CHANGES OVER GEOGRAPHY
Owing to both our new survey translations and a coordinated multilingual outreach effort, we were able to reach more of the world this year than ever before. Reaching more respondents from more countries afforded us enough responses from the regions of North America, Europe, Latin America & the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia to make viable statistical comparisons.
Globally, the comparison of firms’ sustainability goals with their investments revealed a surprising and consistent geographical pattern. We compared the distribution of Likert scale responses from respondents representing firms headquartered in North America, Europe, Latin America & the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia for each of the 10 sustainability dimensions and each of the 10 pressure sources (see Appendix C). First, we looked for differences in responses from each of the five regions. We then compared regions against one another where global differences were observed. When global differences were detected, we tested again, but this time comparing the Global North (broadly speaking, North America and Europe) to the Global South; (Latin America & the Caribbean, Africa, and most of Asia).*
In terms of supply chain sustainability goals and investments, the Global North versus Global South aggregation was a frequently statistically significant grouping. Below, Figures 9–12 show where we saw differences between the Global North and Global South. Colored bars indicate statistically different distributions, while the blue, annotated lines indicates the average score for those dimensions in the Global North and South, respectively.
Figures 9 and 10 highlight where goals were significantly different across the the Global Noth and South. Respondents from firms headquartered in the Global North showed higher mean Likert scores among climate change, energy conservation, employee welfare and safety, and fair pay/fair trade, indicating a higher prioritization of these issues among firms headquartered in that part of the world.
Figure 9: Environmental SCS goals in the Global North and Global South (n ≈ 800)
Figure 10: Social SCS goals in the Global North and Global South (n ≈ 800)
Figures 11 and 12 highlight where investments were different across the Global North and South, showing almost precisely the opposite pattern. In this case, the dimensions that were not significant when comparing goals are significant when comparing investment. These include water conservation, supply chain circularity, natural resource conservation, human rights protection, and supplier DEI. And in each of these cases, the mean score from respondents representing firms headquartered in the Global South is higher.
We can infer from our own data only a bit about what accounts for the differences discovered here. First, recall from Figure 4 that firm size is an important factor in commitment to supply chain sustainability, and average firm size tends to differ by region. For instance, 63% of Latin American respondents came from small firms. Notably, however, our responses from Asia and Africa show firm sizes more similar to those in Europe and North America, but goals and investments more aligned with those of Latin America & the Caribbean. Second, although we did not observe much difference in Latin American & Caribbean respondents’ rankings of governmental pressure compared to the rest of the world (see Appendix C), our executive interviews did yield some insights. Said one Spanish-language interviewee, “From the point of view of Latin American markets, consumers are less demanding than in other developed economies.”
Other explanations are possible, but not traceable with our data. These possible explanations include (1) the relative supply chain positions (upstream versus downstream) of firms in the Global North compared to those in the Global South, (2) the legacy of international development efforts that international relations scholars observe, similarly divides the world between the Global North and Global South along the Brandt Line; or (3) other hypotheses that we hope that our documentation of this phenomenon inspires.
Ultimately, the differences observed here seem to further support the motivating premise of this research: that supply chain sustainability means many different things to different people. In light of that, we would advise supply chain mangers, who frequently work across international borders with both vendors and customers, to be aware of where local prioritizations and investments might differ from their own.
Figure 11: Environmental SCS investments in the Global North and Global South (n ≈ 800)
Figure 12: Social SCS investments in the Global North and Global South (n ≈ 800)
The traditional definition of the Global North and Global South is based on the Brandt Line, developed by West German Chancellor Willy Brandt in 1980. In this definition based on GDP per capita, the world is divided roughly along a latitude of 30º north. The wealthier Global North includes the United States and Canada, Europe, the former Soviet Union, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. The comparatively more disadvantaged Global South, by contrast, includes Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia minus Japan, and Oceania minus Australia and New Zealand.
This grouping has been used to highlight the very different standards of living and wealth between these two regions of the world. The terminology is similar to the global division between “developed” and “developing” countries or the “Third World”, though use of this terminology has been declining in favor of the Global North and Global South.
(For a more detailed explanation of this definition as well as the validity of the Brandt Line more than 40 years after it was first developed, see Nicholas Lees, “The Brandt Line after Forty Years: The More North–South Relations Change, the More They Stay the Same?,” Review of International Studies 47, no. 1 (January 2021): 85–106).