Why don't consumers consume ethically?

John Wiley
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 2010, 9 (6), pp. 426 - 436
Issue Date:
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Many consumers profess to want to avoid unethical offerings in the marketplace yet few act on this inclination. This study investigates the nature of the rationales and justifications used by consumers to make sense of this discrepancy. The data was collected via in-depth interviews across eight countries. The respondents were presented with three ethical consumption scenarios, and discussed their views on the consumption issues as well as their consumption behavior. The majority of the discussion focused around their rationalizations for their lack of ethical consumption patterns. Three justification strategies emerged from the data: economical rationalization, institutional dependency, and developmental realism. Economic rationalization focuses on consumers wanting to get the most value for their money, regardless of their ethical beliefs. Institutional dependency refers to the belief that institutions such as the government are responsibility to ethically regulate what products can be sold. Finally, developmental realism features the rationalization that some unethical behaviors on the part of corporations must exist in order for macro level economic development to occur. Consumer resistance in the marketplace is currently limited to small niche groups. This study investigates why resistance is so limited, in spite of survey results which suggest that a much larger group of people are interested in ethical consumption. This is the first study to investigate the nature of consumer rationales, and reinforces the need for non-survey-based research to understand nuanced consumer reactions and behaviors in ethical consumerism
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