2. T HEORY SECTION
2.8 C ONSUMER SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
2.8.1 The ethical consumer
There have been several attempts to define and codify who the ethical consumer is. Low and Davenport (2007) note that ethical consumption is a loose term as it implies the idea of personal consumption where a choice of products and services exits that supports a specific ethical issue such as human rights, the environment, or animal welfare. Likewise Carrington et al., (2010) argue, “ethically minded consumers feel a certain responsibility towards the environment and/or to society and seek to express their values through ethical consumption and purchasing (or boycotting) behaviour”. As such, ethical consumers see themselves as part of a larger collective group that is guided by the same moral principles. While it has been difficult through previous studies to profile the typical ethical consumer, the most consistent results have been identified through gender and educational status suggesting that ethical consumers are often female with a high educational status (Papaoikonomou et al., 2011). While difficult to define and profile completely, in theory, this group represents the consumer equivalent of social responsible corporations and Devinney et al. (2006) have coined their actions as consumer social responsibility. The concept is defined as “the conscious and deliberate choice to make certain consumption choices based on personal and moral beliefs” (Devinney et al, 2006, p. 3) and are often expressed in three different ways: Firstly, consumers may choose to involve themselves in activities with respect to specific causes and donate money or contribute in other ways. Secondly, consumers may change purchasing or non-‐purchasing behaviour and finally, they can express opinions in surveys or other forms of market research (Devinney et al, 2006). However, they note that consumer may express different viewpoints depending on their actions. Contributions are more and more often seen in connection to large-‐scale protests directed at multinational corporations and international organisations.
Changes in purchasing behaviour can be seen in the low levels of purchasing of ‘ethical’ goods.
Devinney et al. (2006) refer to the external pressure that led Starbucks to introduce fair trade coffee, which has seen surprisingly low sales levels since the introduction in 2001. The third option has become the most common as well as the most dubious means to measure consumer social responsibility.
2.8.2 Consumer purchase intentions
Much of the current literature on consumer decision-‐making takes its starting point in psychology and with cognitive approaches. This section will not go into depth with the psychological aspects of the theory, but will focus on the functional aspects of how the consumer intention-‐behaviour gap may be related to the rest of the thesis.
As mentioned earlier, the modern consumer is both more informed and have access to a greater variety of products than ever before. Not only do consumers today have high demand for these things, but they also have high expectations to companies, when it comes to their CSR practices (Devinney et al, 2006). Furthermore, there is a growing societal tendency to act responsible and be seen by others as sensible and rational human beings. (Papaoikonomou et al, 2011). Finally, consumer behaviour is often a result of what the individual deem rational and common sense (Thøgersen, 2011). In 2014, The Nielsen Company surveyed consumer intentions via online access from 60 countries. There were over 30.000 respondents, and the results were arguably positive. 55% of the respondents said they were willing to pay extra for products and services from companies committed to positive social and environmental impact. 52% stated they check product packaging to ensure sustainable impact and 49%
volunteer and/or donate to organisations engaged in social and/or environmental programs (Nielsen Company, 2014). The results of such surveys would indicate that the ethical consumer segment is worth investing in and offer premium products. Schaltegger and Synnestvedt (2002) note that whether CSR e.g. within environmental protection results in improved financial performance depends on a variety of factors such as the consumers' willingness to pay for environmentally friendly goods in a given market, the stakeholder pressure in different industries etc.
It seems, however, that surveys as the one The Nielsen Company carried out in 2014 lack the coverage of actual behaviour. The report states that survey responses are based on claimed behaviour rather than actual metered data. Auger and Devinney (2007) note that the lack of ethical and general consumer decision-‐making studies that measure and observe actual buying compared to state intentions or self-‐reported behaviour is a substantial methodological limitation to such studies. Studies may end up presenting socially biased results due to how many respondents may feel a social pressure to respond in a way they believe to be socially acceptable (Auger & Devinney, 2007).
Carrington et al (2010) proposed a cognitive framework of ethical consumer decision making with the relevant elements of the internal and external environment integrated to show the complexity of real-‐life purchase decision-‐making. The integrated factors are referred to as the
‘cognitive’ and ‘behaviourist’ traditions and cover respectively both internal and environmental factors. The cognitive aspects of human behaviour are covered to determine what role they play in actual behaviour.
According to Carrington et al, these elements may help explain the gap between consumer purchase intentions and actual purchase behaviour and why ethical minded consumers rarely follow through with their ethical intentions at the cash register (Carrington et al, 2010).
They argue for the importance of a mental implementation plan – how to put one’s good intentions into action – as intentions only cover the desired end goal and a commitment to achieve this goal, but it doesn’t include a plan that specify how to achieve this goal.
