Doughnut theory and sustainable supply chains

Supply Chains’ Failure in Workers’ Rights with Regards to the SDG Compass: A Doughnut Theory Perspective

As a lecturer and researcher in social sustainability in the supply chain context, people (workers in the supply chain) are always more important for me than the products they produce. This is while the supply chain management research has always focused more on the hard side i.e. logistics, products, supply chain themselves rather than workers who make those products. Only recently, there are more research on social sustainability in the supply chains.  Supply chain researchers have started to investigate issues such as workers’ rights, modern slavery and child slavery in their whole supply chains. The focus, therefore, gradually is being taken away from the points of consumption i.e. Western countries and the parent firms, and is being allocated to points of production i.e. last tier suppliers and those workers who  at the upstream of the supply chains are actually making those products in many countries under hard and unfair circumstances. 
My other concern is that supply chains and parent firms are usually very reluctant to discuss social sustainability in their supply chains and open it up with researchers or other stakeholders. Well, in the capitalistic world, what is important is reputation management, price share and benefits. Therefore, doing empirical research to investigate how supply chains really are addressing social sustainability issues specifically related to the workers’ rights, modern slavery and child slavery is not easy. My conclusion is that supply chains are prioritising environmental sustainability to social sustainable as it is a hot trend without threatening their reputation.
On the other side we have SDGS which infer many social and environmental aspects of the sustainability in the supply chains. However, all cases listed in this paper, many leaked from the news and not detected or reported by the supply chains are giving us evidence that even the international efforts such as SDGs have been remained without real impact.
In this paper, therefore, we provide a way to understand why supply chains fail to overcome the violation of workers’ rights by mapping the UN SDGs onto the social foundations of the doughnut model, with respect to workers’ rights in supply chains. We develop the sustainable supply chain doughnut model with regards to the SDGs, through which we investigate workers’ rights violations. Examples from both UK-based and world-wide supply chains illustrates our conceptual model. Supply chains have shortfalls in all aspects of the social foundation when it comes to workers as one of their main stakeholders. Until supply chains are successful in overcoming shortfalls across all elements of the social foundation, moving to the next layer of the doughnut framework is impossible, which is the safe and just space for all humans, including workers. This ‘safe and just space’ seems out of reach despite international efforts such as the SDGs. The resulting conceptual model can be the foundation for descriptive, instrumental, and normative research on workers’ rights in the supply chain as part of the social sustainability.

I am hoping that in future, we can empirically investigate how supply chains are keeping the balance between social and environmental aspects of sustainability located in the two layers of doughnut model.





    Pritesh Dineschandra Kotecha

    Lisbon, Área Metropolitana de Lisboa, Portugal

    Learn and Grow. I love the systematic approach of your framework. Simple and effective.

    Claira Turvey

    Edinburgh, United Kingdom

    Looking to connect & create life-centric businesses and workplaces that are kind and sustainable for all.


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