Ethical consumerism – is it all just for the ego? Read this week’s research tidbits to find out.

What makes ethical consumers happy?  
Studies on fair-trade consumption have concentrated on economic, demographic, and ethical issues, and research on consumers’ moral emotions and self-orientation is limited. Although consumers’ satisfaction with their consumption has been emphasised in consumer studies and marketing, little substantive empirical research has addressed ethical consumers’ emotional satisfaction and the link between their motivations and happiness.

This study focused on ethical consumers who regularly purchase fair-trade coffee to understand their moral emotions and self-orientation as motivations for fair-trade consumption and determine whether empathy and self-oriented motivations led to their happiness. A survey was conducted on 471 regular purchasers of at least one cup of fair-trade coffee weekly or a pack of fair-trade coffee beans monthly.

The survey data were analysed using partial least squares. The results showed that guilt was positively associated with empathy, which positively influenced self-actualisation. Contrary to the proposed hypothesis, empathy did not elicit consumers’ happiness. As expected, narcissism affected self-actualisation, which in turn elicited happiness. Happiness was positively associated with customers’ repurchase intentions for fair-trade coffee.

The results of this study demonstrate the strong associations of the paths from narcissism to self-actualisation, self-actualisation to happiness, and self-actualisation to repurchase intentions compared to the paths from guilt to empathy, empathy to happiness, and empathy to repurchase intentions.

Contrary to common expectations, the results indicate that self-oriented motivations focused on self-actualisation rather than moral emotions (guilt and empathy) play key roles in ethical consumers’ happiness with fair-trade consumption.

Kumju Hwang and Hyewon Kim. 2018. Are Ethical Consumers Happy? Effects of Ethical Consumers’ Motivations Based on Empathy Versus Self-orientation on Their Happiness. 
Journal of Business Ethics, 151(2), 579–598.


Effect of negative emotions on consumers’ ethical judgments
Although various factors have been studied for their influence on consumers’ ethical judgments, the role of incidental emotions has received relatively less attention. Recent research in consumer behaviour has focused on studying the effect of specific incidental emotions on various aspects of consumer decision making.

This paper investigates the effect of two negative, incidental emotional states of anger and fear on ethical judgment in a consumer context using a passive unethical behaviour scenario (i.e., too much change received).

The paper presents two experimental studies. Study 1 focuses on the interaction of moral intensity (amount of change) and incidental emotion state in predicting the ethical judgment while study 2 investigates the underlying causal mechanism behind the process, using a mediation analysis.

The results reveal a significant interaction between moral intensity and incidental emotion. Specifically, individuals in the state of incidental fear exhibit higher levels of ethical judgment as the moral intensity increases as compared to individuals in the state of incidental anger. Further, perceived control is found to mediate the relationship between emotional state and ethical judgment under higher moral intensity condition.

Jatinder J. Singh, Nitika Garg, Rahul Govind and Scott J. Vitell. 2018. Anger Strays, Fear Refrains: The Differential Effect of Negative Emotions on Consumers’ Ethical Judgments. 
Journal of Business Ethics, 151(1), 235–248.


Moral integrity and customer relationship commitment 
The impact of integrity on organisational and/or interpersonal relationships is well documented in the literature but its influence on customer relationships such as consumer trust and relationship commitment has been largely overlooked.

The present study attempts to fill this research gap by examining the effect of integrity on consumer relationship commitment in a cross-cultural setting. Survey data from the United States and China were used to test the hypothesised relationships.

The results show that integrity has significant impacts on both consumer trust and relationship commitment, and culture significantly moderates the effect of integrity on consumer commitment. Specifically, integrity was found to affect American respondents’ relationship commitment both directly and indirectly with the direct effect being greater and the indirect effect being smaller relative to those of Chinese respondents.

In contrast, integrity had only indirect effect on relationship commitment with Chinese consumers, highlighting the importance of consumer trust in the integrity-commitment relationship. The implications for research and business practice were discussed.