Furthermore, this plan needs to be cognitively developed in advance of the purchase decision in order for intentions to translate to behaviour. This furthermore helps individuals to start their wanted behaviour as well as ‘shield the intentions’ from negative influences that may interrupt the behaviour. However, people often have problems in initialising their intentions and especially if the behaviour is unfamiliar, one might forget to act accordingly. This forgetfulness is especially relevant for ethical minded consumers as ethical products may be a new addition to their purchase repertoire (Carrington et al, 2010). Thus, the implementation plan may be crucial for ethical consumers as their intentions are often competing against long-‐term habitual non-‐ethical shopping behaviour (Carrington et al, 2010).
Figure 9: Intention-‐behaviour mediation and moderation model of the ethical minded consumer by Carrington et al, 2010
2.8.3 Consumer behaviour
In continuation of the theory of intentions, the following will review studies of actual behaviour in order to provide a picture of whether the studies of intentions match reality.
One of the most widely used theories for behavior is the theory of planned behaviour, which has largely been applied by Chatzidakis (Papaoikonomou et al, 2011). In short, the theory suggests that attitudes toward behaviour along with subjective norms and perceived behavioural control shape the behaviour intentions and behaviour. This has therefore been used to study the intentions of ethical consumers.
In 2005, Futerra carried out a study of consumer behaviour. Based on a model used to determine consumer behavior in relation to intentions, the research data found, that 30% of consumers had ethical purchase intentions, but only 3% behaved accordingly. Thus, models that predict ethical intentions may be wrong 90% of the time. It is a serious situation for marketers of ethical products, as new product launches based on such model will often result in costly failures (Carrington et al, 2010). In general, there is a tendency in empirical studies in the field of consumer behaviour that suggest that purchase intentions do not translate literally into purchase behaviour (Morwitz et al., 2007; Young et al., 1998).
“Although corporations and policy makers are bombarded with international surveys purporting to show that average consumers do care for ethical products, lingering doubts remain as survey radicals turn into economic conservatives as the checkout” (Devinney et al, 2006, 1).
There have been several studies with different variables about the willingness of ethical consumers to buy ethical and social responsible products instead of the cheaper and more common products. In general, they suggest that between 30-‐50% of respondents increasingly care about the ethical components of products and business processes and that these concerns have financial implications for the businesses involved (Devinney et al, 2006). This evidence is supported if consumer behaviour is measured through the lenses of the above-‐
mentioned consumer donations and survey responses. However, if the actual sales figures of ethical products are measured compared to non-‐ethical products, the results are entirely different and suggest that consumers are not actually willing to put their money where their
mouths are and thus the ethical consumer segment may not display as much consumer social responsibility as they claim to do.
2.8.4 Geographic responsibility
As previously mentioned, globalisation is the process and result of how the world has become increasingly interconnected due to intense trade and cultural exchange (Guttal, 2007). To elaborate on this, many companies have today expanded their business and are working with subsidiaries in multiple countries, hence the production of goods and services have increased.
Given company expansion and the access to overseer their business activities through advanced technology, companies will impact a higher number of stakeholders and therefore have the ability to foster national and international CSR programs (Groza et al, 2011).
Nevertheless, consumers have also been highly influenced by the era of globalisation. Russell and Russell (2009) argue that there has been a change in the nature of citizenship. Compared to consumers’ previous viewpoint of being a traditional citizen, they are today challenged and remoulded by international activities in which they feel obligated to respond. In its pure form, this means that some individuals’ identify themselves as global citizens who are concerned with their fellow global citizens. Companies should therefore focus on their CSR initiatives, both local and foreign, as they strategically should demonstrate society attachment and concern for community welfare (Russell & Russell, 2009).
However, consumers feel and act differently. While some individuals are low in global citizenship behaviour, and therefore identify more with their home country, others are high in global citizenship behaviour and therefore care equally about what happens within and beyond one’s national borders (Groza et al, 2011). Because of this, the location of CSR initiatives is less important to the individuals who are high in global citizenship.
In another study done by Russell and Russell (2009) in the US, the two authors address the effect of CSR activity’s geographic focus, as initiatives that are focused in the individual’s home country will increase consumer stated intentions to patronize the business in the future compared to CSR activities focused in a foreign country. They discovered that consumers actual behaviour increases when CSR activities focused locally in their home state, compared
to CSR initiatives focused in a distant state. Explained differently, it seems that individual consumers care more about CSR initiatives and arguably the missing actions on these in close proximity to their own country compared to those who may be on the other side of the world.