Supply Chain Transparency: Opportunities, Challenges and Risks
Prof. Fu (Jeff) Jia, University of York, UK
Prof. Stefan Seuring, University of Kassel, Germany
Prof. Lujie Chen, Xi’an Jiaotong Liverpool University, China
Prof. Jury Gualandris , Western University, Canada
Prof. Arash Azadegan, Rutgers Business School, US
Supply chain transparency is the practice of disclosing detailed and accurate information about products and supply chain operations to the public (Chen et al., 2015b; Swift et al., 2019; Gualandris et al., 2021). In the existing literature, some concepts such as visibility, traceability, disclosure, and openness are often used as near-synonyms of supply chain transparency (Montecchi et al., 2021). Traditionally, material data and information are collected by focal firms, defined as large organizations that are held accountable for the performance of the entire supply chain by customers, activists, and investors (Hartmann and Moeller, 2014; Yawar and Seuring, 2017), and disclosed in annual reports, sustainability reports, press releases, and via third-party websites (Sodhi and Tang, 2019; Jia et al., 2020; Jiang et al., 2020). Supply chain transparency provide insights about orders, forecasts and provenance of products (Akkermans et al., 2004); customer expected norms (Sodhi and Tang, 2019); supply chain cost (Sinha, 2000); carbon emission (Eccles and Klimenko, 2019); and production processes (Garcia-Torres et al., 2019)
It is acknowledged that more companies than ever before are disclosing information about their products and supply chains to external stakeholders (Montecchi et al., 2021; Yang et al., 2021). One primary source of motivation is the regulatory pressure (Marshall et al., 2016) since many authorities have promulgated relevant laws and regulations that force companies to provide more transparency into their operations and supply chain management (Chen et al., 2015a; Gualandris et al., 2021). Another reason is that it can be advantageous for focal companies to disclose their supply chain information to consumers, investors, NGOs, monitoring agencies, and other external stakeholders (Chen et al., 2019; Longoni and Cagliano, 2018; Villena and Dhanorkar, 2020). For example, proactive disclosure may help a company build public trust and generates word-of-mouth marketing, leading to higher sales volume (Chen et al., 2017; Sodhi and Tang, 2019); some studies also highlight the role of transparency (e.g., ESG reporting) in helping companies gain political legitimacy, seeking state resources, and containing its reputational damages (de Fine Licht et al., 2014; Wu and Jia, 2018; Zhao, 2012). Overall, an increasing number of companies are leveraging information disclosure as a potential opportunity to gain more benefits.
However, seeking supply chain transparency can also be challenging and risky, despite these potential benefits. The major issue is that organizations find it difficult, time-consuming, and costly to collect accurate data from thousands of contractual ties with supply chain members and disclose comprehensive information (Foerstl et al., 2015; Shao et al., 2018), leading to much confusion and operational complexity (Montecchi et al., 2021). For example, according to Nimbalker et al. (2013), many focal firms argue that they have limited supply chain visibility beyond Tier-1 suppliers since they have a significant number of suppliers being spread all over the world. Moreover, there is also research indicating that as companies started to collect supply chain information (e.g., carbon emission data), they had to substantially shift the content and nature of the disclosed information (Blanco, 2021), which makes supply chain disclosure more challenging. Besides, although the emergence of some digital technologies (e.g., Internet of Things and Blockchain) are expected to improve companies’ capabilities for information traceability and sharing (Montecchi et al., 2021), the companies still face some technical barriers and high implementation and integration cost (Sunny et al., 2020; Gligor et al., 2022).
In addition, some studies also highlighted the potential risks of pursuing supply chain transparency. Traditionally, to protect competitive advantages, companies tend to hide some operations and supply chain information, such as R&D and intellectual property, production cost and quality, supplier base and delivery speed (Montecchi et al., 2021; Sodhi and Tang, 2019). Thus, participating in information disclosure makes it harder for companies to protect some sensitive information, for example, the Tier-1 supplier base, which may reveal the sources of their competitive advantages or supply chain vulnerabilities (Hastig and Sodhi, 2020; Li et al., 2022; van Hoek, 2019). Also, potential risks are derived from the nature and materiality of supply chain information. Specifically, only providing positive information while deliberately omitting negative news could make the company legally liable to potential investors (Chen et al., 2015b; Macready et al., 2020). While disclosing supply chains’ environmental and social performance fully and truthfully may result in negative responses of consumers, governments, and investors, leading to poorer reputation and market value (Gardner et al., 2019; Gualandris et al., 2015). Some studies also argue that supply chain disclosure may attract unwanted attention and accusation hypocrisy (Marquis et al., 2016). Due to these concerns, some companies are still hesitant to disclose supply chain information or make a public disclosure in a symbolic way.
