08 Aug 2007

Ethical consumption: consumer driven or political phenomenon?

According to new research, the most effective campaigns to encourage ethical consumption are those that take place at a collective level, such as the creation of Fairtrade cities, rather than those targeting individual behaviour.

"For many people, their choice to buy ethical goods or services is shaped by both personal and public commitments," says Dr Clive Barnett from The Open University.

The research found that people often lack effective pathways to act on their concerns over organic food, environmental sustainability or third world sweatshops.

In order to successfully encourage people to adopt ethical consumption activities, it is important to call on their specific identities, as for example a member of the local community or faith group, rather than just targeting them as 'faceless' and ‘placeless’ consumers. The most successful initiatives are those that find ways of making changes to the practical routines of consumption. For example, by changing how and what people buy and from where through establishing initiatives such as Fairtrade networks or achieving the status of a Fairtrade town or city.

According to Dr Barnett, the findings present a clear message: "If ethical consumption campaigns are to succeed, they need to transform the infrastructures of every day consumption rather than focusing on changing individual consumer behaviour".

The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

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