Do These Jeans Make Me Look Unethical?


Published:

Imagine a shopper, Sarah, who is concerned about child labor and knows about groups like the Fair Wear Foundation that certify which brands sell ethically produced clothing. Hours after learning that fashion giant H&M reportedly sells clothing made by children in risky workplaces in Burma, she goes shopping. Completely forgetting about what she just heard, she buys an H&M dress.

What happened? Sarah either forgot about that child labor allegation, or she mistakenly recalled that H&M was on Fair Wear’s list of ethical brands – which it isn’t. Either way, how could she make such an error?

We are interested in how actual purchasing can be different from consumers’ own values. Our research shows that even though most consumers want to buy ethically sourced items, it’s hard for them to heed these sentiments, especially when adhering to their sentiments requires remembering something.

Selective Memories

It’s not easy to shop ethically in the U.S. Nearly all the clothing sold here is imported. Although not all imported clothing is made in exploitative workplaces, companies that demonstrably benefit from unfair and even dangerous labor practices abroad continue to flourish.

Prior consumer psychology research has shown that people dislike thinking about unethical issues associated with their purchases. When you buy a new sweater, you probably don’t want to contemplate the harsh reality that it might have been made by exploited workers. And you may be tempted to come up with rationalizations to avoid thinking much about these issues.

In fact, consumers may do their best to remain ignorant about whether a product is ethical or not, simply to avoid the anguish they would experience if they were to find out.

Unethical Amnesia

We wanted to learn what consumers would do if they had to face the truth.

Perhaps they might just forget that truth. After all, memory is not a particularly accurate recording device. For example, recent psychological research suggests that people experience “unethical amnesia” – a tendency to forget when they have behaved unethically in the past.

So would shoppers also prefer to forget when a company exploits workers or engages in other unethical actions? We predicted that they would.

In a series of studies described in an article published in the Journal of Consumer Research, we explored why consumers’ memories might fail them when it comes to recalling whether products are ethical. It turns out that there is a predictable pattern for what consumers are likely to remember (or forget) about the ethicality of products.

In general, we found that consumers are worse at remembering bad ethical information about a product, such as that it was produced with child labor or in a polluting manner, than they are at remembering good ethical information – such as that it was made with good labor practices and without much pollution. Our findings should trouble the many companies now vying for the ethical consumerism market and the people who buy those products.

Avoiding Feeling Torn

To test our hypothesis, we studied how well 236 undergraduates would remember manufacturing information about six wooden desks. We did not select any of the participants for these studies based on whether they did or did not see themselves as ethical consumers.

We told these students that half of the six brands of desks were made from wood sourced from endangered rainforests and that the rest came from wood sourced from sustainable tree farms.

After they had several opportunities to study and memorize the descriptions, the participants completed unrelated tasks for approximately 20 minutes. Then we displayed only the desks’ brand names and asked the students to recall their descriptions.

The participants were significantly less likely to correctly remember when a desk was made with rainforest wood compared to when it was made with sustainable wood. They either did not remember the wood source at all or wrongly recalled that the desk was made from sustainable wood.

Did that suggest shoppers just don’t want to remember unpleasant information about brands?

To find out, we looked into how accurately the students would remember other attributes of the desks, such as their prices. We found that they didn’t make the same kinds of errors.

People generally strive to act morally, which in this case would mean remembering whether products are ethically sourced or not and then presumably acting accordingly. However, people also do not want to feel bad or guilty.

And no one enjoys feeling torn. The easiest way for conscientious shoppers to avoid this inner conflict is to yield to their consumerist whims by forgetting details that might trigger ethical concerns.

Do These Jeans Make Me Look Unethical?

In another study, we had 402 adults participate in an online experiment. As part of a shopping task, this group, which averaged 38 years old and included slightly more women than men, read about a pair of jeans. Half of them saw jeans made by adults. The others saw jeans made by children.

Consistent with our other findings, people who saw the child-labor jeans were significantly less likely to remember this detail compared with people who had seen the jeans made by adults.

Notably, participants who saw the child-labor jeans said they felt more uncomfortable. We determined that this desire to not feel uncomfortable again led participants to forget about the child labor detail.

I Don’t Remember And I Feel Fine

In another online experiment, we presented 341 adults (with the same demographic profile) with one of two scenarios.

Half of them read about a consumer who, when trying to recall a description of jeans they were interested in purchasing, forgot whether the jeans were ethically made. The other half read about a consumer who instead remembered whether the jeans were made ethically, but chose to ignore this information.

It turns out that participants judged consumers less harshly for buying jeans they forgot were made by children rather than when they remembered but ignored this information.

So, maybe consumers forget when products are made unethically so they can buy what they want without feeling (as) guilty.

Reminding Consumers

How can marketers help consumers make more ethical choices?

One possibility is to continually remind them, even at point of purchase, of their products’ ethical attributes. That is what companies such as Everlane, a clothing company that has built social responsibility into its business model, and the outdoor apparel giant Patagonia already do.

Also, companies can concentrate on the bright side, describing how happy their well-paid workers are and how their contractors are good environmental stewards instead of pointing out the bad things their competitors do. Based on what we learned, that approach would make ethical consumers less likely to subconsciously dodge this issue.

How can consumers make more ethical choices?

For starters, they can forget about relying on their memories when they shop. They can use guides like the one Project Just has created to assess their next purchase, and they can also make notes to themselves about brands to avoid. The key is to realize our memories are not perfect and that shopping without a plan may lead us away from our values.

