Special Issue of the Journal of International Business Studies





Multinational firms, Supply Chains, and the Private Governance of Social and Environmental issues



Special Issue Editors:



Deadline for submission: September 1, 2021


Corporate sustainability in international business

Societal expectations for corporations to be more sustainable continue to grow (BCG, 2018). The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified these expectations, because of the visibility of businesses’ role in the urgent health needs of their employees, workers and business partners along their global supply chains (Bain & Company, 2020; BSR, 2020; Gardiner, 2020). Reflective of these developments and their importance across countries, international business (IB) scholars have begun to examine the conditions that facilitate or impede the global diffusion of sustainable practices by multinational corporations (MNCs).[1] Although historically focused on advanced economy multinational corporations (AE-MNCs; Kolk & Lenfant, 2010), this work is increasingly turning to emerging market MNCs (EM-MNCs) (Doh, Husted, & Yang, 2016; Marano, Tashman, & Kostova, 2017).


Most of this research has taken an institutional perspective trying to explain the degree, patterns, and cross-country variation in the adoption of sustainable practices based on firm embeddedness in home and host country institutions (Ioannou & Serafeim, 2012; Surroca, Tribó, & Zahra, 2013). In addition to direct effects, scholars have examined the impact of institutional distance between countries in which MNCs operate as a mediator of the adoption of sustainable practices (Campbell, Eden, & Miller, 2012). Research has also identified several firm-level drivers and consequences of sustainable practice adoption by MNCs (Pisani, Kourula, Kolk, & Meijer, 2017). More recent contributions investigate headquarters-subsidiary dynamics that help explain environmental and social practice adoption patterns among MNCs’ foreign subsidiaries (Asmussen & Fosfuri, 2019; Jacqueminet & Durand, In Press; Moon, Gold, & Chapple, 2020). In most of this work, the focus has been on the transfer and diffusion of sustainable practices through foreign direct investment (FDI) networks in MNCs.


Global supply chains

Much less attention has been directed to firms’ embeddedness in global supply chains and how such embeddedness might shape sustainable practice adoption by focal firms and other actors in those networks. By global supply chains, we refer to the focal firm-specific nexus of inter-firm and intra-firm relationships that span multiple countries and move a product or service from supplier to end customer. Due to their central role, focal firms (which are often MNCs) are increasingly expected to demonstrate accountability for the social and environmental performance of the other actors in their supply chains, including the first- and even second tier suppliers (Parmigiani, Klassen, & Russo, 2011; Kim & Davis, 2016).


IB research on sustainable practice adoption in global supply chains is rather limited. Only recently have some scholars begun to examine these issues as they relate to a range of social and environmental issues and practices, especially those related to labor and human rights (e.g., Marano & Kostova, 2016; Narula, 2019; Wettstein, Giuliani, Santangelo, & Stahl, 2019). Yet, global supply chains are key contexts for understanding MNCs’ ability and motivation to respond to growing global expectations about firms’ social and environmental impact. As a whole, the vertical extension of sustainable practices from MNCs to their global supply chains has not yet been subject to systematic research in IB. This gap is surprising given the evidence that MNCs’ social and environmental impact is not only linked to their FDI but also their sourcing decisions (McKinsey, 2016, 2020). Moreover, a number of countries, including the UK, US, Australia, and France have adopted legal expectations that companies seek to mitigate business and human rights violations along their supply chains and/or report on what steps they have taken to do so. For instance, Section 1502 of the Dodd–Frank Act of 2010, the 2012 Californian Transparency in Supply Chains Act, and the UK Modern Slavery Act require large MNCs to provide consumers with information about the origin of their products and the conditions under which they were produced. This has led to unprecedented pressures for MNCs to vouch for the conformance with ethical standards throughout their global supply chains.


Private governance of CSR

Related to the issues of sustainability in global supply chains, a number of allied disciplines outside IB have recognized that MNCs’ responsibilities extend beyond firm boundaries and have studied the various governance systems associated with sustainable practices in global supply chains. These include business ethics (e.g., Amaeshi, Osuji, & Nnodim, 2008; Egels-Zandén, 2017), corporate governance (e.g., Bondy, Matten, & Moon, 2008), strategy (e.g., Short, Toffel, & Hugill, 2016), supply chain management (e.g., Awaysheh & Klassen, 2010; Tong, Lai, Zhu, Zhao, Chen, & Cheng, 2018), development studies (e.g., Barrientos, Gereffi & Rossi, 2011; Gereffi & Lee, 2016), labor and employment relations (e.g., Anner, 2012; Lakhani, Kuruvilla & Avgar, 2013), political science (e.g., Locke, Amengual, & Mangla, 2009; Berliner & Prakash, 2013), and economic geography (e.g., Mayer & Gereffi, 2010; Nadvi, 2008).


The predominant focus across these diverse disciplines has been on voluntary codes and standards as a form of “private governance” of human and labour rights (e.g., Bartley, 2005) and environmental standards (e.g., Aragon-Correa, Marcus, & Vogel, 2020) that can help constrain and upgrade MNCs’ social and environmental practices across their global operations. A key question has been whether such private standards based on voluntary and non-legally binding regulations – also known as “soft law” (Vogel, 2008) – complement or substitute formal regulations in suppliers’ countries (e.g. Locke, Rissing, & Pal, 2013; Mayer & Gereffi, 2010). These studies have suggested that the relation between private and state governance is complex and does not imply a simple ‘crowding out’ of one by the other (Bartley & Egels‐Zandén, 2015; Bartley, 2015).


Voluntary initiatives have not been without critics. In particular, the effectiveness of certifications and audits as the main governing mode for social and environmental issues in MNCs’ global supply chains is rather limited (e.g., Locke, Amengual, & Mangla, 2009). Some have even suggested that after two decades of industry-led private governance, it seems that voluntary standards have done little to protect the human rights of workers in global supply chains (LeBaron & Rühmkorf, 2017) and reduce corporate environmental impacts (Aragon-Correa et al., 2020). Thus, important questions remain about how MNCs can effectively extend sustainable business practices to their global supply chains and how their subsidiaries, vertical and horizontal business partners, as well as state- and non-state actors should be integrated into this process.


Aims and scope of this special issue

We seek scholarly contributions that can help advance our understanding of MNCs’ social and environmental impacts in the context of global supply chains and identify the main drivers and outcomes of the diffusion of sustainable practices through these networks. We are particularly interested in contributions that can connect IB debates about these issues to ongoing conversations in other disciplines and fields. Given the complex, multi-level, and contextually embedded nature of sustainability in global supply chains, an interdisciplinary approach constitutes a promising next step in developing novel theoretical insights and practical understandings.


We are interested in both quantitative and qualitative approaches and conceptual/theoretical contributions. Possible examples of research topics that would be suitable for inclusion into this Special Issue include (but are not limited to): 











-        Measuring sustainability outcomes in global supply chains: Most empirical work on MNCs’ social and environmental outcomes focuses on the impacts attributable to their HQs and/or subsidiaries. If we expand the boundaries of MNCs’ sustainability beyond the firm to also include their global supply chains’ social and environmental impacts, how can we best assess and measure their outcomes in this area (e.g., Kim & Davis, 2016)?


-        Theoretical integration: How does the diffusion of sustainable practices in global supply chains present new challenges or opportunities to IB theory? How can IB understandings about the global diffusion of social and environmental practices learn from other fields and disciplines that have begun to examine the role of global supply chains in this area?


Workshop and Symposium

To help authors who receive an R&R develop their papers, we intend to organize a paper development workshop in late 2021 or early 2022. Furthermore, we plan to have a symposium at a major conference in 2022 for the final selected papers for publication, aiming to increase their visibility and impact. We encourage multi-disciplinary co-author teams.


Submission Process and Deadlines

All manuscripts will be reviewed as a cohort for this special issue. Manuscripts must be submitted in the window between August 15, 2021 and September 1, 2021 through the regular submission system at All submissions will go through the JIBS regular double-blind review process and follow standard norms and processes. For more information about this call for papers, please contact the Special Issue Editors or the JIBS Managing Editor ([log in to unmask]).



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About the Guest Editors


Sjoerd Beugelsdijk is a Professor of International Business at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. He earned his PhD at Tilburg University and explores how cultural and institutional diversity affect international business. He is currently serving as Reviewing Editor for JIBS. In 2019 he received the JIBS silver medal for his contribution to the field. He is a Fellow of the Academy of International Business.


Jonathan Doh is Associate Dean of Research and Global Engagement, Rammrath Chair in International Business, Co-Faculty Director of the Moran Center for Global Leadership, and Professor of Management at the Villanova School of Business.  He teaches and does research at the intersection of international business, strategic management, and corporate responsibility. Jonathan is author or co-author of more than 80 refereed articles, 35 chapters, a dozen teaching cases and simulations, and eight books. His articles have appeared in AMR, AMP, AMLE, BEQ, JIBS, JOM, JMS, MISQ, OS, and SMJ.  He has been Associate or Consulting Editor of numerous journals and was Editor- in-Chief of Journal of World Business from 2014-2018. In January of 2020, he assumed the position of General Editor for Journal of Management Studies. In 2015 he was elected as a fellow of the Academy of International Business. He holds a Ph.D. in strategic and international management from George Washington University.


Tatiana Kostova is Carolina Distinguished Professor, the Buck Mickel Chair and Professor of International Business at the Darla Moore School of Business, University of South Carolina. Her research focuses on MNE management and includes topics like institutional embeddedness, institutional distance, institutional theory of the MNE, cross-border transfer and adoption of practices in MNEs, legitimacy, agency theory in HQ – subsidiary dyads in MNEs. She is an AIB Fellow and has served as Vice President of AIB, Chair of the IM Division of Academy of Management, and on many editorial boards.


Valentina Marano is an Associate Professor in the Department of International Business and Strategy at the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University. She received her PhD from the University of South Carolina and explores the practice adoption, organizational legitimacy and performance of multinational corporations from both emerging and advanced economies, comparative corporate governance, and corporate social responsibility. Her articles have appeared in journals such as Global Strategy Journal, Journal of Business Ethics, JIBS, Journal of Management, Journal of Management Studies, and Journal of World Business, among others.


Miriam Wilhelm is an Associate Professor in the Department of Global Economics and Management at the University of Groningen. Her research focuses on the dissemination of sustainability in global supply chains, buyer-supplier relations, innovation in supplier networks, and organizational paradoxes. She has published her work in the Journal of Operations Management, Organization Science, Journal of Supply Chain Management, among others.





[1] A common conceptualization of sustainability reflects the “triple bottom line logic,” which implies the simultaneous pursuit of economic, social, and environmental goals (Elkington, 1997). Drawing on these ideas, we define corporate sustainable practices as those firm activities that seek to “meet[s] the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs” (WCED, 1987: 43).


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