Uncovering missing links in global value chain research – and implications for corporate social responsibility and international business

Merel Serdijn, Ans Kolk, Luc Fransen
DOI number
#Corporate responsibility and lead firms

Purpose Amidst burgeoning attention for global value chains (GVCs) in international business (IB), this paper aims to identify a clear “missing link” in this literature and discusses implications for research and corporate social responsibility (CSR) policy-making and implementation. Design/methodology/approach The paper combines an overview of relevant literature from different (sub)disciplinary fields, with insights from practitioner and expert interviews and secondary data. Findings Because IB GVC research stems from a focus on lead firms and their producing suppliers, it lacks attention for intermediary actors that may significantly impact the organization of production in general, and firms’ CSR commitments in particular. Import intermediaries are often “hidden” in GVCs. This paper indicates the emergence of GVC parallelism with “frontstage” chains managed by lead firms and increasingly exposed to public scrutiny following calls for transparency and CSR, and “backstage” ones in which buyers and intermediaries operate more opaquely. Practical implications This study points at salient yet little known practices and actors that influence the organization of production and the implementation of CSR policies in various ways, and therefore offers ground for reflection on the design of proper supply chain and CSR policies. Originality/value This study exposes a hitherto neglected category of actors in GVCs and broader IB research and discusses implications, relevance and areas for further investigation. An illustrative example explicates the importance of carefully considering this “missing link”. The study emphasizes the need for further study into ways in which both lead firms and intermediaries deal with contradicting demands of implementing CSR policies and offering competitive prices with short lead times.

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