2021 ). A blind spot in the assessed literature is the lack of studies considering CR in a multinational context, along truly global supply chains (Abugre & Anlesinya, 2020 ; Aguilera-Caracuel et al., 2017 ; Swoboda & Hirschmann, 2017 ). An accurate examination of the influence of cultural dimensions on the generation and transfer of CR is warranted (Swoboda & Hirschmann, 2017 ). For instance, the effects of cultural dimensions could be conceptualized and measured based on cultural dimension theory and cultural context theory (Hofstede, 1980 ).

Recent research within Cluster 3 focuses on the impact of corporate marketing on corporate brand orientation, corporate brand image, and corporate brand reputation as well as on organization’s stakeholders (Balmer & Podnar, 2021 ; Melewar et al., 2021 ). This assesses the degree to which, and how best, a corporation can control its image. Part of this research agenda addresses the importance of integration of communications across a corporation (Chun et al., 2019 ) and its supply chain. It identifies that further research regarding the influence of departmental reputation or a single employee’s actions on overall CR is warranted (Brown et al., 2022 ). For instance, if an employee commits a crime or behaves antisocially, what is the effect on CR? Consequently, the relationships between CR and stakeholders’ individual reputations should be investigated further. Finally, research on the role of social media on an individual’s perception of a corporation’s reputation remains limited and the potential mechanisms explaining such relationships are poorly understood (Rutter et al., 2021 ).

Authors from Cluster 4 — Conceptual Perspectives rely on financial data. The impact of CR on financial performance is often examined in terms of sales and stock market prices (Fasaei et al., 2018 ; Fombrun et al., 2015 ; Love & Kraatz, 2017 ; Zhelyazkov & Gulati, 2016 ). Moreover, the influence of CR on risk management has increased in importance in the academic literature (del Brío & Lizarzaburu, 2017 ; Eckert, 2017 ), especially in the aftermath of the 2007/08 financial crisis (Fourati & Dammak, 2021 ; Gangi et al., 2020 ; Sethuraman, 2018 ; Shim & Yang, 2016 ; Thakor, 2015 ).

Recent research from authors within Cluster 4 seeks to understand the effect of CR on buyers’ intentions. They identify that CR is of special importance in an e-commerce environment because of the typically trust boosting effects of face-to-face encounters, which are absent in an online setting (Fombrun et al., 2022 ). Consequently, in a digital environment, other strategies for augmenting CR should be identified (Fombrun et al., 2020 ). In response, many researchers focus on the social and ethical values of the corporation (Bundy et al., 2022 ). As an outcome, researchers call for further research on the topic of responsible leadership and CR, including the impact of social and ecological responsibility on stakeholder perceptions (Freeman & Auster, 2021 ). This dovetails with a need for work on how stakeholders’ judge the sincerity of a corporation’s social and ethical pronouncements.

Stakeholder theory remains at the center of Cluster 4’s research, which continues to address the influence of stakeholders on the overall reputation of a company (Baah et al., 2021 ; Barnett & Leih, 2018 ; Fombrun et al., 2015 ; Ghadge et al., 2020 ; Waldner & Willems, 2020 ). From this perspective, future research should investigate the level of influence individual stakeholder groups have on a company’s reputation. Furthermore, the question of suitable methods and metrics for CR remains a key consideration. It is recommended to continue researching the composite elements of CR to determine how stakeholders and supply chain partners affect the company’s reputation (Baah et al., 2020 , 2021 ; Fombrun et al., 2015 ; Walsh et al., 2015 ). Stakeholder-based perspectives should recognize the growing importance of online and social media environments. Specifically, studies should seek to understand social media’s role in the context of CR formation (Dijkmans et al., 2015 ; Hartmann, 2021 ; Ott & Theunissen, 2015 ; Waldner & Willems, 2020 ; Zheng et al., 2018 ). To date, the literature on this remains nascent with only a few articles directly considering the influence of digital media on the development of CR (Mingione & Abratt, 2020 ; Schaarschmidt & Walsh, 2020 ). Key questions for further research include how communication channels affect the nature of information exchange between stakeholders (Gomez-Trujillo et al., 2020 ; Quintana-García et al., 2021 ; Syed Alwi et al., 2020 ) and how the nature of the media affects the degree to which CR is transferred from one supply chain partner to another (Azadegan et al., 2020 ; Hartmann, 2021 ; Mihardjo et al., 2020 ).

The four clusters show substantial room for further exploration. However, none of the clusters directly addresses sustainability aspects. In the SLR, we recognize the lack of attention placed on topics such as green, responsible, and sustainable supply chains, when it comes to the CR debate. This is a vital area for exploration. Consequently, future research should understand the effects of CR on corporations’ sustainability actions and their responsiveness to societal developments. This could include an assessment of how CR activities differ in international versus national supply chains and how CR affects assessments of whether a particular supply chain is regarded as sustainable or not.

Practical Implications

In the SLR, the impact that others have on CR is particularly noticeable in the supply chain context. Managers should understand and use reputational mechanisms to their advantage. Either their company has built up a certain reputation and can spread reputational dimensions to others or they are in the position of the reputational borrower, that benefits from or is damaged by reputational triggers (e.g., offer, communication, action) of others (Lemke & Petersen, 2018 ). Managers also must pay attention to the ‘ones that care.’ These stakeholders are reputational reflectors (e.g., customers), whose awareness and relevance cause spillovers to occur. Relationships with these stakeholders should be managed well, so that spillovers can be controlled to a greater extent.

