Brand attachment and judging ethical behaviour

I’ve written previously about the gap that seems to exist between consumers’ ethical values and consumers’ actual, practical application those ethical values. Even though a lot of us would like to buy in a more ethical and sustainable way, when it comes down to it, we sometimes (or perhaps frequently) don’t. Of course, there are plenty of factors that affect whether we enact our desire to consume more responsibly – the availability of sustainable items, the cost (relative to alternative items and relative to one’s own budget), the quality and range of more responsible options, etc.

Another thing that affects purchasing in general is, of course, brand attachment. Attachment in this context results in brand loyalty and commitment and willingness to pay higher prices to obtain that brand’s products. This is what pretty much every company and brand will be aiming for, so you can be sure that they’re doing what they can to facilitate brand attachment. How attached you are to a brand depends on the affective experiences it offers you (so what emotions it induces in you) and brand characteristics (for example, whether it seems to share values with you, whether it seems to have a brand personality that matches yours, etc.), among other things. But what are the consequences of being attached to a brand? Well, one of them, as investigated by Schmalz and Orth (2012), is how brand attachment influences people’s reactions to unethical behaviour by the company, firm or brand they’re attached to.

Does brand attachment shelter brands from negative publicity? Are brand devotees willing to overlook unethical behaviour, and if they are, to what extent? It’s interesting to think about these questions, given the pretty frequent media reports of relevant occurrences of unethical behaviour. The examples in Schmalz and Orth’s paper include when Nokia moved one of their production facilities from Germany to Romania to take advantage of cheaper labour (and German consumers got rid of their Nokia phones in protest); when Apple was exposed as having used covert video recording of employees in an attempt to reduce theft; and when it was found out that suppliers were plucking live geese to obtain down for a range of Ikea products. Obviously there are plenty of cognitive biases to help us deal with the cognitive dissonance of buying from brands even when we strongly disapprove of their actions, but what role does brand attachment play?

The researchers were interested in the extent to which brand attachment influenced consumer judgement, so they wanted to have two different levels of “unethical” behaviour – moderately unethical and highly unethical – and to see if brand attachment influenced judgement of the unethical behaviour differently between the two levels. What’s the difference between moderately and highly unethical behaviour? In this study, moderately unethical behaviour was when a brand engaged in negative behaviour but then offered some sort of compensation, whereas highly unethical behaviour was when the brand engaged in negative behaviour and didn’t offer compensation. This is one of the hypothetical example scenarios from the paper:

Coca-Cola has announced intentions to build a new plant. Space for the new plant will be allocated from a local nature reserve. While the German Society for Nature Conservation (NABU) has voiced strong concern about likely damage to the breeding grounds of red-listed white stork, Coca-Cola emphasizes that it will bring 2000 new jobs to the economically underdeveloped region.

Moderately unethical scenario:
To assuage project opponents, Coca-Cola states that even more jobs will be created in the near future through a projected increase in the plant’s output over the next years.

Highly unethical scenario:
Opponents of the project argue that the net job creation will be zero as Coca-Cola merely shifts production from one region to another.

Opinions of whether those two scenarios really are moderately and highly unethical, respectively, will vary hugely, but overall what the researchers were interested in was the difference between the moderately unethical scenario and the highly unethical scenario. So even if you personally thought that neither scenario was particularly unethical, or both were highly unethical, it’s still likely that you’d evaluate the second one more negatively than the first one.

And perhaps unsurprisingly, it turns out that brand attachment does shield a brand from negative evaluation from consumers, but only when behaviour is moderately unethical – not when it is highly unethical and without any mitigating circumstances. When you’re strongly attached to a brand and they do something moderately unethical, you don’t judge them as harshly as someone who is only weakly attached to the brand. However, when the brand does something highly unethical, strongly attached people judge them just as harshly as weakly attached people. Developing customer loyalty therefore softens the blow for brands when they do something generally considered to be moderately unethical, but it won’t protect them if they do something objectively awful.