Rebecca Walker Reczek is an Associate Professor of Marketing at the Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University. Dr. Reczek’s research focuses on the area of consumer behavior. Specifically, her research has explored consumer lay theories and inference making, social influence, and self-perceptions. Given her interest in consumer well-being, she has explored these theoretical interests in the substantive domains of food and health decision making, sustainability, and ethical decision making. Current projects continue to explore these areas, as well as consumer behavior in an online environment.

Danny Zane is a doctoral candidate in Marketing at The Ohio State University. He studies consumer behavior and his research interests include inference making, self-perception, and prosocial and ethical behavior. One stream of his research examines consumers’ ethical decision making, including how consumers respond to others who appear more ethical than themselves and individuals’ memory for ethical product information.

Dr. Julie Irwin has served on the faculty at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas, the Stern School of Business at New York University and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania (visiting appointment). Dr. Irwin has published over forty refereed journal articles and book chapters and has served as a Principle Investigator on two National Science Foundation grants. Her primary research interest is in consumer decision making, especially about issues invoking ethics, prosocial behavior, and well-being. She also has an ongoing research interest in research methodology and statistics.

This article was republished from The Conversation.

See also:
Can Black Friday Turn Green? Outdoor Retailers And The Paradoxes Of Eco-Friendly Shopping
How Clothes Are Polluting The Food Supply

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

July 20, 2018

Sleeplessness could easily result from a post-midnight lunar opposition with Uranus. The extended hours awake could bring an exciting epiphany. Thanks to Saturn sleep is easier and more restful as the morning light breaks through night’s darkness…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

July 2018

Join us for a monthly gathering of like-hearted people to give and receive angelic energy healing. This session is a combination of group meditation and discussion, along with working in pairs...

Cost: Scale $5-$20 ($10 suggested)

Where:
Pathway Of Joy
884 Broadway, Suite 12
Upstairs in the Spiritual Renaissance Center building
South Portland, ME  04106
View map »


Sponsor: Pathway Of Joy
Telephone: 207-329-7192
Contact Name: Linda Huitt
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

This special 2-part evening offering. Earn your Integrated Energy Therapy® certification in two evenings, while leaving your summer days and weekends open to enjoy the season. Part 1 is...

Cost: $195

Where:
Pathway Of Joy
884 Broadway, Suite 12
South Portland, ME  04106
View map »


Sponsor: Pathway Of Joy
Telephone: 207-329-7192
Contact Name: Linda Huitt
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

What better way to end a busy day than with a little bliss. We'll support your body right where it is today and help you to open your spine to find more movement and flexibility. Begin and end...

Cost: $18

Where:
Body Love Wellness Center
484 Bedford St
East Bridgewater, MA  02333
View map »


Sponsor: Bliss Through Yoga
Telephone: 508-331-3564
Contact Name: Janice
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Relax and restore this summer with free outdoor yoga classes on historic Rogers Field! We’re packing the lawn with yogis of all levels for yoga led by experienced practitioners from Dragonfly...

Cost: Free

Where:
Rogers Field
Devens, MA


Sponsor: Dragonfly Wellness Center
Telephone: 978-487-7181
Contact Name: Anne Ferguson
Website »

More information

If you are worried about getting Parkinson’s or have beginning symptoms, check out a free intro on how to rewire your brain from the inside. First and third Wednesdays of the month,...

Where:
, MA


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Please note this event is held at an off-site location at the Double Tree Hilton in Danvers, MA There will be a book signing following the mediumship demonstration, and as part of your ticket...

Cost: $45

Where:
Double Tree Hotel
50 Ferncroft Road
Danvers, MA  01923
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

July 20 - 22 The Chinese internal martial arts derive their extraordinary power from the conscious control of one’s subjective state-of-being and the use of jin (internal power)....

Cost: Please see our website

Where:
Eastover Estate & Retreat Center
430 East St.
Lenox, MA  01240
View map »


Telephone: 866-264-5139
Contact Name: Yingxing Wang
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

The mission of the 4th Annual Compassionfest is to unite like-minded people that believe in the values of being just, kindness, equality and compassion. We’ll gather for delicious vegan food...

Cost: Free

Where:
Whitneyville Cultural Commons
1253 Whitney Ave
Hamden, CT  06517
View map »


Sponsor: In Defense of Animals
Website »

More information

Saturday, July 21, 10:00am – 4:00pm & Sunday, July 22, 10am – 4:00pm With Patty Collinsworth Get the beginner certification before Linda Howe comes in person to teach a new...

Cost: $170

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
90 Main Street
Andover, MA  01810
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

Saturday, July 21, 10:00am – 5:30pm & Sunday, July 22, 10am – 3:30pm Instructor:  Peyton Pugmire What brings you joy and a sense of purpose?  These are your soul...

Cost: $160

Where:
Creative Spirit
80 Washington Street
Marblehead, MA  01945
View map »


Sponsor: Creative Spirit
Telephone: 617-817-4547
Website »

More information

July 21 - 22 NEMHoFest, is New England’s premiere metaphysical festival. This year’s line-up includes world renowned guest speakers and vendors from across the...

Where:
Augusta Civic Center
Augusta, ME


Website »

More information

The GFAF Expos are the greatest events on earth for those living a gluten-free or allergen-friendly lifestyle. Sample hundreds of products, meet with local and national brands, receive coupons and...

Where:
DCU Center
50 Foster Street
Worcester, MA
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags