What are the drivers to ethical consumer behaviour?  This week’s research articles try to reach an understanding.

Understanding ethical consumers through person/thing orientation approach 
Research reflects the importance of understanding the motivational variables of ethical consumer behaviour. However, existing research has been limited to more narrowly construed factors that show an obvious link with ethics.

Currently, empirical work on motivational factors relevant to orientations working across context is scarce. To address this gap, this project investigated ethical consumption from the perspective of person orientation (PO) and thing orientation (TO), both of which presumably motivate individual differences. For this purpose, three main studies were conducted by using correlational and experimental approaches to assess the relationships among PO, TO, and ethical consumer behaviour.

Across the three studies, the current research provides strong evidence for PO as a key driver of ethical consumption behaviour. In contrast, the role of TO was inconsistent. Moderating effects of gender were also somewhat apparent. The findings suggest that individual orientations are important motivational variables for better understanding ethical consumers and that future researchers should further investigate PO/TO in this context.

Hyemi Lee. 2019. Understanding Ethical Consumers Through Person/Thing Orientation Approach.
Journal of Business Ethics, 158(3), 637–658.


Trade-offs and value in ethical consumption
The debate around ethical consumption is often characterised by discussion of its numerous failures arising from complexity in perceived trade-offs. In response, this paper advances a pragmatist understanding of the role and nature of trade-offs in ethical consumption. In doing so, it draws on the central roles of values and value in consumption and pragmatist philosophical thought, and proposes a critique of the ethical consumer as rational maximiser and the cognitive and utilitarian discourse of individual trade-offs to understand how sustainable consumption practices are established and maintained.

An in-depth qualitative study is conducted employing phenomenological interviews and hermeneutic analysis to explore the consumption stories of a group of ethically minded consumers. The research uncovers the location of value within a fluid, yet habitual, plurality of patterns, preferences, morals, identities and relationships.

Its contribution is to propose that consumer perception of value in moral judgements is represented by an overall form of aggregate personal advantage, which lacks conscious reflection and delivers a phenomenological form of value rooted in habits, reflecting a pragmatist representation of value unified as a ‘consummatory experience’.

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Alex Hiller & Tony Woodall. 2019. Everything Flows: A Pragmatist Perspective of Trade-Offs and Value in Ethical Consumption.
Journal of Business Ethics, 157(4), 893–912.


The moral foundations of consumer ethics
This paper applies moral foundations theory in the context of consumer ethics. The purpose of the study is to examine whether moral foundations theory can be utilised as a theoretical framework to explain consumers’ beliefs regarding both ethical and unethical consumption.

The relationships among various moral foundations and different dimensions of consumer ethics are examined with a sample of 450 US consumers. The results demonstrate that, among the various moral foundations, only the sanctity/degradation foundation is negatively related to beliefs regarding all forms of unethical consumer actions (actively benefiting from illegal actions, passively benefiting from the mistakes of the seller and actively benefiting from legal but questionable actions) as well as ‘no harm, no foul’ actions.

On the contrary, the care/harm, fairness/cheating and authority/subversion foundations are related to positive beliefs regarding ‘doing good’ actions. This indicates that moral motivations for supporting pro-social actions as a consumer are not necessarily the same as moral motivations for condemning unethical actions.

The findings also demonstrate that the loyalty/betrayal foundation is positively related to beliefs regarding unethical consumer actions and negatively related to perceptions of pro-social consumer actions. This demonstrates that in-group loyalty leads to supporting unethical actions. Furthermore, the results show that various moral foundations mediate the relationships of idealism with consumers’ ethical beliefs. Hence, various moral foundations can explain the effects of personal variables on consumer ethics.

Rafi M. M. I. Chowdhury. 2019. The Moral Foundations of Consumer Ethics.
Journal of Business Ethics, 158(3), 585–601.


Understanding collaborative consumption
Collaborative consumption is proposed as a potential step beyond unsustainable linear consumption patterns toward more sustainable consumption practices. Despite mounting interest in the topic, little is known about the determinants of this consumer behaviour.

The authors use an extended theory of planned behaviour to examine the relative influence of consumers’ personal norms and the theory’s basic sociopsychological variables attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived behavioural control on collaborative consumption. Moreover, the authors use this framework to examine consumers’ underlying value and belief structure regarding collaborative consumption. The authors measure these aspects for 224 consumers in a survey and then assess their self-reported collaborative consumption behaviour in a second survey.

The structural model fits the data well. Collaborative consumption is more strongly—through intentions—influenced by personal norms and attitudes than by subjective norms. Personal norms to consume collaboratively are determined by consumers’ altruistic, biospheric, and egoistic value orientations. Cost savings, efficient use of resources, and community with others are found to be consumers’ attitudinal beliefs underlying collaborative consumption.

The authors conclude that collaborative consumption can be pin-pointed neither as a mere form of economic exchange nor as a primarily normative form of sharing resources. Instead, collaborative consumption is determined by economic/egoistic (e.g., cost savings) and normative (e.g., altruistic and biospheric value orientations) motives. Implications for collaborative consumption research, the theory of planned behaviour, and practitioners are discussed.

Daniel Roos and Rüdiger Hahn. 2019. Understanding Collaborative Consumption: An Extension of the Theory of Planned Behavior with Value-Based Personal Norms.
Journal of Business Ethics, 158(3), 679–697.


How does brand age influence consumer attitudes toward a firm’s unethical behaviour?
This paper identifies brand age as an important factor in consumers’ brand evaluations following unethical firm behaviour. In two experiments, the authors assess the effect of brand age on three types of brand evaluations: perceived quality, brand credibility, and behavioural intentions following a brand crisis.

The findings suggest that disclosing an older brand’s age can not only improve consumers’ brand evaluations in general, but can also provide a buffering effect when the firm is involved in unethical behaviour. Moreover, the relationship between brand age and consumers’ post-crisis intentions is mediated by perceived brand credibility.

By exploring consumers’ attitudes following the most common firm response strategies, this research also identifies a boundary condition of the mitigating effect of brand age. Several significant implications for practitioners are discussed.

Chi Zhang, Saim Kashmiri and Melissa Cinelli. 2019. How Does Brand Age Influence Consumer Attitudes Toward a Firm’s Unethical Behavior?
Journal of Business Ethics, 158(3), 699–711.


Causes of consumers’ unethical judgments 
Corrupt behaviour presents major challenges for organisations in a wide range of settings. This article embraces a complexity theoretical perspective to elucidate the causal patterns of factors underlying consumers’ unethical judgments. This study examines how causal conditions of four distinct domains combine into configurational causes of unethical judgments of two frequent forms of corrupt consumer behaviour: shoplifting and fare dodging.

The findings of fuzzy-set Qualitative Comparative Analyses indicate alternative, consistently sufficient “recipes” for the outcomes of interest. This study extends prior work on the topic by offering new insights into the interplay and the interconnected structures of multiple causal factors and by describing configurational causes of consumers’ ethical evaluations of corrupt behaviours. This knowledge may support practitioners and policy makers to develop education and control approaches to thwart corrupt consumer behaviours.

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Alexander Leischnig and Arch G. Woodside. 2019. Who Approves Fraudulence? Configurational Causes of Consumers’ Unethical Judgments.
Journal of Business Ethics, 158(3), 713–726.