Socially responsible operations in the Industry 4.0 era: post-COVID-19 technology adoption and perspectives on future research

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Purpose: As focal firms in supply networks reflect on their experiences of the pandemic and begin to rethink their operations and supply chains, there is a significant opportunity to leverage digital technological advances to enhance socially responsible operations performance (SROP). This paper develops a novel framework for exploring the adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies for improving SROP. It highlights current best-practice examples and presents future research pathways.

Design/methodology/approach: This viewpoint paper argues how Industry 4.0 technology adoption can enable effective SROP in the post-COVID-19 era. Academic articles, relevant grey literature, and insights from industry experts are used to support the development of the framework.

Findings: Seven technologies are identified that bring transformational capabilities to SROP, i.e. big data analytics, digital twins, augmented reality, blockchain, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things. It is demonstrated how these technologies can help to improve three sub-themes of organisational social performance (employment practices, health and safety, and business practices) and three sub-themes of community social performance (quality of life and social welfare, social governance, and economic welfare and growth).

Research limitations/implications: A research agenda is outlined at the intersection of Industry 4.0 and SROP through the six sub-themes of organisational and community social performance. Further, these are connected through three overarching research agendas: “Trust through Technology”, “Responsible Relationships” and “Freedom through Flexibility”.

Practical implications: Organisational agendas for Industry 4.0 and social responsibility can be complementary. The framework provides insights into how Industry 4.0 technologies can help firms achieve long-term post-COVID-19 recovery, with an emphasis on SROP. This can offer firms competitive advantage in the “new normal” by helping them build back better.

Social implications: People and communities should be at the heart of decisions about rethinking operations and supply chains. This paper expresses a view on what it entails for organisations to be responsible for the supply chain-wide social wellbeing of employees and the wider community they operate in, and how they can use technology to embed social responsibility in their operations and supply chains.

Originality/value: Contributes to the limited understanding of how Industry 4.0 technologies can lead to socially responsible transformations. A novel framework integrating SROP and Industry 4.0 is presented.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-217
Number of pages33
JournalInternational Journal of Operations & Production Management
Issue number13
Early online date30 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - 19 Dec 2022


  • COVID-19
  • digital
  • Industry 4.0
  • operations management
  • social responsibility
  • sustainability


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