However, there’s another factor at play here that probably makes an immeasurably huge difference – the country of the people in the study and the country where the hypothetical unethical scenarios are set. This study was conducted in Germany and the scenarios were all about hypothetical events that occurred in Germany. It’s not relevant that it’s Germany specifically, but it is relevant that the unethical events are occurring in the same country as the people being asked to judge the unethical events. I think the results might have been different if the country in which the events occurred was different (geographically and/or culturally) from the country in which people were being asked to make the judgements. Limited familiarity with another country and its culture and standards of living make it more difficult to judge (or perhaps easier to dismiss, unfortunately). Consequently, maybe a brand could get away with unethical behaviour on the other side of the world, and the person making a judgement of the unethical behaviour won’t feel so personally impacted and therefore brand attachment might trump even highly unethical behaviour.

People’s attachments, whether to brands or to other people or to whatever, are complex and dynamic, so future research needs to investigate the other factors that influence the relationship between brand attachment and judgement of unethical behaviour.

23 Thoughts on “Brand attachment and judging ethical behaviour

  1. Such an interesting topic that you touch on here, and obviously there is a lot to say on the subject. I remember having a conversation with a girl, which turned rather heated as I discussed under what potential circumstances her $3 Primark dress could possibly have been created under. After a few too many drinks I believe I shouted out ‘It was made in a sweatshop’, multiple times, so passionately do I feel about it – and I must say that it does make me want to avoid shopping from numerous stores that push low prices and high consumption.

    I’ve found that my brand loyalty towards certain labels is definitely waning, as my love affair subsides, and it’s making me more aware – less likely to purchase if it’s made in China rather than in New Zealand (for an NZ based designer), although I’d say I’m pretty sheltered for the most part about production practices. I tend to buy in the middle range (quite often off eBay) – labels like Isabel Marant, Alexander Wang, Helmut Lang, 3.1 by Phillip Lim, Karen Walker and Lover, and with these more ’boutique’ brands, which have considerably higher prices than other labels, I can only hope that the treatment of workers is ethical and fair.

    But.. I suppose my point is, if it’s a shop/label/brand I barely shopped from, I probably would cease buying from there altogether, bar an exception or two, although I’m not quite sure I could completely stop if it was a label I loved. I’d find it difficult instantly having an entire designer whose aesthetic I appreciated and resonated with my style being cut off…

    • Yeah, you would hope that higher prices would mean better working conditions, but when all the label says is “Made in China” or wherever and the brand doesn’t clearly state any particular position on ethical or sustainable production, it’s so hard to tell. But I think the bigger problem is with the fast fashion brands, because their turn-around period to get stuff from design to manufacture to market is so stupidly fast that it means the factories can’t deal with the demand, and the work gets outsourced to unchecked, unpoliced factories with terrible conditions. I was reading an article just before about how some factory producing H&M clothes had a fire and employees died, and H&M’s response was basically “Well, we weren’t in control of that particular factory” as if that was the end of their responsibility. Still, I don’t think that higher prices guarantee better working conditions. I think Alexander Wang settled out of court with a bunch of his workers in New York who had been found to be working unacceptable hours under dangerous conditions – so not even producing something in the middle of NYC is a guarantee that the workers are getting treated ethically, unfortunately. Very depressing.

      And I was very sad when the tags inside Lover and KW garments stopped saying made in Australia and made in New Zealand. I feel with Lover in particular, their garment quality overall has gone way downhill (seriously, nylon/polyester blazers when they used to do gorgeous birdseye wool blazers?), and despite cheaper materials and presumably cheaper labour, their prices have stayed the same. I’d love to know what has pressured them into having to change their production values so much.

      • Hello Jess and everyone !
        it’s a pleasure to read on this blog again -and a pleasure to see such long comments that give space to discussion.
        I hear what you say about brand attachment -Apple is a particularly good example. People are extremely attached to this brand, they have found something that resonates very deeply in customer’s psyche.
        Something is important to add to the research though : the existence of real alternatives. Why I mean by that is : let’s say H&M gets caught in a scandal. Maybe it won’t change people’s buying habits simply at all (or very little)……simply because it’s not better elsewhere !! It would be very naive to think there is a proportion between the scandal and the reality of things. Zara will do the same exmploitation, but maybe not get caught. Nokia will do exactly the same thing as Apple, but because the people care less about the brand they might pay less attention to scandals too. So I believe it’s not necessarily clever to “boycott H&M” if you shop to Zara instead… or even expensive brands, which, as you said, do EXACTLY the same thing.
        (on that precise point, I have received recently the catalog of a luxury parisian multibrand shop called “Le Bon Marché”. Litterally 99% -LITTERALLY- of items were made from acrylic, polyester and such. All brands like Alexander Wang, Balenciaga, Dior, selling every single item for more than 1000E)
        One of the brands I like most is Petit Bateau, and I would be quicker to forgive moderatly unethical behaviour simply because I know every brand behaves pretty much the same, and PB offers what I consider to be a superior quality. It’s not all unreasonable….or is it ? :)

