Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 130, Issue 3, pp 651–663 | Cite as

Corporate Social ‘Irresponsibility’: Are Consumers’ Biases in Attribution of Blame Helping Companies in Product–Harm Crises Involving Hybrid Products?

  • Sergio W. CarvalhoEmail author
  • Etayankara Muralidharan
  • Hari Bapuji


In recent years, there have been several high-profile recalls of hybrid products (those where organizations in multiple countries take part in the design, component sourcing, manufacturing, and marketing of a product). If consumers perceive a global firm to be responsible for the recall, then it will reduce their brand equity. Therefore, global firms may respond in ethically questionable ways to justify themselves to important stakeholders and avoid blame. Understanding how stakeholders attribute blame for crises involving hybrid products is important to shed light on the unethical manner in which global firms might avoid blame in such situations. The research reported here shows that in a hybrid product crisis, consumers show a bias in favor of the brand company and against the manufacturing company. This bias is more pronounced when the country of manufacture has an unfavorable image or when consumers lack familiarity with the recalled brand. Ambiguous recall announcements by companies that fail to provide a specific and clear reason for the product defect prompt consumers to assume that a manufacturing flaw caused the product defect. As a result, consumers reduce their attribution of blame for the brand company, and thus its brand equity is maintained.


Product recall Attribution of blame Brand familiarity Hybrid products 



This research was supported in part by a grant to Sergio W. Carvalho and Hari Bapuji from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sergio W. Carvalho
    • 1
    Email author
  • Etayankara Muralidharan
    • 2
  • Hari Bapuji
    • 3
  1. 1.Rowe School of Business, Faculty of ManagementDalhousie UniversityHalifaxCanada
  2. 2.MacEwan University School of BusinessGrant MacEwan UniversityEdmontonCanada
  3. 3.Asper School of BusinessUniversity of ManitobaWinnipegCanada

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