Ethical Consumption Or Consumption of Ethical Products? An Exploratory Analysis of Motivations Behind the Purchase of Ethical Products

Lara Spiteri-Cornish

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Ethical consumption has long been considered a direct result of positive ethical attitudes and intentions of consumers. Ethical consumers have been classified as those who hold positive attitudes and intentions towards ethical concerns such as environmentalism, animal issues and human rights infringements, and purchase related ethical products (e.g. Vermeir and Verbeke 2008; Carrigan, Szmigin and Wright 2004; Auger and Devinney 2007). In the literature, they are described as mostly middle-aged with higher income, above-average education and well-informed about societal concerns (Maignan and Ferrel, 2001; Roberts, 1996; Carrigan and Attalla, 2001). Ethical consumption is defined as consumption that is based on decision making which is strongly influenced by the consumer’s societal responsibility (Meulenberg 2003). Research suggests that the percentage of people engaging in ethical consumption is on the increase (Co-operative Bank Ethical Consumerism Report 2010; Berry and McEachern, 2005; Davis, 2006; Harrison, Newholm, and Shaw 2005). Yet extant literature demonstrates that there is a very large “attitude-intention-behaviour gap” in ethical consumption whereby consumers who hold ethical attitudes and intentions rarely purchase ethical products (e.g. Auger and Devinney 2007; Carrigan and Attalla 2001; Follows and Jobber 2000; Shaw et al 2007). Indeed, sales in this area still represent less than 6% of the overall consumer market of some £600bn (Macalister, 2007). Authors attempting to bridge the “attitude-intention” gap have frequently investigated why consumers do not buy ethically instead of why they do (e.g. Bray et al. 2010). However, we believe that to increase the consumption of ethical products, it is essential to understand the motivations behind such consumption rather than focus on the barriers to consumption. Extant literature speaks about the “warm glow” or moral satisfaction that arises from altruistic behaviors such as ethical consumption (Andreoni 1990; Kahneman and Knetsch 1992). Yet, ethical products have multiple attributes and are likely to be purchased for a diverse and complex set of motivations in addition to moral satisfaction. The need to bridge “attitudeintention” gap is becoming more imperative as more multinationals buy into ethical marketing and sell ethical products such as fairtrade, sustainable or recycled (Haddock, 2005; Beattie, 2006; Willman, 2007). However, this cannot happen unless the motivations behind such consumption are better understood. In the area of ethical consumption, theory development is in its early stages and accepted frameworks for the decision making of ethical consumption are yet to be developed (e.g. Carrignton, Neveille and Whitwell 2010; Starr 2009; Nicholls and Lee 2006). In this paper, we aim to further theory in this under-examined aspect of consumer behaviour (Newholme and Shaw 2007) by investigating the different motivations behind the consumption of ethical products. We then offer recommendations as to how this understanding can be used to encourage more ethical consumption. .
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)337-341
Number of pages5
JournalAdvances in Consumer Research
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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