Fuan Li, Sixue Zhang and Xuelian Yang. 2018. Moral Integrity and Relationship Commitment: An Empirical Examination in a Cross-Cultural Setting. 
Journal of Business Ethics, 151(3), 785–798.


Adolescents coping with loneliness through materialism 
Engaging in unethical consumption behaviours is an acute societal problem that can have severe consequences for adolescents, and businesses in particular have been accused of making such consumption particularly appealing and accessible. However, the causes of unethical behaviours are not well understood and research on the causes has been mixed.

In this research, the authors investigate the effects of coping strategies for loneliness on adolescents’ adoption of unethical behaviours, a topic that business ethics research has not explored. In a large-scale study (n = 409) of adolescents (ages 13–17), the authors show that whether loneliness leads to the adoption of unethical behaviours depends on the strategies adolescents use to cope with their loneliness: active coping strategies are associated with fewer unethical behaviours, whereas passive coping strategies are associated with more unethical behaviours.

In addition, the authors show that active and passive coping strategies can be executed through consumption practices. The authors show that the relation between active coping and fewer unethical behaviours is mediated by sharing of possessions, whereas the relation between passive coping strategies and more unethical behaviours is mediated by product acquisition.

Finally, the authors also show that these mediated relations differ as a function of age cohort (grade level). The indirect effect of active coping on fewer unethical behaviours via sharing holds only for middle school adolescents, whereas the indirect effect of passive coping on more unethical behaviours via product acquisition holds only for high school adolescents.

The authors shed new light on both the bright and dark sides of materialism and unethical behaviours and provide practical implications for research on loneliness, business ethics, and unethical behaviours.

Elodie Gentina, L. J. Shrum and Tina M. Lowrey. 2018.  Coping with Loneliness Through Materialism: Strategies Matter for Adolescent Development of Unethical Behaviors. 
Journal of Business Ethics, 152(1), 103–122.


‘A very expensive ordinary life’: Moral legitimacy among New York elites  
Scholarship on elites, including on their consumption, tends to focus primarily on social closure and the pursuit of social advantage. Research has therefore not investigated the meanings and morality of elites’ lifestyle choices, particularly from the perspective of the wealthy themselves. Yet understanding this lived experience is critical to understanding the cultural dimensions of inequality.

This article draws primarily on in-depth interviews with 50 affluent New Yorkers to analyse their spending practices, discourses and conflicts. My respondents worked hard to frame their consumer choices as meeting reasonable, ‘normal’ needs, representing their consumption as basic, family-oriented and prudent, and drawing explicit symbolic boundaries against ostentation, materialism and excess.

I argue that these discourses illuminate their struggles to feel morally worthy of privilege, and expand our understanding of a cultural vocabulary of legitimate entitlement in the USA, to include consumption as well as hard work. Furthermore, these discourses illuminate symbolic boundaries that are incongruous with social boundaries, as they appeal to middle-class symbolism.

By theorizing consumption discourse as a site of legitimation as well as exclusion for elites, the article highlights another mechanism by which extreme inequality is made acceptable.

Rachel Sherman. 2018. ‘A very expensive ordinary life’: consumption, symbolic boundaries and moral legitimacy among New York elites. 
Socio-Economic Review, 16(2), 411–433.


Counterfeit luxuries and consumer moral reasoning  
Morality, in the context of luxury counterfeit goods, has been widely discussed in existing literature as having a strong association with decreased purchase intention. However, drawing on moral disengagement theory, the authors argue that individuals are motivated to justify their immoral behaviours through guilt avoidance, thus increasing counterfeit purchase intention.

This research demonstrates that consumers’ desire to purchase counterfeit luxuries hinges on (one of) two types of moral reasoning strategies: moral rationalisation and moral decoupling.

The empirical results show that each strategy increases purchase intention, but respectively through moral judgment and perceived benefit. Implications for researchers and managers are discussed.

Jie Chen, Lefa Teng and Yonghai Liao. 2018. Counterfeit Luxuries: Does Moral Reasoning Strategy Influence Consumers’ Pursuit of Counterfeits? 
Journal of Business Ethics, 151(1), 249–264.