In the global economy, where too much cotton comes from dictatorship states like Uzbekistan and clothes are stitched in Indonesian factories, where labour standards are galaxy-far from perfect, none of us living in the luxury of the Western world want to think that we are capable of willingly contributing to high levels of exploitation of people and nature. However, years of commercials and campaigns portraying harmful consequences of our consumerism must have finally rubbed off on us and, as the result, we no longer consider these notions as terrifying. This gloomy conclusion stems from a new research, which shows how cynical we’ve grown towards those who actually shop ethically.
According to the scientists at the Ohio State University, we are also not prepared to do too much leg work to find out how ethical our favourite brands are. What’s more worrying is that we seem to dislike the good folk who make all the effort to search for ethically produced products, while we take the back seat and ignore the issues.
How does this work? Well, we simply look down at the from our high horse of fashion and obsession with branded goods. We call them boring and unfashionable. Hopefully this doesn’t stop them to continue to pull the weight of our joint impacts on the world. But what’s worse, is that by ridiculing ethical shoppers we also deeply believe that we are, in fact, pro social.
“You choose not to find out if a product is made ethically. Then you harshly judge people who do consider ethical values when buying products. Then that makes you less ethical in the future”, this is how Rebecca Walker Reczek, co-author of the study and associate professor of marketing at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business described this vicious circle.
But this isn’t a surprise, given that previously the group already found that people become willfully ignorant when it comes to shopping for their favourite stuff. They would weigh pros and cons of the ways the product was made by looking for fairtrade-labeled things, but won’t challenge marketing statements on the packaging even with a simple Google check.
During the study experiments, young people chose to ignore the fact that the jeans, which they were evaluating, were made by children, and were more interested in their style, delivery and price. This is what is termed wilful ignorance. Afterwords, the wilfully ignorant participants were more likely to belittle ethical shoppers as “odd, boring and less fashionable”.
This could be due to a secret guilt of not doing the right things themselves. “They feel bad and striking back at the ethical consumers makes themselves feel better,” said the researcher.
However, the same study provided a light in this tunnel. Apparently, if willfully ignorant buyers are given a chance to donate to the charity on the same website, they tend to judge ethical shoppers less harshly. However, those who chose to remain willfully ignorant and already bad-mouthed green shoppers were also less likely to support green initiative online:
“After you denigrate consumers who act ethically concerning a specific issue, you actually care a little less about that specific issue yourself. This may have some disturbing implications for how ethical you will act in the future,” Reczek said.
Thanks to this research we now know that many shoppers actually want to do the right thing, all they need is a little help – charity donations, is only one option. Maybe other ads for applying an environmental policy at home and promoting energy saving at work could be as encouraging.
“Most consumers want to act ethically, but there can be a discrepancy between their desires and what they actually do. Companies that use ethical practices in producing their products can help by making that information very prominent, right on the packages if possible. People are not going to go to your website to find out your company’s good deeds. If consumers don’t see ethical information right when they are shopping, there can be this cascade of negative consequences.”