        • PS : Making stuff in NY, even in horrible conditions, remains a bit better than the same conditions in, say, Pakistan, at least in my opinion. Because they’re far more likely to be controls/scandals at some stage, the people working in the factory also still have a greater access to hospitals and such…

  2. Rebecca on March 16, 2013 at 8:24 am said:

    Great writing on a very pertinent topic. I think something that must be considered is the media; how people find out about unethical corporate behaviour (and what facts, if any, they can reliably believe) would also have an impact on consumer behaviour, as would the consumer’s education level and predisposition to critical thinking, questioning the status quo and ability to feel empathy for those who are, as you put it, half way around the world. It seems that even if people do find out about unethical behaviour (moderate or egregious), they aren’t necessarily going to believe it or care about it enough to change their buying habits.

    • Very true! And even with all these other factors that play a big part in governing whether we end up changing our behaviours, we still have that suite of cognitive biases that allow us to tolerate huge discrepancies and aberrations between our beliefs and our behaviours, and to distract ourselves from seriously disturbing matters so that we can go about our business without being weighed down by our consciences. There are plenty of well educated people out there who for all intents and purposes care greatly about many ethical issues, and who read news articles about ethical issues and feel appalled, but who still go and buy from the brands and retailers who give rise to those ethical issues. And there are plenty of people who are in the financial situation to not be forced to buy super-cheap fashion, and who have enough time and money to make the effort to buy a more ethical alternative, but… the path of least resistance is often taken, and that’s just to keep on buying the cheap, easy option and to mentally distance yourself from whatever problems might be associated with it.

      And I’m not rebuking anyone for it – it’s really an unsurprising outcome given our cognitive biases, and it takes a lot of effort to think about it clearly and to analyse one’s own behaviour for dodgy justifications or faulty logic, and then to act to fix it. So in all, it’s not surprising that people shop and buy the way they do, but it would be absolutely fantastic if more people started to make a concerted effort to change the status quo. But it’s up to each individual to decide whether they have the time and money and resources to do that.

  3. That’s a very interesting topic indeed! And one of the problems of today’s consumers, at least those who (can afford to) care about ethics. I think the most problematic thing though, is not how to react to an ethical scandal from a brand you like – in the end it is down to each person’s values and choices.

    I think the problem is when you don’t know the conditions of fabrication of the brands you purchase from. Ethics, ecology, fair trade etc. are such a marketing hook today, that they can even lie about their ethics to incite conscious consumers to buy from their brand. Like the organic cotton example you gave about topshop (H&M does the same).

    You mention we are more informed consumers than 50 years ago, but I think that, with globalization, we know much less about what we buy than 50 years ago. Clothes came from local factories, food from local farms. Today, who can tell exactly where the material came from, how it was made? And when I see middle-range clothes costing 5X more than H&M but breaking down just as quickly, I’m starting to question the assumption that more expensive items will be of better quality and ethics… After all, don’t brand use the consumer’s attachment to increase prices?

    • Yeah, green-washing is such an incredibly frustrating thing. I was reading H&M’s “manifesto” the other day and wow, the language was just so weaselly. Lots of “we attempt to” or “we try to” or “we believe that” which basically makes them sound like they care a lot about ethical and sustainable production but actually gets them out of committing to better practices. I don’t care if they’re “planning to commit to” better practices or “believe that sustainable options are a better future for our planet” – they may as well not say anything at all, because the phrasing is so non-committal and because the fact remains that their business model is incompatible with better practices, unless they’re willing to take a substantial hit financially. And given the huge number of shareholders that want ever-increasing profits from their investment in H&M, that is really, really not going to happen.

