Recatechizing codes of practice in supply chain relationships: discourse, identity and otherness

Ellis, Nick and Higgins, Matthew (2006). Recatechizing codes of practice in supply chain relationships: discourse, identity and otherness. Journal of Strategic Marketing, 14(4) pp. 387–410.



Continuing calls by fair trade groups for higher ethical standards in supply chain management present a significant challenge for the marketing/purchasing managers who must make sense of and labour within inter‐organisational relationships. This paper considers the role of Codes of Practice in offering assurance to stakeholders in these relationships. Situating Codes within the discourse of relationship marketing, we analyse claims that the rhetoric and reality of Codes differ and, furthermore, we examine what this alleged gap means for decision‐making by individual managers. Whilst conventional ‘rhetoric and reality’ critiques outline some of the problems with Codes, the solution appears to be a call for a universalised code, improved drafting and policing. Although this dichotomy provides some insight, we believe that a more productive line of enquiry is to view Codes, and the discourses surrounding them, as texts.

The paper's contribution lies in recatechising the roles of Codes of Practice at two levels: conceptually and empirically. The former examination is undertaken by problematising the literature devoted to conventional critiques of Codes. In the latter approach, through an examination of a Code produced by a UK manufacturer and a series of managerial interviews, we move on to explore how Codes may (or may not) assist in shaping the identity and positioning of stakeholders within the supply chain. We conclude by suggesting that Codes represent a discursive site where the idealism of ethics meets the reality of business. Rather than perceiving this as an example of agon, we argue for the need to appreciate the centrality of ambivalence within the lived experience of marketing/purchasing managers. This has implications for the way in which we perceive ‘ethics’ and ‘fairness’ within supply chains and the manner in which we frame our engagements with Codes of Practice. We aim to show how a more subtle understanding of social constructions of managerial identities and ‘the other’ within the language of supply chain ethics may facilitate moves towards strategies of fairer trade.

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