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Power asymmetries in supply chains and implications for environmental governance: a study of the beef industry

CSS Publication Number
Full Publication Date
July 3, 2023


Supply chain governance constitutes the rules, structures and institutions that guide supply chains toward various objectives, including environmental sustainability. Previous studies have provided insight into the relationship between governance and sustainability but have overlooked two crucial dimensions: power dynamics and the influence of outside actors. This paper aims to address these two gaps by measuring differential power (i.e. power asymmetries) among actors across the supply chain, including external actors.


This paper quantifies power dynamics across the entire chain through a structured survey in which supply chain participants rank their peer’s ability to affect environmental and social outcomes. This paper tests this approach by surveying 200 industry professionals (e.g. feedlot owners, retailers) and external actors (e.g. NGOs) in the US beef sector.


Respondents ranked the most powerful actors as follows: feedlot owners; processing plant owners; and regulatory agencies. Results also revealed that trade associations, retailers and cow–calf producers and ranchers perceive a sense of powerlessness. This study reveals multiple power nodes and confirms a shift in the power structure depending on which indicator respondents considered (e.g. environmental impacts vs employee safety). This study concludes that the buyer–producer dichotomy often used to assess supply chain governance fails to capture the complex dynamics among actors within supply chains.


This study demonstrates a novel approach to measure perceptions of power in supply chains. This method enables researchers to map networks of power across entire supply chains, including internal and external actors, to advance understanding of supply chain governance dynamics. Previous studies have misidentified who governs environmental outcomes in supply chains, and NGOs have overestimated the power of consumers and retailers to influence producers.

Sanaz Chamanara (Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California, Santa Barbara, California, USA)
Research Areas
Food Systems and Consumer Products
Food & Agriculture

Power asymmetry

Supply chain governance

Supply chains



Corporate social responsibility 

Environmental governance

Publication Type
Journal Article
Digital Object Identifier
Full Citation

Chamanara, S., Goldstein, B.P. and Newell, J.P. (2023), "Power asymmetries in supply chains and implications for environmental governance: a study of the beef industry", Supply Chain Management, Vol. 28 No. 5, pp. 923-938. CSS23-10