Consumers Reward Companies for Ethical Production

They also punish companies for unethical practices.
Pam Laughland November 6, 2017
Research indicates that consumers are willing to pay more for ethically produced goods and less for unethically produced ones. Further, the punishment imposed by consumers for unethical practices is greater than the reward for ethical practices. Practices need not be 100 per cent ethical to obtain a premium. One implication is that the information consumers receive on production practices—good or bad—is key to the price they are willing to pay for a company's products.

Background

Companies can improve their relationship with society and differentiate themselves by signalling their products are produced ethically. Ethically produced goods are defined as goods produced under conditions of progressive stakeholder relations, advanced environmental practices and respect for human rights. Research to date yields limited insight into questions such as "will consumers pay more for ethical behaviour?" and "how ethical do firms have to be to be rewarded?" Research has focused mainly on consumer attitudes. Asking consumers their willingness to pay (WTP) for a product better predicts behaviour, and is more useful for companies making production or marketing decisions.

Findings

Implications for Managers

Implications for Researchers

This study is the first to show that consumers punish unethical practices more than they reward ethical practices. It would be helpful to determine the "threshold" at which a company's production is considered ethical and they can capture a premium in the market. Other research could examine the effects of self-disclosed versus third-party announcements of how ethical a company is.

Methods

Consumers were assigned groups in each of  three experiments. In each experiment, the groups were provided different scenarios with information about the product and ethical (or unethical) practices in its production. The experiments looked at 1) willingness to pay for Fair Trade coffee (compared with non-Fair Trade and coffee known to be unethically produced), 2) willingness to pay for t-shirts that were 25 per cent, 50 per cent, or 100 per cent organic cotton vs non-organic cotton and unethically produced cotton, and 3) willingness to pay for Fair Trade coffee when primed with information establishing high or low expectations of the company's practices.
Trudel, R., & Cotte, J. (2009). Does It Pay To Be Good?. MIT/ Sloan Management Review, 50(2): 61-68.

additional resources

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