On sweatshops, morality and marketing

Do you care if a pair of jeans you were about to buy was made with sweatshop labor?

What if you looked really good in them—would you care then?

Are you sure?

In Sweatshop Labor is Wrong Unless the Jeans are Cute, Neeru Paharia and Rohit Deshpandé of Harvard Business School share the results of two studies that have revealed that consumers “are motivated to use moral disengagement strategies to reduce dissonance when their desire for a product conflicts with their moral standards.”

Put simply, the more you want something, the more you are apt to mentally justify your actions with statements such as “The use of sweatshop labor is okay because companies must remain competitive,” and “Sweatshops are the only realistic source of income for workers in poorer countries.”

We rationalize war, but now it’s clear our moral judgments are affected in the purchasing decisions we make every day.

To this, the authors warn—

While on the face of it, such actions are less atrocious than the horrors of war, they may perhaps be even more dangerous due to their subtle and insidious nature – by some estimates there are hundreds of thousands of sweatshops still operating today.

While there’s debate about the role of sweatshops in a global economy, most would agree that conditions in many are deplorable.

So who’s most responsible for the survival of sweatshops?

  • Consumers for continuing to purchase the products?
  • Marketers that position, package and merchandise the products?

What’s your take?

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. . .
Thanks to Freddy Nager, purveyor of the Cool Rules Pronto blog and Harvard alum, for sharing this research with me.

Image: BBC/MailOnline

Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • The “most” responsibility lies, in my view, not with the marketers pursuing sales and market share, or with the consumers who will always want more for less, but the system that drives both these groups to distance themselves from impact of their decisions (either human or environmental). When will our ideals become our reality? When will the common good re-enter our mindsets? How will we learn to live with less?

  • Jeff says:

    Bingo! We have a system and a culture that is able to perform what, to another generation, would be considered miracles. And yet, somehow, the size and complexity of this system distances us from awareness of the implications of our purchasing and investing decisions. I believe that time is coming to an end. The world is getting smaller, and it’s getting harder and harder to hide the “externalities” our affluence has long relied upon. Capitalism alone is not the culprit – witness, for example, the progress market forces have made recently in getting some major commercial interests to stop selling shark fin products (whose popularity has led to the rise of the environmentally devastating “shark finning” industry). Such victories seem small and remote…but I’m enough of a cock-eyed optimist to believe they are the leading edge of a revolution in the way we buy and invest.

  • atiziano says:

    Holiday Promotions May Crimp Retail Margins

    Retailers’ moves to offer early and aggressive holiday promotions before Thanksgiving could result in disappointing margins, Moody’s Investors Service warned in a report.

    The ratings agency said Wednesday that consumers’ memories of last year’s mid-holiday blowout sales – which occurred in the midst of the financial crisis – could play a role in compressing margins. By raising expectations of pre-Black Friday promotions, consumers may be disappointed if prices don’t reach last year’s disaster levels.

    Still, Moody’s said it doesn’t expect retailers to suffer from the very high levels of promotions as they did a year ago. It plans to note which strategies produce sales, over just producing traffic.

    The holidays are coming amid some recent strength, as Moody’s noted back-to-school sales went well and an early bout of cool weather helped clear merchandise then. It added that with the appropriate levels of merchandise and stabilizing consumer sentiment, a greater proportion of merchandise could be sold at full margins in the coming weeks. Full margins include a normalized level of discounting.

    Recent pre-Black Friday strategies include a high-profile discounting effort by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. that stirred online price wars for books and DVDs. Other efforts include Kohl’s Corp.’s have more items with deeper discounts in the flyer for its annual pre-Christmas sale and Target Corp.’s to cut prices for certain toys by 50% in October.

    Those strategies come after retailers reported sales picked up in October at both the low-priced and upscale ends of the market, pushing retail sales for the month up modestly from a year ago for the second straight gain after a year of declines.

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