      The almost total impossibility of knowing where materials come from and how they are produced, never mind the garments themselves, means that consuming ethically is so ridiculously, incredibly difficult. Even very ethically committed people aren’t going to be bothered or are going to get worn out and disenchanted from trying. I guess that’s why just not buying anything at all is the best course of action, if it’s feasible under the circumstances (and of course there are plenty of occasions when something absolutely necessary does need replacing).

  4. Thanks as always for sharing these illuminating studies – I can’t say the findings surprise me; I bought Nike leggings about two years ago even though at the time I already knew from news reports that conditions in Nike’s factories in Southeast Asia were awful. I didn’t even remember until I brought them home – that’s quickly we put human suffering that isn’t right in front of us out of our minds. Since then I’ve decided I wouldn’t buy workout wear from any of the big companies; but I quickly ran into a problem finding workout wear that’s ethically made – it’s not so much companies having a bad rep; it’s more because most companies don’t offer information about their manufacturing processes at all. It’s hard to make an informed decision when there’s so little transparency. Ironically, Nike has begun making clothes partially composed of recycled materials, which is a plus in their favour.

    • Yeah, it would be amazing if companies were forthcoming with information about their production processes, but I guess the fact would be that that would mean very bad press for probably the vast majority of companies. It’s an effort and a risk for them to provide that information, and there are plenty of consumers who don’t ask for the information, so there’s really not much impetus for change at the moment. I assume that the brands that genuinely do care about ethical and sustainable production and who are transparent about their processes are the ones who provide that information willingly and in detail.

  5. Something else springs to my mind, sorry to be ranting a bit… :p
    Supposedly we care less about misery that takes place on the other side of the world than close to us. But I live in Paris where there are thousands of homeless people, living in conditions possibly worse than death. Do I go out and offer them food, or even a coin or two ? Not always, and definetly not as often as I could afford to do it. They’re close, but truth is maybe I don’t care as much as I like to think I do. Similarly, H&M customers are probably very aware of the word/environmental conditions in which products are made, but since they’re happy to buy something nice and cheap (and possibly can’t afford more expenive things), it doesn’t require much (writing “organic cotton” or “conscious collection on a t-shirt !!!! such a joke !!) to convince them to get over the possible guilt…

    I don’t want to sound condescendent/superior at all, I am myself stuck with the pain of this contradiction. Once you start wanting to do good things, you realize it’s fare more complicated than it seems (see your brilliant article about ethical candles…).

    • Ah, it’s so true, isn’t it? We’re so capable of ignoring terrible things, even if they’re on our doorsteps. The brain has these biases and mechanisms for downplaying otherwise horrible and traumatic things because if we were to care about every injustice and every instance of suffering, we would have very frequent mental break-downs and would be unable to function in the world!

      And yes, people are very bad at relating to people they perceive as different from themselves (whether they live in a different country, or whether they live in the same country but in a very different socioeconomic situation, etc). And then there’s the concept of the monkeysphere, which suggests that your brain can only comprehend a certain number of people as being full entities worthy of your concern, and everyone else is relegated to the background and you don’t really given them the worth of a full human being, so it’s very easy to ignore their suffering. So people are generally terrible at comprehending the enormity of grander problems of human suffering – a study showed that people in hypothetical jury situations handed down harsher sentences for a fictional person whose actions had indirectly killed, say, 10 people, than for a fictional person whose actions had indirectly killed thousands of people. So when you hear stats about tens of thousands of factory workers being subjected in inhumane working conditions, the number is so large that it becomes unfathomable and therefore the issue becomes easier for people to dismiss and put to the back of their minds.

      All these cognitive mechanisms make it easier for us to get through everyday life without totally losing it and despairing, but they’re also unfortunately convenient for dismissing and ignoring serious problems. And I guess on top of all that, people (perhaps quite rightly) wonder what the point of their own singular actions would be and whether that choice not to buy one cheap H&M item really makes a difference overall. God, then you’re onto the bystander effect, which is kind of another cognitive bias – you know that something needs to be done about a problem, but there are plenty of other people around so the responsibility feel dispersed and you assume that someone else will do something about it.

