The Socially Conscious Consumer? Field Experimental Tests of Consumer Support for Fair Labor Standards
The public appetite for fair-trade goods has risen in recent years, but the potential for this market’s large-scale growth is less clear. While research has shown that many consumers are willing to pay a premium for goods produced according to certain ethical standards, companies continue to assess how profitable fair-trade goods can be. Moreover, non-governmental organizations wonder if they should divert some resources into fair-trading training programs, and governments contemplate whether or not they should encourage these voluntary initiatives.
A 2012 study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, “The Socially Conscious Consumer? Field Experimental Tests of Consumer Support for Fair Labor Standards,” details the outcome of an experiment conducted in 111 Banana Republic factory outlet stores in 38 states for four weeks in the summer of 2010. The researchers designed two versions of a promotional in-store 20” x 30” sign for three apparel items — a women’s suit available for $130, women’s yoga pants for $18 and a men’s t-shirt for $12. One version of the sign emphasized the item’s style, the other emphasized its fair-trade pedigree and some items were not promoted by either sign. Results were determined by correlating item sales with the signs displayed.
The study’s findings include:
- Sales of the $130 women’s suit rose by 14% in stores in which the product was labeled with a sign emphasizing the fair trade origins of the apparel. There was no difference in suit sales in stores that used the sign emphasizing the fashion of the apparel.
- “Even in this outlet setting there is a segment of shoppers who respond positively to a message conveying information about fair labor standards in factories making apparel. Among female customers shopping for a higher priced item — the linen suit — the message about labor standards had a substantial positive effect on sales.”
- The fairness and the fashion messages had no effect on sales of the yoga pants or T-shirts when compared to sales that did not use signs with the products. Shoppers looking for lower-priced items “do not pay attention to marketing messages that convey information about product attributes other than price.”
The authors conclude that product labels highlighting fair labor practices had a “substantial positive effect” on the purchasing behavior of women shopping for higher-priced items, but no effect on men or shoppers with lower price points. They also note that further research to better understand the demand for fair-trade goods might include assessing the individual motivations of consumers and examining “individual-level variation in ethical consumption and support for fair labor standards” including age, socioeconomic status and educational attainment level.
Tags: human rights, consumer affairs, labor unions
Read the issue-related Digital Development Debates post titled "Fair Trade Movements, Markets, and Research."
- What key insights from the news article and the study in this lesson should reporters be aware of as they cover issues relating to the expansion of fair trade commerce?
Read the full study titled "The Socially Conscious Consumer? Field Experimental Tests of Consumer Support for Fair Labor Standards."
- What are the study's key technical term(s)? Which ones need to be put into language a lay audience can understand?
- Do the study’s authors put the research into context and show how they are advancing the state of knowledge about the subject? If so, what did the previous research indicate?
- What is the study’s research method? If there are statistical results, how did the scholars arrive at them?
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example, are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
- How could the findings be misreported or misinterpreted by a reporter? In other words, what are the difficulties in conveying the data accurately? Give an example of a faulty headline or story lead.
Newswriting and digital reporting assignments
- Write a lead, headline or nut graph based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Compose two Twitter messages of 140 characters or fewer accurately conveying the study’s findings to a general audience. Make sure to use appropriate hashtags.
- Choose several key quotations from the study and show how they would be set up and used in a brief blog post.
- Map out the structure for a 60-second video segment about the study. What combination of study findings and visual aids could be used?
- Find pictures and graphics that might run with a story about the study. If appropriate, also find two related videos to embed in an online posting. Be sure to evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of any materials you would aggregate and repurpose.
Class discussion questions
- What is the study’s most important finding?
- Would members of the public intuitively understand the study’s findings? If not, what would be the most effective way to relate them?
- What kinds of knowledgeable sources you would interview to report the study in context?
- How could the study be “localized” and shown to have community implications?
- How might the study be explained through the stories of representative individuals? What kinds of people might a reporter feature to make such a story about the study come alive?
- What sorts of stories might be generated out of secondary information or ideas discussed in the study?