The Dark Side of Buyer Power: Supplier Exploitation and the Role of Ethical Climates

Martin C. Schleper, Constantin Blome, David A. Wuttke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


Media increasingly accuse firms of exploiting suppliers, and these allegations often result in lurid headlines that threaten the reputations and therefore business successes of these firms. Neither has the phenomenon of supplier exploitation been investigated from a rigorous, ethical standpoint, nor have answers been provided regarding why some firms pursue exploitative approaches. By systemically contrasting economic liberalism and just prices as two divergent perspectives on supplier exploitation, we introduce a distinction of common business practice and unethical supplier exploitation. Since supplier exploitation is based on power, we elucidate several levels of power as antecedents and investigate the role of ethical climate as a moderator. This study extends Victor and Cullen’s (1988) ethical climate matrix according to a supply chain dimension and is summarized in an integrated, conceptual model of five propositions for future theory testing. Results provide a frame of reference for executives and scholars, who can now delineate unethical exploitation and understand important antecedents of the phenomenon better.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-114
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Economic liberalism
  • Ethical climate
  • Fairness
  • Just prices
  • Power
  • Supplier exploitation
  • Supply chain management


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