Transparency and sustainability in global commodity supply chains

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Abstract

Over the last few decades rapid advances in processes to collect, monitor, disclose, and disseminate information have contributed towards the development of entirely new modes of sustainability governance for global commodity supply chains. However, there has been very little critical appraisal of the contribution made by different transparency initiatives to sustainability and the ways in which they can (and cannot) influence new governance arrangements. Here we seek to strengthen the theoretical underpinning of research and action on supply chain transparency by addressing four questions: (1) What is meant by supply chain transparency? (2) What is the relevance of supply chain transparency to supply chain sustainability governance? (3) What is the current status of supply chain transparency, and what are the strengths and weaknesses of existing initiatives? and (4) What propositions can be advanced for how transparency can have a positive transformative effect on the governance interventions that seek to strengthen sustainability outcomes? We use examples from agricultural supply chains and the zero-deforestation agenda as a focus of our analysis but draw insights that are relevant to the transparency and sustainability of supply chains in general. We propose a typology to distinguish among types of supply chain information that are needed to support improvements in sustainability governance, and illustrate a number of major shortfalls and systematic biases in existing information systems. We also propose a set of ten propositions that, taken together, serve to expose some of the potential pitfalls and undesirable outcomes that may result from (inevitably) limited or poorly designed transparency systems, whilst offering guidance on some of the ways in which greater transparency can make a more effective, lasting and positive contribution to sustainability.

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Gardner, T. A., Benzie, M., Börner, J., Dawkins, E., Fick, S., Garrett, R., … Wolvekamp, P. (2018). Transparency and sustainability in global commodity supply chains. World Development. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2018.05.025

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