      So it really just is not surprising that this is how things have ended up, with people’s desire for consumption resulting in some of the poorest people on earth suffering so badly and the environment being degraded. And as you say, it’s even less surprising when you add on top of all that the fact that making an informed choice about what to buy is so difficult, and that companies have a vested interest in obscuring their problematic practices. None of this bodes particularly well for positive change, I have to say…

      • Clara on March 20, 2013 at 3:49 am said:

        “the number is so large that it becomes unfathomable and therefore the issue becomes easier for people to dismiss and put to the back of their minds”… wow… I never thought about it that way. The larger the number, the less significant it becomes.
        Jesus, if you put it that way, that’s quite a shock.

  6. It was mentioned upthread about garments that say “made in australia,” resonating with a consumer that this must be an ethically made piece — this may have been written somewhere, but it’s not necessarily true, as higher end fast-fashion places like cue often use workers who work from home, where the conditions can go unchecked.

    it has become a lot easier to shop cruelty free beauty products, for which i am grateful for. it was hard to give up dior mascara and other favourite brands, but there is a lot more choice. hopefully a something similar can happen in fashion, where we can enjoy pieces from ethical and transparent companies.

    • I was wondering what the situation was with Cue and the Ethical Clothing Australia accreditation they have. I remember looking at the ECA website a few years back and finding it very depressing how few major retailers and brands were accredited, but it looks like a fair few have joined the list now (Metalicus, Collette Dinnigan, Lisa Ho, Nobody, Review, etc). But it’s interesting/worrying that even that sort of accreditation could have underlying problems, as you mention with workers working from home.

      Yeah, Australians seem to prefer “Made in Australia” where possible, but I think they have also become very indifferent to things that aren’t made in Australia. I remember when I was a kid, there was that huge “Made in Australia” ad campaign and Australian-made products had those big green and gold kangaroo labels on them to make them easy for consumers to spot, and people were really into it because they were concerned about jobs going overseas. But over time, the retail climate and consumer expectations have changed to the point where overseas labour is just an accepted part of life, and people just don’t care if something they want to buy is made in Bangladesh or Cambodia (and they don’t question why things have ended up like this, and why garment manufacture is so critical to the economies of those countries yet the people in the countries making the garments are not getting the benefits in terms of improved quality of life). If an item is made in Australia, I think people just consider it a nice bonus.

      Then there’s that whole thing about fashion items being made under terrible conditions in one country and then finished off in a country that is perceived as having better living and working conditions. So something made in Cambodia can end up with a “Made in France” tag on it, which of course people think is worth paying a premium for. God, there are so many problems that it’s hard not to despair about the whole thing.

  7. Clara on March 20, 2013 at 3:59 am said:

    This is depressing indeed…. sorry, it’s me again. I’m so interested in this subject and happy that I found a community to talk about all this in depth !! <3
    But there is one -radical- solution. BUY LESS -much less. This is very hard but also very rewarding, and it becomes less and less difficult with time. Get to know a good seamstress. Buy original jewellery pieces once every six months, but from craftsmen. And whenever you buy yourself something new, take time to appreciate it and feel grateful for it. Gratitude is also a way of getting out of the consumer circle…. By admiring and being happy with your choice for 1 month each time you avoid lots of impulse buys ! That works !
    This only works at an individual level so far…. but keep calm and carry on as they say !

    • That’s definitely the conclusion I keep coming to – given all the problems, and given how ridiculously difficult (nigh on impossible) it is to find out the information you need to make more sustainable choices, perhaps the best course of action is simply not to buy at all where possible. That’s not without its own problems, though, since if we all suddenly stopped buying garments, economies in places like Cambodia or Bangladesh would take a huge hit, and millions of people would have no income rather than an unfairly small income. It’s just really difficult to figure out who needs to do what to effect the necessary changes, because it seems like multiple parties need to make different efforts – consumers need to cut their consumption without eliminating it, and focus their consumption on the most ethical and sustainable sources, and retailers and brands need to adjust their business models to accommodate these changes and to effectively institute production policies that favour countries that need the economic input without taking unfair advantage of those countries. I guess that’s why buying from places like People Tree is a good idea – if you’re going to buy something, it may as well be something that directly benefits people who need the help. And I guess on top of that sort of option, we need international aid and interventions on a large scale that help vulnerable countries set up and monitor key industries in a way that improves the quality of life for the people working in those industries. So more developed countries consuming products from less developed countries can be a good thing that promotes ethical and sustainable production and improves people’s lives, but… there just aren’t many routes for doing that right now, and most consumers aren’t demanding such options.

