What Makes Us Care? the Impact of Cultural Values, Individual Factors, and Attention to Media Content on Motivation for Ethical Consumerism

Article excerpt


This study seeks to provide a deeper understanding of motivation for ethical consumerism and to determine whether it is influenced by cultural differences. Based on surveys conducted in Austria and South Korea, the authors analyze the impact of cultural values, psychologically derived factors (i.e., anticipated benefits and self-identity), and attention to media content on motivation for ethical consumerism. The results reveal significant cultural differences, with Austrian respondents showing higher motivation for ethical consumerism than their South Korean counterparts. Among cultural values (materialism and post-materialism), individual factors (emotional benefits, universal benefits, and self-identity), and attention to media content variables (both news and entertainment), post-materialism, self-identity, and attention to news media content were found to be significant predictors of motivation for ethical consumerism.

Ethical consumerism can be described as an expression of ethical concerns about products and organizations "by choosing to purchase a product that meets certain ethical standards, or by choosing not to purchase a product that fails to meet that criteria." (1) 'Ethical,' in this instance, does not simply cover environmental considerations; it includes "matters of conscience such as animal welfare and fair trade, social aspects such as labor standards, as well as more self-interested health concerns behind the growth of organic food sales." (2)

Across the globe, consumers are becoming more socially conscious and ethically concerned. Increasingly, they wish to purchase and use goods that demonstrate social and environmental responsibility (e.g., energy-saving light bulbs, organic food, and fair-trade coffee), and refuse to purchase products produced in 'sweatshops' (e.g., real animal fur coats or shoes). Commercial surveys provide empirical evidence that verifies this rise in ethical consumerism. In Europe, for example, a study by Ipsos-MORI, a British marketing research company, found that, in 2006, sixty-one percent of consumers in the United Kingdom agreed to buy fair-trade products where possible, up from forty-six percent a year earlier. (3) Similarly, the annual Co-operative Bank Ethical Consumerism Report showed that every household in the U.K., on average, spent 664 [pounds sterling] in accordance with their ethical values in 2006 as compared to 366 [pounds sterling] in 2002. (4) Within a more global context, a 2005 General Market Institute poll across seventeen countries (including Australia, China, India, Japan, the United States, and several European countries) indicated that consumers worldwide expressed a growing interest in environmentally friendly and socially responsible consumption. According to these findings, fifty-four percent of consumers were prepared to pay more for environmentally friendly or fair-trade products. In each country, most consumers favored ethical consumerism. Surprisingly, in the lesser developed of these countries, China and India, ninety-one and seventy-one percent of consumers, respectively, were willing to pay more for socially responsible products. (5) These polls demonstrate that while consumers' awareness of ethical issues in trade and consumption is increasing, "awareness and concern are not directly translated into ethical purchase behavior." (6) Given these findings, it is important to examine motivation for ethical consumerism in order to determine which behavior is chosen and why. (7)

Little is known about what influences consumers' motivation for ethical consumption choices. Ethical consumerism, in fact, is a complex phenomenon related a number of possible factors. As Terry Newholm, a lecturer in consumer theory, international business, and strategy at the University of Manchester, and Deidre Shaw, a senior lecturer in consumer lifestyles and behavior at the University of Glosgow, point out, "much work remains in exploring, comparing and theorizing the everyday ethics of consumption across a range of cultures. …