Consumer perspectives are often overlooked in discussions on why people engage in CSR and ethical behaviour. Find out more in our research tidbits this week.

Consumer judgment of morally-questionable behaviours
Consumers’ engagement in morally-questionable behaviours poses a serious threat to firms. To further the understanding of consumers’ behaviour, this study explores the association and conflicts between their ethical and legal judgments. In addition, it examines the way consumers’ judgments depend on their mind-sets and the legal liability criterion of action (activity).

In two experiments, participants were asked to judge the ethicality and legality of consumers’ morally-questionable behaviours. Behaviour activity and participants’ mind-sets were manipulated. The results show that consumers are more likely to judge a behaviour to be legal when they consider it ethical than when they consider it unethical. Nevertheless, conflicts between ethical and legal judgments are prevalent. Furthermore, ethical judgments, legal judgments, and the occurrence of conflicts between them depend on activity and on consumers’ mind-sets.

Finally, consumers report uncertainty about the ethicality and legality of a wide range of morally-questionable behaviours. Thus, the results paint a picture of individuals who perceive the law to be often beyond their reach or in conflict with their ethical principles. They portray both ethical and legal judgments as dynamically-changing, subjective, and context-dependent. Theoretical contribution and business applications are discussed.

Read this Open Access article online for free.

Daphne Sobolev & Niklas Voege. 2020. Consumer Judgment of Morally-Questionable Behaviors: The Relationship Between Ethical and Legal Judgments.

Journal of Business Ethics, 165(1), 145–160.

The importance of customer expectations: CSR in container shipping
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been increasingly embraced by corporations to demonstrate effort to reduce negative environmental and social externalities resulting from their business activities. CSR covers a wide range of issues, including environmental concerns, occupational health and safety, local community social-economic welfare and workers’ rights and welfare issues.

Through a detailed content analysis of the CSR-related documents on the websites of the top container shipping companies in the world, this paper examines CSR adoption in the container shipping business. The analysis reveals that while institutional pressure plays an important role, shipping companies are more sensitive to market demands and their focus on CSR elements is selective depending on anticipated customer expectations.

Lijun Tang & Victor Gekara. 2020. The Importance of Customer Expectations: An Analysis of CSR in Container Shipping.

Journal of Business Ethics, 165(3), 383–393.

Feeling good by doing good in consumption
This paper examines the question of why consumers engage in ethical consumption. The authors draw on self-affirmation theory to propose that the choice of an ethical product serves a self-restorative function.

Four experiments provide support for this assertion: a self-threat increases consumers’ choice of an ethical option, even when the alternative choice is objectively superior in quantity (Study 1) and product quality (Study 2). Further, restoring self-esteem through positive feedback eliminates this increase in ethical choice (Studies 2 and 3). As an additional test of the robustness of the results, a final study examined the effect of self-threat on choice in a field setting (Study 4).

The findings indicate that ethical purchases are not just altruistic. They hold purposeful individual value and can help in the self-restorative process. Implications for managers making decisions regarding investment in ethical product features are discussed.

Remi Trudel, Jill Klein, Sankar Sen & Niraj Dawar. 2020. Feeling Good by Doing Good: A Selfish Motivation for Ethical Choice.

Journal of Business Ethics, 166(1), 39–49.

Positive shock in consumer ethical judgements
Existing debates on business ethics under-represent consumers’ perspectives. In order to progress understanding of ethical judgement in the marketplace, the authors unpack the interconnections between consumer ethical judgment, consent and context.

The authors address the question of how consumers judge the morality of threat-based experiential marketing communications. the interpretive qualitative research shows that consumers can feel positively about being shocked, judging threat appeals as more or less ethical by the nature of the negative emotions they experience. The authors also determine that the intersection between ethical judgement, consent and context lies where consumers’ perceptions of fairness and consequences lend contextualised normative approval to marketing practice.

This research makes three original contributions to existing literature. First, it extends theory in the area of ethical judgement, by highlighting the importance of consent for eliciting positive moral responses. Second, it adds to embryonic research addressing the role of emotions in ethical judgement, by ascertaining that negative emotions can elicit positive consumer ethical judgement. Third, the research contributes an original concept to ethical judgement theorisation, namely consumer-experienced positive shock (CEPS).

The authors define CEPS as a consensual shock value judged as ethical due to its ephemerality, commercial resonance, brand alignment, target-audience appropriateness and contextual acceptability. The authors also extrapolate the dimensions of CEPS into an ethical judgement typology, elucidating how consumers judge some threat-based communications as ethical, but not others. Consequently, this work dovetails with wider business ethics debates on ethical judgement, adding value by clarifying the conditions that generate positive consumer ethical judgement.

Read this Open Access article online for free.

Caroline Moraes, Finola Kerrigan & Roisin McCann. 2020. Positive Shock: A Consumer Ethical Judgement Perspective.

Journal of Business Ethics, 165(4), 735–751.