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Reading on and between the lines: risk identification in collaborative and adversarial buyer–supplier relationships

Fan, Y and Stevenson, M (2018) Reading on and between the lines: risk identification in collaborative and adversarial buyer–supplier relationships. Supply Chain Management: An International Journal, 23 (4). pp. 351-376. ISSN 1359-8546

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Abstract

Purpose This paper aims to investigate how supply chain risks can be identified in both collaborative and adversarial buyer–supplier relationships (BSRs). Design/methodology/approach This research includes a multiple-case study involving ten Chinese manufacturers with two informants per organisation. Data have been interpreted from a multi-level social capital perspective (i.e. from both an individual and organisational level), supplemented by signalling theory. Findings Buyers use different risk identification strategies or apply the same strategy in different ways according to the BSR type. The impact of organisational social capital on risk identification is contingent upon the degree to which individual social capital is deployed in a way that benefits an individual’s own agenda versus that of the organisation. Signalling theory generally complements social capital theory and helps further understand how buyers can identify risks, especially in adversarial BSRs, e.g. by using indirect signals from suppliers or other supply chain actors to “read between the lines” and anticipate risks. Research limitations/implications Data collection is focussed on China and is from the buyer side only. Future research could explore other contexts and include the supplier perspective. Practical implications The types of relationships that are developed by buyers with their supply chain partners at an organisational and an individual level have implications for risk exposure and how risks can be identified. The multi-level analysis highlights how strategies such as employee rotation and retention can be deployed to support risk identification. Originality/value Much of the extant literature on supply chain risk management is focussed on risk mitigation, whereas risk identification is under-represented. A unique case-based insight is provided into risk identification in different types of BSRs by using a multi-level social capital approach complemented by signalling theory.

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