Companies can no longer manage supply chains like in the pre-COVID-19 era. Transparency, sustainability, and security of supply are essential for mitigating reputational risks along the supply chain (Gereffi et al., 2022 ; Phillips et al., 2022 ; Seuring et al., 2022 ). Transparency must also exist when it comes to information flows, as clear and direct communication, as a reputational trigger, is a fundamental part of reputation management within supply chains (Lemke & Petersen, 2013 ; Panwar et al., 2022 ).

Finally, managers should carefully consider the importance of sustainability criteria and social standards as part of CR because modern customers are increasingly critical and less forgiving (Yang et al., 2021 ). SCM is currently troubled by a lack of visibility throughout extended supply chains, as corporations often have complex supplier networks operating at multiple tiers (Panwar et al., 2022 ). Consequently, to minimize reputational risks, it could be useful integrating advanced information technologies to significantly improve visibility and, thereby, become more responsive to major disruption and variability within supply chains (Phillips et al., 2022 ; Sauer et al., 2022 ).


While this paper provides a research agenda for future CR topics, based on a SLR, we acknowledge that this study has several limitations. We explored the topic of CR from a business perspective which might be a limitation of this paper. Aguinis et al. ( 2022 ) recently suggested to integrate more practitioner insights into academic research, which is also supported by other scholars (Schön, 1995 ; Stokes, 1997 ; Thompson & Thompson, 2008 ). With respect to our review, we excluded non-peer-reviewed publications such as books, conference papers, white and gray literature as well as non-English publications. Including papers published in only ABS 2 to 4* ranked journals also limited the scope but maintained a focus on the research frontier. We did not specifically capture the broader societal themes (macro) that are relevant, regarding political, technological, environmental, and economic global debates. In our SLR, we identified the most popular theories applied in the four research clusters. We did not capture how studies relate to each other and the methods they used for their investigations in great depth. More fine-grained work understanding the dynamics of each cluster is warranted.

CR is an important concept, affecting value creation and destruction along supply chains. Whereas early work on value co-creation focused on seller-customer dyads, this article introduces and advocates a supply chain perspective. This recognizes the potential for reputational spillover effects in a supply chain, as witnessed in the case of (Levitt, 2020 ), and recently proposed legislative changes that widen the remit of due diligence to include supply chain partners (Australian Government, 2018 ; European Parliament, 2021 ; UK Parliament, 2015 ). Consequently, CR should be studied within a holistic SCM context. However, as demonstrated by the SLR, a supply chain perspective is typically lacking within the CR literature while the supply chain literature falls short on its treatment of CR.

In addition to CR, we acknowledge that other intangible assets are strongly relevant in a supply chain context too, such as relational capital, collaboration skills, and network capabilities, among others. It is important to differentiate intangible assets in a supply chain context, study their connections as well as their effects on the supply chain. However, we firstly need to provide foundational research on CR before investigating the interplay between different intangible assets in a SCM context. This paper, thus, represents a starting point for further research on CR and its connection with SCM and potential reputational risks. The latter includes reputational spillovers. It is an attempt to rectify an existing bias and provide a basis for future studies in this vital area. For this purpose, the SLR allows us to define CR more comprehensively and the subsequent bibliometric mapping provides strategic research directions that are rooted in four literature clusters. Based on the analysis, we identify and map out future directions for the academic study of CR with a supply chain focus, linked to recent articles in each of the four CR research clusters. We hope that our assessment will motivate researchers to consider how CR is created, maintained, and destroyed in a wider supply chain context.

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Department of Marketing, Innovation and Organisation, Ghent University, Tweekerkenstraat 2, 9000, Ghent, Belgium

David von Berlepsch

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Department of Marketing, Newcastle University Business School, 5 Barrack Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 4SE, UK

Matthew Gorton

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von Berlepsch, D., Lemke, F. & Gorton, M. The Importance of Corporate Reputation for Sustainable Supply Chains: A Systematic Literature Review, Bibliometric Mapping, and Research Agenda. J Bus Ethics (2022).

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Sustainable Supply Chain Management: A Literature Review and Implications for Future Research

Sustainable Supply Chain Management: A Literature Review and Implications for Future Research

2. insights from previous literature reviews.

The successful implementation of sustainability practices is a challenging task for any organisation and hence to develop a better understanding of the issues related to sustainability implementation, a systematic literature review based on a hybrid model of meta-analysis and content analysis is proposed in this paper. There have been several review papers published in SSCM area and these review papers are only partially explaining the research methodology issues in SSCM and only a few papers explain the different models and methods used for SSCM analysis.

Rajeev et al. (2017) have studied the evolution of sustainability through the analysis of 1068 peer reviewed journal papers published during the period 2000 – 2015. The researchers have also presented a detailed study on 190 papers which cover the three pillars (economic, environmental and social) of sustainability. The researchers have concluded that the research papers covering all the three pillars of sustainability and social dimensions are very less in number and industry specific studies are required to tackle the sustainability issues especially in emerging economies.

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