Transparency and value chain sustainability

A.P.J. Mol*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

158 Citations (Scopus)


The rise of transparency on the public and political agendas is not an accident or fad, soon to be replaced by another timely topic in sustainability politics and governance. Transparency will remain a key topic in global value chains and will further develop as it piggy-backs on wider social developments such as globalization, the information age, and the shifting role of states in environmental governance. Transparency in value chains is bound up with positive connotations: the more transparency the better it is for the sustainability of chains and for the empowerment of consumers and civil society. But an overall positive past assessment of value chain transparency does not automatically extend into the future as new challenges lie ahead. This paper investigates the new challenges for value chain transparency and their consequences. Due to the growing importance attached to transparency in value chains it becomes a central object of power struggles, with uncertain outcomes. Markets and states seek to capture transparency arrangements for their own goals, which may not be in line with the assumed normative linkages between value chain transparency and increased power for consumers and civil society. In that sense, transparency is losing its innocence: more transparency is no longer always the best for citizen-consumer empowerment and for the sustainability of value chains. But value chain secrecy is not an attractive alternative. This opens a new research agenda on how transparency should be organized and arranged in value chains to live up to the promises of democracy and sustainability.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)154-161
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Accountability
  • Democracy
  • Environmental performance
  • Supply chain


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