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Partnerships for business & human rights and sustainability in authoritarian context

Published onJun 21, 2023
Partnerships for business & human rights and sustainability in authoritarian context
Chau T.M. Bui¹*, Matthias Fertig¹, Kania Guzaimi¹, Xu Kang¹
¹Friedrich-Alexander-Universität, Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany
*[email protected]

Extended abstract

Partnerships between businesses and civil society organisations (CSOs) to create values for sustainable development and business and human rights (BHR) have become a common practice globally (Austin & Seitanidi, 2012a; Austin & Seitanidi, 2012b; Selsky & Parker, 2005). Such cross-sector partnerships (CSPs) are often described as a hybrid form of organisation in which a market logic (from companies) and a civil society logic (from CSOs) are combined (Battilana et al., 2017; Vurro et al., 2010). Thereby, the effective management of the intersection of multiple institutional logics is essential for the success of CSPs (Greenwood et al., 2011; Pache & Santos, 2013).

Mutual dependencies and power imbalances between organisations in CSPs have been found to moderate the (in-)compatibility between logics of partners in CSPs (Ashraf et al., 2017; Casciaro & Piskorski, 2005). Given these interdependencies and the hybridity of partnerships, a growing body of research has examined alliance management capabilities (AMCs), i.e. the resources and dynamic capabilities that both companies and CSOs require to successfully engage in CSPs (Al-Tabbaa et al., 2019; da Cunha et al., 2020). Existing studies on dynamic capabilities for CSPs tend to focus either on the corporate (e.g. Dentoni et al., 2016; Wojcik et al., 2022) or the CSO perspectives (e.g. Al-Tabbaa et al., 2019; Bai & Wei, 2019). However, there is a lack of research on how the AMCs of companies and CSOs are interrelated and how the functioning of CSPs might be shaped through the different sets of AMCs that companies and CSOs apply in the partnership.

Moreover, even though the existing literature acknowledges that AMCs and dynamic capabilities for sustainability are highly context-dependent (Al-Tabbaa et al., 2019; Buzzao & Rizzi, 2020; Wojcik et al., 2022), few papers address the context in which such partnerships take place (Al-Tabbaa et al., 2019; Vurro et al., 2010; Wojcik et al., 2022). The political embeddedness of organisations in CSPs has not been thoroughly examined in previous studies. One constitutive element of the context is the political environment in which CSPs are embedded. Only few studies engaged in the discussion about the political complexity in which CSPs are formed and maintained. Some examined the political embeddedness (Chen et al., 2022) or types of institutional work (Yin & Jamali, 2021) that the organisations in a CSP constructed in the given complex political context where the state plays a crucial role to ensure the success of the partnership. But we hardly found any literature discussing the AMCs businesses and CSOs employed to partner in authoritarian context.

Thus, we would like to address this research gap by addressing the following research question:

How do partnerships for human rights and sustainability between the business sector and civil society organisations leverage alliance management capabilities to operate in authoritarian contexts?

Figure 1: (Preliminary) model reflecting different institutional logics and alliance management capabilities

By answering this research question, we aim to add to the literature on institutional complexity by answering calls for research focusing on more than two institutional logics (Pache & Santos, 2013). Whereas previous literature has identified dynamic capabilities to manage the hybridity inherent to CSPs (market vs. civil society logics; see Al-Tabbaa et al., 2019; Ashraf et al., 2017; Wocjik et al., 2022), we will add a third institutional logic which is the state logic (Sallai & Schnyder, 2021; Yin & Jamali, 2021). In this way, we would like to broaden the existing literature on dynamic capabilities for sustainability by examining whether and which AMCs companies and CSOs develop and deploy to cope with varying political contexts when they engage in CSPs. Thereby, we will also examine the interrelationship between the different sets of capabilities of companies and CSOs to understand the dynamics between different types of capabilities.


By answering calls for more qualitative studies on dynamic capabilities (Amui et al., 2017; da Cunha et al., 2020), we will make use of a case study approach (Langley & Abdullah, 2011; Yin et al., 2018). We will conduct case studies on CSPs between businesses and civil societies focusing on sustainability in China and Vietnam. In this way, we will examine the contexts of two authoritarian states. Thereby, we follow an abductive research design which allows us to combine and integrate the insights from the literature streams on institutional logic and dynamic capabilities related to cross-sector partnerships early in the research process by constantly iterating between our preliminary theoretical framework and our empirical findings (Dubois & Gadde, 2002; Ketokivi & Choi, 2014).

Data collection

The selection of cases will follow a theoretical sampling approach (Foley et al., 2021) based on the Collaborative Value Creation (CVC) framework (Austin & Seitanidi, 2012a; Austin & Seitanidi, 2012b). To ensure the comparability of cases, the CVC framework can help us to guarantee the CSP cases we select are comparable by identifying the different stage/level of CSPs. It also allows for a categorisation of different partnership types. The collection of data will mainly be through interviews, following a semi-structured interview guideline (Yin et al., 2018). Meanwhile, data triangulation is also considered by collecting data from archives, documentation, and direct observations.

Data analysis

Following the abductive approach of our case study, we will constantly iterate between data collection and the analysis of data (Ketokivi & Choi, 2014). The data analysis will be supported by the qualitative data analysis software MAXQDA. By coding the collected data and constantly comparing our findings with literature, we will develop constructs and patterns in a constant iteration between our preliminary theoretical framework and the empirical phenomenon. We aim at providing an explanation of the phenomenon by developing a typology or a model on AMCs for partnerships for sustainability and BHR in authoritarian contexts (Yin et al., 2018).

To account for the market and the civil society logics as well as the state logic, we will make use of a Pattern Matching approach (Reay & Jones, 2016). In a Pattern Matching approach, the instantiation of different institutional logics in the practices observed during the data collection and analysis are compared with the categorical elements of institutional logics as they are described in previous literature. This “facilitates comparison to other studies” (Reay & Jones, 2016:p.443) and allows for thorough integration of the Institutional Logics perspective into our abductive research design.


Cross-Sector Partnerships, Institutional Logics, Alliance Management Capabilities, Authoritarian Contexts


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