Sustainability passion in fashion : Challenges and Opportunities for Small and Medium-sized Swedish Apparel Brands when Working with Corporate Social Responsibility in their Global Supply Chain
Abstract: The overall economic development during the nineteenth and twentieth century has left us with an interconnected global society. However, the pollution does not adhere to the boundaries of nation-states. Therefore, the sustainability issue calls for holistic solutions on all levels of society, from individuals to states, large NGOs, and in particular the companies that produce the goods we consume. Corporate initiatives on this matter are usually referred to as Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR. Many large corporations have been under scrutiny from different stakeholders ever since the early 1990’s and it is no longer possible for them to neglect their responsibility for i.e. pollution or human rights. However, smaller actors do not receive as much attention as their larger competitors, due to lower stakeholder awareness. With this background, this master thesis aims at investigating how small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) within the apparel industry in Sweden perceive their opportunities and challenges when working with CSR in their global supply chain. Thus, the thesis hopes to help bridge a scientific gap, and also connects to Supply Chain Management, SCM. This was accomplished through a literature review that identified and categorized different aspects of the problem. Following this, a multiple-case study with eight different brands was carried out, interviewing representatives from the organizations. The results show, among other things, that for SMEs, top management and/or owner values and commitment are of significant importance. This is in line with the literature. On the other hand, aspects like difficulties with language and cultural barriers were not an issue, contrary to the current academic research on SMEs. This was said to be due to the organizations extensive implementation or use of social capital through long-lasting business relations, which is another characteristic of the SME sector identified by the literature. Existing industry initiatives and cooperation between brands can work, but external help to manage these projects is essential for their success. Available Environmental Management Systems (EMS) on the other hand are often considered too expensive, time-consuming or unknown to end-consumers to be implemented. On the contrary, harsher government regulation and enforcement, both in Sweden as well as in the production countries are advocated. This is particularly noticeable, since generally, private sector representatives tend to be against government regulations.
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