Reactive or proactive SME workwear? SMEs managing legitimacy in the garment industry

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This research study explored the drivers of SMEs legitimacy management as well as how legitimacy strategies for SMEs look like. A qualitative comparative case study has been conducted at two SMEs in the garment industry. The cases have been selected based on their reactive and proactive legitimacy management in order to make a comparison. Data has been collected through conducting semi-structured interviews with internal stakeholders of both SMEs. Due to the lack of literature on the topic of legitimacy management for SMEs in specific, it was not possible to make ex-ante operationalizations. Therefore, the grounded theory approach has been applied to analyse the transcribed interviews while using an inductive coding process. The findings show that both reactive and proactive legitimacy strategies consist of the following elements that can be either on the reactive or on the proactive side: the role the SME takes upon in the supply chain; SMEs required level of certainty; SMEs communication towards stakeholders; SMEs relationships in the supply chain; SMEs responsibility in the supply chain; SMEs level of assertiveness in acting with stakeholders and SMEs level of taking initiative with regard to social and environmental issues in the supply chain. In addition, five forces have been identified that push SMEs towards a more reactive legitimacy management or towards a more proactive legitimacy management. These identified forces are the SMEs organizational focus, SMEs awareness of social and environmental issues, SMEs motivation, SMEs understanding of the supply chain and external pressures. All forces have characteristics that explain whether an SME is pushed towards either reactive or proactive legitimacy management.
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