Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Patrick Fraser Johnson; Robert David Klassen


Over the last two decades, social and environmental issues in supply chains have attracted increased scrutiny and debate. Moreover, managers are realizing that irresponsible behavior by their supply chain partners is negatively projected to their firm, with the potential for causing adverse publicity, reputational damage, and costly legal obligations. In my dissertation, I focus on supplier engagement efforts of firms aimed at encouraging suppliers to behave in a socially responsible manner. More formally, the research question addressed in this study is: How can firms engage their overseas suppliers to behave in a socially responsible manner?

I propose that supplier engagement is a firm-level capability that reflects an organization’s expertise in deploying resources and routines, usually in combination, to achieve desired social performance as an outcome. I argue that supplier engagement stems from stakeholder engagement capability of a firm and consists of four underlying dimensions: cultural astuteness, operational astuteness, communication capability, and social cognizance. I further argue that supplier social engagement (SSE) capability helps create reciprocity of social practices between a firm and that of its suppliers. Furthermore, SSE capability includes the ability to fashion incentive mechanisms that are more likely to ensure positive social performance.

This research followed a two-stage approach. The first stage consisted of semi-structured interviews with industry experts and a systematic review of sustainability reports for a selective sample of firms to develop new measurement scales for the study. Q-sort methodology was employed, augmented by inputs from industry experts, to refine the measurement scales. The second stage of the study consisted of a large-scale survey to validate the study hypotheses. The sampling frame for the second stage comprised of large U.S. firms operating in the manufacturing sector. The data gathered from the large-scale survey was matched to archival performance measures to add validity to the findings of the dissertation. Archival performance data was extracted using the KLD and COMPUSTAT databases.