In economies experiencing rapid growth, companies need to ‘aim high’ in their management of accounting and employment practices down the supply chain.Forging relationships with value and meeting labour standards are essential for achieving competitiveness throughout the supply chain and both are the focus of a new ESRC-funded research project from Sheffield University Management School (ESRC Grant reference: ES/K006452/1).The three-year project aims to explore the current role, and future potential, of supply chain accounting in facilitating complementary HR practices and improved labour standards within the automotive and textile industries in Brazil and South Africa. Principal Investigator Professor Pauline Dibben, Associate Dean for Research at Sheffield University Management School, explained: “SCA-Emp [Supply Chain Accounting and Employment Practices] looks at the extent to which companies in the textile and automotive sectors consider employment practices in their accounting. But not just that – it’s whether they work well with their supply chain and understand and engage with them.
“This research will be fascinating, especially since the formal economy is so important in South Africa and Brazil, where many workers do not have formal employment. It will be interesting to see the extent to which organisations keep careful accounts on social issues such as the number of women working and how much they are paid, how many disabled people they employ and how they manage people from different ethnic backgrounds.”
The investigating team includes an international spread of academics from different disciplines to ensure a comprehensive degree of coverage. Professor Dibben is joined on the project by Sheffield University Management School colleagues Professor John Cullen and Professor Phil Johnson, together with Professor Geoffrey Wood from the University of Warwick, Professor Luiz Miranda and Dr Juliana Meira from the Federal University of Pernambuco Brazil, and Dr Debby Bonnin from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Two PhD students, Caroline Linhares and Gareth Crockett, complete the team.
The team draws on expertise in employment relations, supply chain accounting, supply chain management, and research methods, and is supported by a strong advisory board boasting academics and practitioners from three countries, whose knowledge and experience will be highly complementary to the international project. The advisory board includes members of the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) and the Chartered Institute for Management Accountants (CIMA).
Promoting labour standards and influencing change are key aims of SCA-Emp, as well as formulating a project of high academic value and strong research impact. Professor Dibben added: “We want to establish a formula for best-practice – much of the project is about developing a supply chain accounting and employment practices toolkit. It will benefit a number of parties, including academics, since supply chain accounting and employment aren’t brought together in research very often, and the project should therefore contribute toward the development of supply chain accounting and global commodity chain theory. It’s also exciting because we are focusing our research on South Africa and Brazil – two emerging economies. Accountants, CEOs, CFOs, HR specialists and other practitioners should be engaged in the progress and conclusions of SCA-Emp, as well as employment rights lawyers, politicians and practitioners in other emerging economies. However, the workers themselves are perhaps the most important stakeholders.”
The team is keen for the project to help organisations become more aware of what happens in their supply chain. Labour standards are a very topical issue and public awareness is growing due to news coverage of working conditions and fatal incidents in factories all over the world. Professor Dibben wants participating organisations to benefit from being involved in the project. She hopes that from the research, they will learn where they could improve practice further.
The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s total budget for 2012/13 is £205million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes.