Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 136, Issue 2, pp 251–265 | Cite as

Care and Commitment in Ethical Consumption: An Exploration of the ‘Attitude–Behaviour Gap’

  • Deirdre ShawEmail author
  • Robert McMaster
  • Terry Newholm


In this paper we argue that greater attention must be given to peoples’ expression of “care” in relation to consumption. We suggest that “caring about” does not necessarily lead to “care-giving,” as conceptualising an attitude–behaviour gap might imply, but that a closer examination of the intensity, morality, and articulation of care can lead to a greater understanding of consumer narratives and, thus, behaviour. To examine this proposition, a purposive sample of self-identified ethical consumers was interviewed. Care is expressed by the study’s participants in a variety of ways and linked to behaviour through diverse patterns that includes consumption and abstention. We find significant correspondence between the academic literature on the ‘ethics of care’ and our participants’ articulation of their ethical consumption behaviours. We suggest, therefore, that a close understanding of an ethics of care among consumers is important both in providing insight into the attitude–behaviour gap challenge evident in the literature and to the continued development of an ethical consumption discourse.


Care Attitude Behaviour Ethical consumer 


  1. Arnot, C., Boxall, P. C., & Cash, S. B. (2006). Do ethical consumers care about price? A revealed preference analysis of fair trade coffee purchases. Canadian Journal of Agricultural Economics, 54, 555–565.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Auger, P., & Devinney, T. M. (2007). Do what consumers say matter? The misalignment of preferences with unconstrained ethical intentions. Journal of Business Ethics, 76, 361–383.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baier, A. (1982). Caring about caring: A reply to Frankfurt. Synthese, 53, 273–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baier, A. (1997). The commons of the mind. Chicago: Open Court.Google Scholar
  5. Blustein, J. (1991). Care and commitment: Taking the personal point of view. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Boulstridge, E., & Carrigan, M. (2000). Do consumers really care about corporate responsibility? Highlighting the attitude–behaviour gap. Journal of Communication Management, 4(4), 355–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Boykin, A., & Schoenhofer, S. (1993). Nursing as caring. New York: NLN.Google Scholar
  8. Carrigan, M., & Attalla, A. (2001). The myth of the ethical consumer—Do ethics matter in purchase behaviour? Journal of Consumer Marketing, 18(7), 560–577.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Carrington, M. J., Neville, B. A., & Whitwell, G. J. (2010). Why ethical consumers don’t walk the talk: Towards a framework for understanding the gap between the ethical purchase intentions and actual buying behaviour of ethically minded consumers. Journal of Business Ethics, 97, 139–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Carse, A. L., & Lindemann Nelson, H. (1996). Rehabilitating care. Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, 6, 19–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chatzidakis, A., Hibbert, S., & Smith, A. P. (2007). Why people don’t take their concerns about fair trade to the supermarket: The role of neutralization. Journal of Business Ethics, 74, 89–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chatzidakis, A., Maclaran, P., & Bradshaw, A. (2012). Heterotopian space and the utopics of ethical and green consumption. Journal of Marketing Management, 28(3–4), 494–515.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cherrier, H. (2005). Using existential-phenomenological interviewing to explore meanings of consumption. In R. Harrison, T. Newholm, & D. Shaw (Eds.), The ethical consumer (pp. 125–135). London: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Churchland, P. S. (2011). Braintrust: What neuroscience tells us about morality. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Clarke, N., Barnett, C., Cloke, P., & Malpass, A. (2007). The political rationalities of fair-trade consumption in the United Kingdom. Politics and Society, 35, 583–607.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Clement, C. (1996). Care, autonomy, and justice: Feminism and the ethic of care. Oxford: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  17. Connolly, J., & Prothero, A. (2003). Sustainable consumption: Consumption, consumers and the commodity discourse. Consumption, Markets and Culture, 6(4), 275–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Creyer, E. H., & Ross, W. T, Jr. (1997). The influence of firm behavior on purchase intention: Do consumers really care about business ethics? Journal of Consumer Marketing, 14(6), 421–432.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Davies, I. A., Lee, Z., & Ahonhhan, I. (2012). Do consumers care about ethical-luxury? Journal of Business Ethics, 106(1), 37–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Davis, J. B., & McMaster, R. (2007). The individual in mainstream health economics: A case of Persona Non-grata. Health Care Analysis, 15(3), 195–210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. De Pelsmacker, P., Driesen, L., & Rayp, G. (2005). Do consumers care about ethics? Willingness to pay for fair-trade coffee: ‘Do consumers care about ethics?’. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 39(2), 363–385.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (1998). Strategies of qualitative inquiry. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  23. Devinney, T. M., Auger, P., & Eckhardt, G. M. (2010). The myth of the ethical consumer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Dolfsma, W., Finch, J., & McMaster, R. (2011). Identifying institutional vulnerability: The importance of language and system boundaries. Journal of Economic Issues, 45(4), 805–818.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Engster, D. (2005). Rethinking care theory: The practice of caring and the obligation to care. Hypatia, 20(3), 50–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Fine, B. (2002). The world of consumption: The material and cultural revisited (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  27. Fisher, B., & Tronto, J. (1990). Toward a feminist theory of care. In E. Abel & M. Nelson (Eds.), Circles of care: Work and identity in women’s lives. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  28. Folbre, N. (1995). “Holding Hands at Midnight”: The paradox of caring labor. Feminist Economics, 1(1), 73–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Folbre, N., & Nelson, J. A. (2000). For love or money—Or both? American Economic Association, 14(4), 123–140.Google Scholar
  30. Frankfurt, H. (1982). The importance of what we care about. Synthese, 53, 257–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Freestone, O. M., & McGoldrick, P. J. (2008). Motivations of the ethical consumer. Journal of Business Ethics, 79, 445–467.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Goodin, R. (1985). Protecting the vulnerable. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  33. Greenfield, C., & Williams, P. (2011). Caring at a distance: The ambiguity and negotiations of ethical investment. In T. Lewis & E. Potter (Eds.), Ethical consumption: A critical introduction. Oxon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  34. Hertz, N. (2001). Better to shop than vote? Business Ethics: A European Review, 10, 190–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Hodgson, G. M. (2003). The hidden persuaders: Institutions and individuals in economic theory. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 27(2), 159–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kaiser, F. G., Ranney, M., Hartig, T., & Bowler, P. A. (1999). Ecological behavior, environmental attitude, and feelings of responsibility for the environment. European Psychologist, 4(2), 59–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kozinets, R. V. (2002). Can consumers escape the market? Emancipatory illuminations from burning man. Journal of Consumer Research, 29(1), 20–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Littler, J. (2008). Radical consumption: Shopping for change in contemporary culture. Maidenhead: McGraw Hill/OU Press.Google Scholar
  39. Mason, J. (1996). Qualitative researching. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  40. McCracken, G. (1988). The long interview. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. McEachern, M., Schröder, M. J. A., Willock, J., Whitelock, J., & Mason, R. (2007). Exploring ethical brand extensions and consumer buying behaviour: The RSPCA and the “Freedom Food” brand. Journal of Product and Brand Management, 16(3), 168–177.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Mick, D. G., & Buhl, C. (1992). A meaning-based model of advertising experiences. Journal of Consumer Research, 19(December), 317–338.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Miller, D. (1998). A theory of shopping. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  44. Mol, A. (2006). The logic of care: Health and the problem of patient choice. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  45. Moraes, C., Carrigan, M., & Szmigin, I. (2012). The coherence of inconsistencies: Attitude–behaviour gaps and new consumption communities. Journal of Marketing Management, 28(1–2), 103–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Moraes, C., Shaw, D., & Carrigan, M. (2011). Purchase power: An examination of consumption as voting. Journal of Marketing Management, 27(9–10), 1059–1079.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Moraes, C., Szmigin, I., & Carrigan, M. (2010). Living production-engaged alternatives: An examination of new consumption communities. Consumption Markets & Culture, Special Issue on Anti-Consumption, 13(3), 273–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Morse, J. M., Solberg, S. M., Neander, W. L., Bottorff, J. L., & Johnson, J. L. (1990). Concepts of caring and caring as concept. ANS, 13, 1–14.Google Scholar
  49. Newholm, T. (2005). Case studying ethical consumers’ projects and strategies’. In R. Harrison, T. Newholm, & D. Shaw (Eds.), The ethical consumer (pp. 107–124). London: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Newholm, T., & Shaw, D. (2007). Studying the ethical consumer: A review of research. Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 6(5), 253–270.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Noddings, N. (2002). Caring social policy and homelessness. Theoretical Medicine, 23, 441–454.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Noddings, N. (2003). Caring: A feminine approach to ethics and moral education (2nd ed.). Berkley: University of California.Google Scholar
  53. O’Neill, O. (1996). Toward justice and virtue: A constructive account of practical reasoning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Öberseder, M., Schlegelmilch, B. B., & Gruber, V. (2011). “Why Don’t Consumers Care About CSR?” A qualitative study exploring the role of CSR in consumption decisions. Journal of Business Ethics, 104, 449–460.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Ozcaglar-Toulouse, N., Shiu, E., & Shaw, D. (2006). In search of fair trade: Ethical consumer decision making in France. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 30(5), 502–514.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Papaoikonomou, E., Ryan, G., & Ginieis, M. (2011). Towards a holistic approach of the attitude behaviour gap in ethical consumer behaviours: Empirical evidence from Spain. International Advances in Economic Research, 17, 77–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Patton, M. Q. (1990). Qualitative evaluation and research methods. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  58. Pietrykowski, B. (2009). The political economy of consumer behavior: Contesting consumption. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  59. Prestin, A., & Pearce, K. E. (2010). We care a lot: Formative research for a social marketing campaign to promote school-based recycling. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 54, 1017–1026.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Schutz, A. (1967). The phenomenology of the social world. Chicago: Northwestern Press.Google Scholar
  61. Sen, A. (1977). Rational fools. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 6(2), 317–344.Google Scholar
  62. Shaw, D., & Clarke, I. (1999). Belief formation in ethical consumer groups: An exploratory study. Marketing Intelligence & Planning, 17(2/3), 109–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Shaw, D., & Newholm, T. (2002). Voluntary simplicity and the ethics of consumption. Psychology and Marketing, 19(2), 167–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Shaw, D., & Shiu, E. (2002a). An assessment of ethical obligation and self-identity in ethical consumer decision-making: A structural equation modelling approach. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 26(4), 286–293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Shaw, D., & Shiu, E. (2002b). The role of ethical obligation and self-identity in ethical consumer choice. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 26(2), 109–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Shaw, D., & Shiu, E. (2003). Ethics in consumer choice: A multivariate modelling approach. European Journal of Marketing, 37(10), 1485–1498.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Shaw, D. S. (2007). Ethical consumption in imagined communities. International Journal of Sociology and Social policy, 27(3/4), 135–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Shaw, D. S., Hogg, G., Wilson, E., Shiu, E., & Hassan, L. (2006a). Fashion victim: The impact of fair trade concerns on clothing choice. Journal of Strategic Marketing, 14(4), 423–436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Shaw, D., Newholm, T., & Dickinson, R. (2006b). Consumption as voting: An exploration of consumer empowerment. European Journal of Marketing, 40(9/10), 1049–1067.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Shaw, D. S., Shiu, E., & Clarke, I. (2000). The contribution of ethical obligation and self-identity to the theory of planned behaviour: An exploration of ethical consumers. Journal of Marketing Management, 16(8), 879–894.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Shiu, E., Walsh, G., Hassan, L., & Shaw, D. (2011). Consumer uncertainty revisited. Psychology and Marketing, 28(6), 584–607.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Silk, J. (2000). Caring at a distance: (Im)partiality, moral motivation and the ethics of representation—Introduction. Ethics, Place & Environment: A Journal of Philosophy & Geography, 3(3), 303–309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Simon, F. L. (1995). Global corporate philanthropy: A strategic framework. International Marketing Review, 12(4), 20–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Smith, D. M. (1998). How far should we care? On the spatial scope of beneficence. Progress in Human Geography, 22(1), 15–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Sparks, P., Shepherd, R., & Frewer, L. J. (1995). Assessing and structuring attitudes toward the use of gene technology in food production: The role of perceived ethical obligation. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 16(4), 267–285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Spence, A., & Townsend, E. (2006). Examining consumer behavior toward genetically modified (GM) food in Britain. Risk Analysis: An International Journal, 26(3), 657–670.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Sybylla, R. (2001). Hearing those voices? The ethics of care and the practices of liberty: A critique. Economy and Society, 30, 66–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Szmigin, O., Carrigan, M., & McEachern, M. G. (2009). The conscious consumer: Taking a flexible approach to ethical behaviour. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 33, 224–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Tanner, C., & Wölfing, K. S. (2003). Promoting sustainable consumption: Determinants of green purchases by Swiss consumers. Psychology & Marketing, 20(10), 883–902.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Thøgersen, J. (1999). The ethical consumer. Moral norms and packaging choice. Journal of Consumer Policy, 22, 439–460.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Thompson, C. J., Locander, W. B., & Pollio, H. R. (1990). The lived meaning of free choice: An existential-phenomenological description of everyday consumer experiences of contemporary married women. Journal of Consumer Research, 17(December), 346–361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Thompson, C. J. (1997). Interpreting consumers: A hermeneutical framework for deriving marketing insights from the texts of consumers’ consumption stories. Journal of Marketing Research, XXXIV, 438–455.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Tronto, J. C. (1987). Beyond gender difference to a theory of care. Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 12, 644–663.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Tronto, J. C. (1993). Moral boundaries: A political argument for an ethic of care. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  85. Tronto, J. C. (1998). An ethic of care. Generations, 22(3), 1–8.Google Scholar
  86. Tronto, J. C. (2013). Caring democracy: Markets, equality, and justice. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  87. van Staveren, I. (2001). The values of economics: An Aristotelian approach. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. van Staveren, I. (2005). Modelling care. Review of Social Economy, 63, 567–586.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Vermeir, I., & Verbeke, W. (2006). ‘Sustainable Food Consumption: Exploring the Consumer “Attitude – Behavioral Intention” Gap. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 19(2), 169–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Watson, J. (2008). Nursing: The philosophy and science of caring (rev ed.). Boulder: University Press of Colorado.Google Scholar
  91. Williams, B. (1985). Ethics and the limits of philosophy. London: Fontana.Google Scholar
  92. Zaltman, G., & Coulter H, R. H. R. (1995). Seeing the voice of the customer: Metaphor-based advertising research. Journal of Advertising Research, 35(4), 35–51.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Adam Smith Business SchoolUniversity of GlasgowGlasgowUK
  2. 2.University of ManchesterManchesterUK

Personalised recommendations