The Contours of Choice: The Role of Consumer Information in Social Responsibility
Thoresen, Victoria W., Consumer Interests Annual
Awareness of social responsibility evolves as society's notions of care and concern, of righteousness and justice expand.
Mr. and Mrs. Neanderthal may not have had formalized codes of conduct, legal standards or production reports to refer to, but making socially irresponsible choices definitely posed a threat to their survival. That threat continues to be as real for individuals today as it was centuries ago. Despite efforts of governments, religions, philosophers, teachers, parents and peers, we continue to make choices which lead to us to marginalize, molest and kill one another, to destroy the environment, to perpetuate extreme poverty and to devour the resources of future generations.
Although many world views and development theories would contend that personal choice is less a cause of the present state of affairs than for example natural resources, capital, and distribution of power, etc., the effects of individual cannot be underestimated. The significant increase in the number of democracies in recent years has strengthened the role of the active citizen. (1) The growth of digital communication as a means of expressing one's opinions has provided activists and interest organizations with powerful tools. The inbuilt sensitivity of the global market to consumer decisions has transformed the consumer into a strategic economic force to be reckoned with. There is increased public interest in assuring that firms, governments and organizations behave in a more balanced, socially responsible manner and report publicly on their behaviour. Media have even begun to referring to "the user revolution".
The contours of choice leading to socially responsible consumer action are based upon values and are dependent upon relevant, quality information. As Consumers International has stated:
"In order for organizations to play a constructive role (in alleviating the negative effects of globalization), they need incentives to change their operations towards more socially responsible production and delivery of services. By means of their purchasing power and ethical buying strategies, consumers can potentially give organizations incentives to operate more socially responsibly. For consumers to use their purchasing power as incentives, and to act ethically, they need credible comparable and reliable information about the social responsibility of organizations."
Consumers International January 23, 2007
In order to better understand the contours of consumer choice in relation to social responsibility it is necessary to reflect briefly upon the following:
--the significance of values in information selection
--the availability and quality of consumer information
--instruments for using consumer information to stimulate social responsibility
1. The significance of values in information selection
Modern society confronts children, youth and adults with sights, sounds and other sensory experiences as well as language codes which are multicultural, historically complex, morally diverse and most often unrelated to their earlier impressions. The process of integrating information into meaningful units of understanding becomes extremely elaborate, difficult and for some distressing. The global culture demands quicker reactions, greater flexibility and more extensive creative capacities than ever before. In addition it requires more comprehensive morals in relation to daily activities in the market place.
Morals are based on values. Values, particularly those concerning social responsibility, have characterized the history of human civilization. They influence what information we choose to select and what we choose to ignore. There are divergent theories about the origin and evolution of values and their relation to social responsibility.
Values and the development of social responsibility
Most social systems require individual members to contribute to the maintenance of the existence of the group to which they belong. …