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Global supply chains, institutional constraints and firm level adaptations: A comparative study of Chinese service outsourcing firms

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)510-535
Number of pages26
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number4
Early online date18 Aug 2017
DateAccepted/In press - 5 May 2017
DateE-pub ahead of print - 18 Aug 2017
DatePublished (current) - 1 Apr 2018


The focus on inter-firm governance relations within global supply chains analysis has left social relations at workplaces as a ‘black box’ and relatively underdiscussed. Through an in-depth, comparative study of two Chinese IT service providers for Japanese clients, this article explores how the work and employment relations in the supplier firm are shaped by the institutional contexts of both the supplier firm and the lead firm as well as by the nature of the global supply chain in which they are located. The article shows how the intersection of global supply chains and local institutional environments creates potential gaps between what is required by the lead firms and what is feasible within the supplier firms. Therefore, managers in the supplier firm have to negotiate ways of managing these expectations in the light of their own institutional constraints and possibilities. We identify three forms of adaptation made by the suppliers that we describe as wholesale adaptation, ceremonial adaptation and minimal adaptation to lead firms’ expectations. We argue that these interactions and forms of adaptation can be extended and explored more generally in global supply chains and provide the basis for a fruitful integration of institutional approaches with global supply chain analysis.

    Research areas

  • comparative case study, global supply chain, institutional analysis, service outsourcing, strategic choice, workplace relations

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    Rights statement: This is the author accepted manuscript (AAM). The final published version (version of record) is available online via Sage at Please refer to any applicable terms of use of the publisher.

    Accepted author manuscript, 393 KB, PDF document


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