Center for Fair & Alternative Trade

Colorado State University

Socially Responsible Business Practices and Ethical Consumption Decisions by Sonali Diddi

Presented by Sonali Diddi, Assistant Professor in CSU’s Department of Design and Merchandising

On Thursday, February 19th, 2015 Sonali Diddi, Assistant Professor in CSU’s Department of Design and Merchandising, gave a seminar on ‘Socially Responsible Business Practices and Ethical Consumption Decisions’.

Diddi’s research explores the social-psychological factors—like personal values and norms, prior knowledge, perceptions, and attitudes—that affect consumers’ ethical decision-making and support for socially responsible practices in the apparel industry. Her research develops innovative approaches to research and actions fostering the well-being of society, the environment and the world’s economies.

Society today is characterized by unsustainable levels of consumption that is more “want-driven” than “needs-driven”.  The fast-fashion industry is booming and many of us buy far more than what we need. Clothing along with food, water and shelter are basic human needs. But the meaning of clothing has changed dramatically. Clothing today is shaped by fast changing trends, social status and aesthetic appeal. Stores are overstocked and promote an unsustainable consumer culture. Who is responsible: the brands that promote “sales” year round; individuals who buy more than they need; or our society that fails to recognize our collective impact?

Globalization, urbanization and industrialization have transformed the apparel industry. The garment industry now has a huge environmental impact, with rising greenhouse gas emissions in manufacturing, pollution from chemical disposal, and the trashing of an estimated 11 million tons of textiles a year in landfills. The social impact of the apparel industry is also enormous, with unsafe working conditions and lax labor standards in most offshore factories.

Diddi suggests that industries can play a vital role in addressing these problems.  In recent years, sustainability has become an important issue for companies concerned with corporate social responsibility (CSR). Consumers’ concern over the social and environmental practices of businesses has encouraged these practices. Research shows that consumers value CSR and prefer brands associated with CSR.Yet it is not clear how socio-psychological factors affect consumer intentions towards apparel retail brands engaged in CSR.

Diddi’s research works to fill this gap. How, why and what influences our choices? Diddi analyzes a range of consumer attitudes—including personal values (universalism and benevolence) and moral norms—which may shape our choices, drawing on the Theory of Reasoned Action to explain consumer patronage intentions towards apparel retail brands engaged in CSR. Her research shows that individual characteristics, like personal values and moral norms, have a significant positive impact on patronage intentions towards apparel retail brands engaged in CSR. Knowledge of environmental issues, expectations of brands’ ethical behavior and attitudes also influenced consumers’ patronage intentions.

Diddi also discussed the impact of CSR-based promotions on consumer purchasing behavior. Different types of CSR promotions,associated with the brands’ use of organic cotton, ethical sourcing of fair trade certified products, and use of recycled materials, are widely used in the apparel retail industry. Diddi and colleagues study Gen Y’s attitudes towards apparel products with CSR attributes on their purchase intention, assessing the effects of moral obligation on purchasing intentions and gender differences in Gen Y’s attitudes, moral obligation, and purchase intentions.They find that Gen Y’s attitudes toward CSR based apparel and their level of moral obligation are important in shaping their purchase intentions.

Seminar discussion focused on now to communicate socially responsible business practices to consumers as well as the challenges in encouraging responsible consumption. Sonali Diddi plans to expand her research in the future to examine whether giving additional CSR information at the point-of-purchase shapes consumers’ patronage intentions towards brands engaged in socially responsible business practices.