    • Oh and yes, properly appreciating something and taking the time to feel grateful for it would make a huge difference! It’s like the psychological concept of mindfulness, which is borrowed from Buddhist meditation and which is proving to be useful in various clinical therapies – if you focus on something and concentrate on how it makes you feel and the sensations it gives you, it can bring more fulfillment. It’s used in clinical psychology for people who over-eat to an extent where it’s endangering their health, and they take part in mindfulness classes where they eat really slowly and thoughtfully and make the effort to appreciate every mouthful, and they learn to apply that mindfulness to every meal, which usually results in them eating less overall (not sure of the actual statistics of its effectiveness, but it seems to work for at least some people). So that sort of approach could probably be directly applied to consumer behaviour, and people might feel more satisfied with what they have rather than getting caught up in wanting something new.

      (And don’t ever apologise about your multiple comments, Clara – they’re always so interesting and it’s so great to have this sort of discussion going. :))

  8. This is a great post, and a great comment thread. You’ve done a great job of explaining the study, and as all of us in academia know, that is an important skill!

    I think what the comments really underline is that it is so hard to make good decisions!

    Like everyone who reads this blog, I’m guessing, I think a lot about these issues.

    My main conclusion has been, as Clara said above, we have to buy less. Clara, I love what you said about being grateful, I have never framed things that way before and it’s a really great point.

    Let’s be honest, how many of us “need” more clothing? How are we defining need? Of course we want things, and I honestly think that’s pretty normal, but I’m trying hard to step back and use what I have. And, my hope is that in doing so, I’ll have some sort of revelation. We’ll see, ha.

    So, yes, buy less, buy second hand. Even second hand has its pitfalls, as does donating clothing, as not all second hand shops are created equal, ethically speaking.

    The only company I actually feel good about buying from is Patagonia. There is a ton written on them, so I won’t go into it here, but Yvon Chouinard is an inspiration and I am happy to support what he is trying to do. I just started his newest book, The Responsible Company, and I recommend it. Patagonia is doing huge things in this field, and I look to them as leaders.

    But, as Chouinard and Stanley say in the intro to the Responsible Company, even ethically produced clothing has a negative environmental impact, and no company is actually sustainable. So, then we circle back to “buy less.”

    Icebreaker is another interesting company that I am trying to learn more about. I think that Brora is also quite good, though I own nothing from there.

    Let’s be honest, though, Patagonia and Icebreaker make fantastic clothes, but they aren’t necessarily stylish. I’m aiming to shift as much of my buying to them (for things like t shirts, etc.) and then fill in the rest with what I have or second hand. But what was my most recent purchase? Some random new item off of zalando.

    I keep thinking I should do a “shopping challenge” to buy nothing new or not from Patagonia or Icebreaker or Brora for a year. But, I somehow haven’t bit the bullet on that yet. Why, I don’t entirely know. I think part of it has to do with ongoing health issues that affect my body perception, and that I want to buy what I want to help deal with that. But, who knows, maybe actually sticking to my values when I shop might have some impact on how I feel about my health and body too. It’s complicated and it’s emotional, this topic of clothing.

    • Ah, that’s really interesting about Patagonia – I had no idea how committed they were to being environmentally and ethically responsible. And I love how detailed their environmentalism section is on their website! Now that is a rare thing! “We can’t pose Patagonia as the model of a responsible company. We don’t do everything a responsible company can do, nor does anyone else we know. But we can tell you how we came to realize our environmental and social responsibilities, and then began to act on them.” The fact that they’re so upfront about it all, and the fact that they then go on to provide details about what they do do… this should be standard practice for all companies and retailers. It shows that a company can be financially viable and successful (doubled revenue and tripled profits between 2008 and 2012!) and responsible.

