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The Ethical Consumerism Movement

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Corporate scandals undermine the reputation of companies. This is particularly serious for them now, when they are involved more than ever in branding: building up brands which are easy to recognize and to identify with. The most important asset for many companies is their brand; it is an intangible asset, heavily dependent on the recognition and assessment of the social environment. This is especially true for companies producing consumer goods, but for others as well – partly because they may become a consumergoods-producing company at any time, as the example of Caterpillar suggests. Now, the reputation acquired among consumers is particularly important: they should know, love, identify with, and finally choose brands.

But can we love a brand that is associated with child labor, environmental destruction and other corporate misbehaviors? Klein (1999) suggests that branding carries an inherent paradox. While it reflects the desperate will of corporations to get rid of their “dirty backyard” (smoky factories, pollution, conflicts with workers, trade unions, etc.) by outsourcing the production activities and creating a “spiritual identity” for the firm, at the same time it contributes to the growing inquiry of consumers about the real meaning of a brand. What is it exactly that I am supposed to identify with? Are the values that brands convey real ones, or just PR constructions? Indeed, many studies show that people are increasingly driven by inherent value considerations when making their consumer choices. For instance, according to the Cooperative Bank's report (2003) the total value of ethical consumption was £19.9 billion in the United Kingdom. The Ethical Purchasing Index (EPI), also elaborated by the Bank to measure ethical consumption, showed a 13 percent increase from 2001 to 2002.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2006

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