Research Gaps, Motivations and Intended Contributions
However, despite an increase in supply chain transparency related literature over the past decade, it is still under-researched and lacks sufficient practical and theoretical implications, compared with other topics in operations and supply chain management (Montecchi et al., 2021; Sodhi and Tang, 2019). Against this backdrop, it is imperative and critical to help organizations realise better the values and benefits of supply chain transparency, as well as to provide more practical implications for mitigating potential challenges and improving operational performances effectively.
Besides, most existing literature investigating transparency-related issues focuses on specific firms rather than the whole supply chain. For example, Zhang et al. (2021) examine the relationships between supplier dependence and manufacturing firms’ CSR performance; Bellamy et al. (2020) identify the impacts of supply network structure on manufacturers’ environmental disclosure. However, as the scope of supply chain transparency has expanded beyond the focal firm and its direct (i.e., Tier-1) suppliers and customers to include multiple supply chain tiers (Chen et al., 2019; Gong et al., 2018), it is necessary to study transparency by regarding the supply chain as a whole and provide more insights in this complicated and extended context (Nath & Eweje, 2021; Sodhi and Tang, 2019). For instance, Gualandris et al. (2021) provide large-scale empirical evidence on the role of supply chain structure in influencing supply chain transparency. However, due to the time consuming and analytically complex nature, there are still few papers having researched supply chain transparency from this comprehensive perspective yet.
In addition, the role of emerging technologies in enabling supply chain transparency has been underplayed in current literature. Industry 4.0 is happening now and describes the trend toward automation and data exchange in production and operational processes (Hofmann et al., 2019), which include Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), big data analytics, etc. These emerging technologies are changing how supply chains can be designed, operated and managed, but their impacts on supply chain transparency are still under-researched. For example, only a few recent studies contribute to this area by exploring the applications of these technologies to improve supply chain visibility and facilitate information sharing within supply chain members (e.g., Sunny et al., 2020). It is not clear how different technologies can be strategically deployed and integrated to reduce search costs, aid the evaluation of authenticity claims and promote public disclosures in a more efficient and effective way (Wang et al., 2019). Therefore, there is also a need to advance more studies on supply chain transparency in the Industry 4.0 era.
Therefore, we argue that the investigation of relevant potential opportunities, challenges and risks should be further strengthened by applying proper operations and supply chain management theories to the supply chain transparency research. Besides, more studies should be conducted in the extended supply chain context rather than focal firms or dyads only, as they may provide some unique implications for testing existing hypotheses as well as developing new theories in the research of supply chain transparency.
Motivated by these considerations, we call for more papers to address these research gaps. By forming a foundation for a collective body of the literature as well as providing more general implications in the area of supply chain transparency, we hope organizations can not only meet the requirements of laws and regulations better, but also improve operational efficiency, guarantee organizational reputations, and eventually ensure the sustainability of the whole supply chain.
This special issue aims to provide more round and rigorous studies to better identify and illustrate any transparency-related opportunity, challenge, and risk emerging in the extended supply chain. We expect this special issue to provide both a solid theoretical basis and robust empirical evidence that make significant contributions to either theory development or practical implementation of the supply chain transparency topic.
In this Special Issue at the International Journal of Operations and Production Management (IJOPM), we will accept both theoretical development and robust empirical research with a clear theoretical and practical contribution. Papers adopting mixed methodology are also welcome. We would also like to see high-quality critical reviews and impact pathway papers, but pure modeling and simulation papers or literature reviews are beyond our consideration.
Potential research topics
Contributions we seek include, but are not limited to, the following topics:
- Drivers, barriers, practices, and performance measurement in achieving transparency objectives in the extended supply chain;
- Collaborations among supply chain partners (e.g., knowledge integration);
- Supply chain transparency as risk management strategies (e.g., supply chain resilience improvement or supply chain vulnerability reduction);
- Determinants of the level and intensity of supply chain information disclosed to internal and external stakeholders;
- Synergies, trade-offs, and conflicts between supply chain transparency and sustainability;
- The application and implementation of information communication technologies designed to support information traceability and achieve supply chain transparency;
- Real world practices and lessons learned from the post COVID-19 and Industry 4.0 era;
- The impacts of governments, NGOs, and other third parties;
- Ethical problems (e.g., greenwash) in data collection and disclosure process.