      I feel like shopping challenges are kind of like New Year’s resolutions – people say they’re going to do one but then 99% of the time nothing changes, haha! For me, anyway, I feel like it’s better to try to slowly try to adjust my behaviour over time in a way that’s maintainable in the long run. As appealing as it is to jump in and do a challenge that changes your habits drastically and quickly, it is possible that such a sudden change would be more difficult to assimilate into your life and therefore ends up being disheartening r discouraging. But of course, it depends on the person, and some people would probably thrive just from the enjoyment of rising to such a drastic challenge. But given there are so many thought processes and cognitive mechanisms going on that make people feel like they do need to buy something new for their wardrobe, even though objectively they have everything they need, it’s perhaps more a gradual, self-enforced change in thought patterns and perceptions and judgements that are necessary to make a long-term change in behaviour.

      And yeah, body perception plays such a huge role in dressing, and personal style is such a huge part of identity that it’s even more difficult to tease apart the factors that contribute to the desire to purchase more clothes or to purchase clothes that are in keeping with one’s changing self-perception or body or identity. I looked up some research on that a while ago, to see what studies had looked at the role of dressing in personal identity and well-being, and it’s all so tightly bound together. I’ll have to read through some of the literature again and write a post or two about it because it’s such a fascinating topic for discussion.

  9. Hippocampe on March 21, 2013 at 4:35 am said:

    I agree that consumers are in deny of the labour/environmental problems caused by the industry and that the main cause of denial is the feeling these are problems too big and complicated to be tackled at individual level.

    Besides, consumerism is a way-of-life in our societies, buying a hobby, not only a mere exchange of needed merchandise : people don’t want to be reminded of the troubles of the world in their time of leisure, when they are trying to escape them.

    So activists try to convince consumers their individual decisions have huge consequences on the world. They try to shame people into good behaviour, wanting them to feel responsible and therefore guilty for what happen at the other end of the world. No wonder consumers bristle against this moralizing, holier-than-you discourse, pay lip-service under peer-pressure to the idea of buying ethically but don’t change their actual behaviours.

    I doubt consumers are the key to solve the industrial problems. What’s their incentive to do so, really ? I think the change will come from the workers of the industry rebelling against their labour conditions or from economic changes, the poor workers being ultimately replaced by machinery.

    • I think activists have so much to contend with in changing people’s minds, especially when some activists and charity volunteers have managed leave a sour taste in many people’s mouths (seriously, if a Greenpeace charity collector is going to try to shame me into signing up for donations by yelling “So you don’t care about the environment, then?” as I rush down the street to try to catch a bus in time, I’m pretty much going to never feel like donating to Greenpeace – any other issues of theirs aside). So yeah, I feel like the best thing anyone can do at the individual level is make a choice about their own behaviour and perhaps also try to make people aware of the issues and maybe explain some misconceptions, without it coming across like a stern, moralising lecture (god, I certainly try so hard to avoid that sort of tone when I write posts on these topics, and I am tempted to go back and delete some of my previous posts where I feel like my language sounds too prescriptive about what people should do). Even then, you have to be realistic and realise that while you might feel good for trying to consumer ethically/sustainably, it might not be happening to significant enough extents overall to make any appreciable difference.

      In the longer term, change will come about somehow. China has benefited from being the go-to manufacturer for so many countries around the world, and partly as a result of that, labour has become more expensive and people there are more often expecting and getting a better quality of life (not that there aren’t still some big problems, as there are in all countries, really). So that’s why we’re seeing this shift from manufacturing in China to manufacturing in India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, etc., where the labour is still cheaper. Whether these countries have the infrastructure to develop the way China has developed as a result of the manufacturing industries remains to be seen. And as you say, robotic production lines are going to become more and more common (which I think is why Apple is withdrawing its manufacturing bit by bit from China – they can manufacture for much cheaper in the U.S. as production becomes increasingly mechanised).

      So it’ll be fascinating to watch it all pan out – and probably depressing, as the mechanisation and automation of production continues and jobs are lost and it becomes difficult to absorb the redundant workers into other professions and industries. Maybe that’s what will have to happen before those people act out en masse and fight for a change in the status quo.

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