Utility of No Sweat Labels for Apparel Consumers: Profiling Label Users and Predicting Their Purchases

Article excerpt

This study empirically analyzed whether consumers making apparel purchases would use a label guaranteeing certain working conditions were present during garment production. While a potential market segment for the No Sweat label was identified, evidence suggests that only a small percentage of consumers would be influenced by the label. This small market segment was profiled on its psychographic and demographic characteristics, and the extent to which the No Sweat label would influence future purchases was examined.

Since the mid-1990s, government officials, consumer activists, labor representatives, industry leaders, and the media have focused increasing attention on working conditions surrounding the production of apparel. An argument made by some of these groups is that much apparel is produced in sweatshops and that consumers, among others, must take action against this practice (Varley 1998). [1] Although there is disagreement about what constitutes appropriate working conditions in foreign countries, the U.S. government and some apparel industry leaders are developing standards and implementing codes of conduct. By implementing these codes of conduct, some apparel manufacturers and retailers and various activist organizations are promoting the concept that outside agencies monitor the conditions in apparel factories. The results of the monitoring could then be provided to consumers through a No Sweat label or hangtag that would be applied to garments produced under certain working conditions (Herman says Sweatshop Label 1998; Ramey 1996; Ross 1997). A number of politicians, as well as consumer and labor activist groups, believe that U.S. consumers would use this type of information in their decisions to purchase apparel, and if consumers refuse to buy garments without the label, they would pressure apparel manufacturers and retailers to have their factories monitored and to improve the working conditions if needed (Ramey 1995). While their assumption might seem logical, this type of consumer behavior has only limited scientific support. This study empirically examines whether and to what degree consumers would use a No Sweat label for making apparel decisions.

Consumer Support for Imporved Working Conditions

A variety of public opinion polls suggest that consumers would support policies or actions meant to lessen the chance that their garments are made in factories with poor working conditions. A 1995 survey directed by Marymount University (1995) found 78 percent of a national sample of consumers reportedly were willing to avoid retailers who sell apparel produced in sweatshops. The consumers claimed a preference for retailers committed to fair labor practices. A followup study in 1996 reported similar findings (Marymount University 1996). Likewise, a longitudinal survey of consumers conducted by Cone Communications (1999) found that approximately two-thirds of consumers said they would substitute a brand or retailer for one that is associated with a good cause. Furthermore, in a national survey of female consumers, Dickson (1999) found more than 76 percent of women professing interest in a hangtag on apparel informing them of a company's avoidance of sweatshop production. Yet, only 33 percent of the women indi cated they would sacrifice their own requirements for price to avoid purchasing apparel produced in sweatshops (Dickson 1999). This finding contrasted with information from the Marymount University studies where 84 percent of consumers seemed more willing to make sacrifices, at least in terms of price. They claimed to be willing to pay as much as one dollar or 5 percent more for apparel not manufactured in sweatshops.

Despite polls and surveys showing consumer support for campaigns to improve working considered in the apparel industry, these findings must be considered cautiously. Mislelading information can be obtained by measuring attitudes and behaviors that are not consistent regarding their target, context, time, and action (Ajzen and Fishbein 1980; Hill 1990). …

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