[We’re pleased to welcome Vivek Soundararajan of Birmingham Business School. Vivek recently published an article in Business & Society entitled “Small Business and Social Irresponsibility in Developing Countries: Working Conditions and ‘Evasion’ Institutional Work” with co-authors Laura J. Spence and Chris Rees of University of London.]
This article is an outcome of my ongoing research about working conditions in developing country supplier facilities. My fieldwork observations in small knitwear exporting facilities located in Tirupur, India shook numerous assumptions drawn largely from a developed country perspective that we usually work with when dealing with small businesses. This prompted me to write this article along with my co-authors Prof. Laura J. Spence and Prof. Chris Rees. A prevailing notion among scholars and policy makers about developing country small suppliers of developed country buyers is that they are resource dependent, powerless and passive. Indeed, small suppliers are resource dependent and may hesitate to retaliate against multinational corporations’ requirements or other institutional demands related to working conditions. But, they do not simply agree with everything or abandon the relationship. They discreetly bypass various institutional demands by engaging in numerous irresponsible business practices which we refer to as ‘evasion work’ – a form of institutional work. In this article, we illustrate numerous ways in which they engage in ‘evasion work’ and the conditions that enable them to engage in such work. We believe that our study highlights the need for a more critical research on the organization of working conditions in small businesses that are part of global supply chains. Our study also adds to the ongoing conversation about the agency of resource-dependent and powerless actors. In terms of practical implications, we emphasize the need for sustainability initiatives tailored to meet the capabilities and characteristics of suppliers in developing countries.
The abstract for the paper:
Small businesses in developing countries, as part of global supply chains, are sometimes assumed to respond in a straightforward manner to institutional demands for improved working conditions. This article problematizes this perspective. Drawing upon extensive qualitative data from Tirupur’s knitwear export industry in India, we highlight owner-managers’ agency in avoiding or circumventing these demands. The small businesses here actively engage in irresponsible business practices and “evasion” institutional work to disrupt institutional demands in three ways: undermining assumptions and values, dissociating consequences, and accumulating autonomy and political strength. This “evasion” work is supported by three conditions: void (in labor welfare mechanisms), distance (from institutional monitors), and contradictions(between value systems). Through detailed empirical findings, the article contributes to research on both small business social responsibility and institutional work.
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Vivek Soundararajan (PhD, Royal Holloway, University of London) is a research fellow at Birmingham Business School, University of Birmingham, United Kingdom and a visiting lecturer at Royal Holloway University of London. His research interests include corporate responsibility, multistakeholder initiatives, labor and environmental standards, sustainable global supply chains, small business responsibility, and emerging country contexts. He has obtained various grants, honors and awards for excellence in research, including two prestigious awards for his doctoral dissertation, namely, “Best Dissertation Award, Social Issues in Management (SIM) Division, the Academy of Management, USA” and “Honourable Mention, Thomas A. Kochan & Stephen R. Sleigh Best Dissertation Competition, Labor and Employment Relations Association (LERA), USA.”
Laura J. Spence (PhD, Brunel University/Buckinghamshire College) is professor of business ethics in the School of Management at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her research includes a wide range of critical approaches to understanding corporate social responsibility and business ethics. In particular, she is known for her work on small- and medium-sized enterprises and the emerging concept of small business social responsibility. Her articles have been published in Accounting, Organizations and Society; Business Ethics Quarterly; California Management Review; and Organization Studies.
Chris Rees (PhD, University of Warwick) is professor of employment relations in the School of Management at Royal Holloway, University of London. His research interests include the sociology of work, employee voice, and transnational and European labor regulation. His work has appeared in journals such as European Journal of Industrial Relations, Human Resource Management Journal, Transfer: European Review of Labour and Research, and Public Management Review.