Managing imbalanced supply chain relationships for sustainability: a power perspective

Anne Touboulic*, Daniel Chicksand, Helen Walker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study adopts a power perspective to investigate sustainable supply chain relationships and specifically uses resource-dependence theory (RDT) to critically analyze buyer-supplier-supplier relationships. Empirical evidence is provided, extending the RDT model in this context. The concept of power relationships is explored through a qualitative study of a multinational company and agricultural growers in the UK food industry that work together to implement sustainable practices. We look at multiple triadic relationships involving a large buyer and its small suppliers to investigate how relative power affects the implementation of sustainable supply-management practices. The study highlights that power as dependence is relevant to understanding compliance in sustainable supply chains and to identifying appropriate relationship-management strategies to build more sustainable supply chains. We show the influences of power on how players manage their relationships and how it affects organizational responses to the implementation of sustainability initiatives. Power notably influences the sharing of sustainability-related risks and value between supply chain partners. From a managerial perspective, the study contributes to developing a better understanding of how power can become an effective way to achieve sustainability goals. This article offers insights into the way in which a large organization works with small and medium size enterprises to implement sustainable practices and shows how power management-that is, the way in which power is used-can support or hinder effective cooperation around sustainability in the supply chain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)577-619
Number of pages43
JournalDecision Sciences
Issue number4
Early online date25 Aug 2014
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2014


  • buyer-supplier relationships
  • case study
  • power
  • sustainability


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