Submission and review process
The submission process and papers must adhere to the normal author guidelines of the International Journal of Operations and Production Management, which can be found at: https://www.emeraldgrouppublishing.com/journal/ijopm#author-guidelines
Submission must be made via Manuscript Central with clear selection indicating that the submission is for this Special Issue. Papers submitted to the Special Issue will be subjected to the normal thorough double-blind review process.
Submissions open on: 1 May 2023
Submission deadline: 31 August 2023
Final decision outcome by: 1 March 2024
Expected publication date: 1 May 2024
Special Issue Editorial Team
Prof. Fu (Jeff) Jia is Chair Professor of Supply Chain Management at the York Management School, University of York, UK. His research interests include SCR reporting, supply relationship management in a cross-cultural context, supply chain learning and innovation, and sustainable supply management. Prof Jia has an extensive track record of publications in operations and supply chain management journals such as Journal of Operations Management, International Journal of Operations and Production Management, Supply Chain Management: An International Journal, International Journal of Production Economics, Journal of Business Logistics, Journal of Purchasing and Supply Management and International Journal of Logistics Management among others. Prof Jia is Associate Editor and a Guest Editor of (The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Technologies’ Disruption on Operations and Supply Chain Management) of International Journal of Operations and Production Management and Journal of Purchasing and Supply Management (JPSM), sits on the editorial review board of Industrial Marketing Management. He has served as a guest editor for JPSM, Industrial Marketing Management and Technovation,
Prof. Lujie Chen is Senior Associate Professor of Management at International Business School Suzhou, Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, China. She also holds an honorary associate professor position at the University of Liverpool, UK. Her research includes sustainable supply chain management, supply chain transparency, ESG and CSR report investigations, and other related empirical operations and supply chain management research. Her publications have appeared in leading international journals such as Harvard Business Review, International Journal of Operations and Production Management, International Journal of Production Economics, International Journal of Production Research, Industrial Marketing Management, and Journal of Business Research, among others. In addition, she served as a guest editor for special issues for IJOPM, IMM, JBR, Technovation, and IJPE. She seats on the editorial review board of International Journal of Production and Operations Management and other OSCM journals.
Prof. Stefan Seuring is the Professor (Chair) in Supply Chain Management at the Faculty of Business and Economics, University of Kassel, Germany. He is one of the globally leading authors on the topic of supply chain sustainability and CSR reporting but also covers a range of other relevant topics in the OMSCM literature, such as supply chain strategy and digitisation. Stefan has collaborated interdisciplinary in research projects with colleagues from agriculture, engineering and political sciences. In 2016, he was listed among the 27 globally most-influential researchers in logistics and supply chain management by a panel of French Researchers. In 2018, the Web of Science and Clarivate Analytics acknowledged and listed Stefan as a highly cited researcher for cross-field of Economics and Business.
Prof. Jury Gualandris is an Associate Professor of Operations and Sustainability at the Ivey Business School, Western University, Canada. Jury serves as the Director of the Network of Business Sustainability and as an associate director of the Building Sustainable Value Centre at Ivey. Jury’s research and teaching examine how sustainability can be integrated into the structure and functioning of supply chains, and the implications for competitiveness. Jury has received over $400k CAD from research councils and industry partners and published 15 papers in premier journals like the J of Operations Management, Journal of Supply Chain Management and the International Journal of Production and Operations Management. He seats on the editorial review board of these and other top-tier journals. Jury has received awards from several academic associations, including AOM Best Paper Proceedings (2021), Reviewer Service Honorable Mention by Journal of Operations Management (2021), Top 20 Most Read Papers by J of Supply Chain Management (2019), Two Best Paper Awards by IPSERA (2016 and 2012), the 2015 Best Reviewer Award by the J of Purchasing and Supply Management, and the POM Runner-up for Best PhD Proposal Award (2012).
Prof. Arash Azadegan is an Associate Professor of Supply Chain Management at Rutgers Business School, US. He focuses on research related to supply chain disruptions, response and recovery from disruptions and supply chain sustainability. He manages the Supply Chain Disruption Research Laboratory (SCDrl) at the Center for Supply Chain Management at Rurgers. His work is published in the Journal of Operations Management, Production and Operations Management Journal, Journal of Supply Chain Management, R&D Management Journal, Journal of Purchasing and Supply Management and International Journal of Operations and Production Management. He is also currently working on several projects related to disruption recovery and response management practices of supply chains.
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