Understanding the Construction of Working Conditions in Small and Medium Sized Enterprises in Developing Countries: The Case of Indian Garment Exporting Firms

Vivek Soundararajan

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Despite the expansion of international trade and advancements in global monitoring systems, poor working conditions remain a serious problem in small and medium sized supplier firms in developing countries. To seek to improve working conditions in these supplier firms, we need, at first, a deeper understanding of what factors construct such conditions. Extensive research has been conducted to understand the reasons behind limited improvements in working conditions in developing country supplier facilities. Nevertheless, most of it adopted a global supply chains perspective and failed to take into account the Small and Medium sized Enterprise (SME) perspective. Therefore, rather than adopting one of these perspectives to the exclusion of the other, this thesis seeks to both theoretically and empirically understand the processes associated with the construction of working conditions in SMEs in developing countries that are part of global supply chains. To execute the research intention, knitwear garment exporting SMEs in Tirupur, India, were selected as the research context. Qualitative data were collected mainly via semi-structured interviews with owner-managers, workers, trade union leaders, buying agents, a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) leader and a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) officer. In addition, supporting data were also collected via non-participant observations, informal conversations and documents for data triangulation. The collected data was then manually analysed using the thematic analysis method. An integrated theoretical framework composed using constructs of institutional theory and organisational sensemaking guided the data analysis. This integrated framework allowed traversing across multiple levels of analysis. Specifically, it aided in understanding the micro processes associated with the construction of working conditions. The empirical findings reveal that the institutional environment in which SMEs are embedded is composed of interconnected, competing, ambiguous and practically impossible to delineate institutional demands providing owner-managers—the primary decision makers—with a platform from which to take part in the construction of working conditions. The findings further reveal that owner-managers in developing countries are resource dependant but not always passive. They interpret and then respond to the institutional demands concerning working conditions in different ways at different points in time; where passive conformance is just one possible response. Through the empirical findings, the thesis contributes to a coherent body of knowledge related to working conditions in SMEs in developing countries that are part of global supply chains. By combining institutional theory with organisational sensemaking in a novel way, the thesis also contributes to the recently growing studies which try to understand how individuals navigate between and respond to competing institutional demands.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Spence, Laura, Supervisor
  • Rees, Chris, Supervisor
Award date1 Jun 2014
Publication statusUnpublished - 2014

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