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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
We strongly resist, however, any suggestion or inference that our orientation necessarily precludes other explanations, or that our stance is somehow an advocacy of methodological individualism. For us, individuals are socially embedded, i.e. individuals are born into systems of institutions (social rules), such as language and marriage, which constrain, mould and enable those individuals. We readily recognise that individuals also have the potential to do likewise to institutions, i.e. they have the power to change institutions and, therefore, also partly enabling, constituting and constraining of institutions: institutions are embedded in the minds of individuals (Dolfsma et al. 2011; Hodgson 2003).
Tronto also recognises care receiving as a distinct phase, but this is of less relevance to the analysis we present here.
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.
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.
Baier, A. (1982). Caring about caring: A reply to Frankfurt. Synthese, 53, 273–290.
Baier, A. (1997). The commons of the mind. Chicago: Open Court.
Blustein, J. (1991). Care and commitment: Taking the personal point of view. New York: Oxford University Press.
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.
Boykin, A., & Schoenhofer, S. (1993). Nursing as caring. New York: NLN.
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.
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.
Carse, A. L., & Lindemann Nelson, H. (1996). Rehabilitating care. Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, 6, 19–35.
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.
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.
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.
Churchland, P. S. (2011). Braintrust: What neuroscience tells us about morality. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
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.
Clement, C. (1996). Care, autonomy, and justice: Feminism and the ethic of care. Oxford: Westview Press.
Connolly, J., & Prothero, A. (2003). Sustainable consumption: Consumption, consumers and the commodity discourse. Consumption, Markets and Culture, 6(4), 275–291.
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.
Davies, I. A., Lee, Z., & Ahonhhan, I. (2012). Do consumers care about ethical-luxury? Journal of Business Ethics, 106(1), 37–51.
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.
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.
Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (1998). Strategies of qualitative inquiry. London: Sage.
Devinney, T. M., Auger, P., & Eckhardt, G. M. (2010). The myth of the ethical consumer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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.
Engster, D. (2005). Rethinking care theory: The practice of caring and the obligation to care. Hypatia, 20(3), 50–74.
Fine, B. (2002). The world of consumption: The material and cultural revisited (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.
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.
Folbre, N. (1995). “Holding Hands at Midnight”: The paradox of caring labor. Feminist Economics, 1(1), 73–92.
Folbre, N., & Nelson, J. A. (2000). For love or money—Or both? American Economic Association, 14(4), 123–140.
Frankfurt, H. (1982). The importance of what we care about. Synthese, 53, 257–272.
Freestone, O. M., & McGoldrick, P. J. (2008). Motivations of the ethical consumer. Journal of Business Ethics, 79, 445–467.
Goodin, R. (1985). Protecting the vulnerable. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
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.
Hertz, N. (2001). Better to shop than vote? Business Ethics: A European Review, 10, 190–193.
Hodgson, G. M. (2003). The hidden persuaders: Institutions and individuals in economic theory. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 27(2), 159–175.
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.
Kozinets, R. V. (2002). Can consumers escape the market? Emancipatory illuminations from burning man. Journal of Consumer Research, 29(1), 20–39.
Littler, J. (2008). Radical consumption: Shopping for change in contemporary culture. Maidenhead: McGraw Hill/OU Press.
Mason, J. (1996). Qualitative researching. London: Sage.
McCracken, G. (1988). The long interview. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
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.
Mick, D. G., & Buhl, C. (1992). A meaning-based model of advertising experiences. Journal of Consumer Research, 19(December), 317–338.
Miller, D. (1998). A theory of shopping. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Mol, A. (2006). The logic of care: Health and the problem of patient choice. London: Routledge.
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.
Moraes, C., Shaw, D., & Carrigan, M. (2011). Purchase power: An examination of consumption as voting. Journal of Marketing Management, 27(9–10), 1059–1079.
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.
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.
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.
Newholm, T., & Shaw, D. (2007). Studying the ethical consumer: A review of research. Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 6(5), 253–270.
Noddings, N. (2002). Caring social policy and homelessness. Theoretical Medicine, 23, 441–454.
Noddings, N. (2003). Caring: A feminine approach to ethics and moral education (2nd ed.). Berkley: University of California.
O’Neill, O. (1996). Toward justice and virtue: A constructive account of practical reasoning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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.
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.
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.
Patton, M. Q. (1990). Qualitative evaluation and research methods. London: Sage.
Pietrykowski, B. (2009). The political economy of consumer behavior: Contesting consumption. London: Routledge.
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.
Schutz, A. (1967). The phenomenology of the social world. Chicago: Northwestern Press.
Sen, A. (1977). Rational fools. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 6(2), 317–344.
Shaw, D., & Clarke, I. (1999). Belief formation in ethical consumer groups: An exploratory study. Marketing Intelligence & Planning, 17(2/3), 109–119.
Shaw, D., & Newholm, T. (2002). Voluntary simplicity and the ethics of consumption. Psychology and Marketing, 19(2), 167–185.
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.
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.
Shaw, D., & Shiu, E. (2003). Ethics in consumer choice: A multivariate modelling approach. European Journal of Marketing, 37(10), 1485–1498.
Shaw, D. S. (2007). Ethical consumption in imagined communities. International Journal of Sociology and Social policy, 27(3/4), 135–150.
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.
Shaw, D., Newholm, T., & Dickinson, R. (2006b). Consumption as voting: An exploration of consumer empowerment. European Journal of Marketing, 40(9/10), 1049–1067.
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.
Shiu, E., Walsh, G., Hassan, L., & Shaw, D. (2011). Consumer uncertainty revisited. Psychology and Marketing, 28(6), 584–607.
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.
Simon, F. L. (1995). Global corporate philanthropy: A strategic framework. International Marketing Review, 12(4), 20–37.
Smith, D. M. (1998). How far should we care? On the spatial scope of beneficence. Progress in Human Geography, 22(1), 15–38.
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.
Spence, A., & Townsend, E. (2006). Examining consumer behavior toward genetically modified (GM) food in Britain. Risk Analysis: An International Journal, 26(3), 657–670.
Sybylla, R. (2001). Hearing those voices? The ethics of care and the practices of liberty: A critique. Economy and Society, 30, 66–84.
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.
Tanner, C., & Wölfing, K. S. (2003). Promoting sustainable consumption: Determinants of green purchases by Swiss consumers. Psychology & Marketing, 20(10), 883–902.
Thøgersen, J. (1999). The ethical consumer. Moral norms and packaging choice. Journal of Consumer Policy, 22, 439–460.
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.
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.
Tronto, J. C. (1987). Beyond gender difference to a theory of care. Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 12, 644–663.
Tronto, J. C. (1993). Moral boundaries: A political argument for an ethic of care. London: Routledge.
Tronto, J. C. (1998). An ethic of care. Generations, 22(3), 1–8.
Tronto, J. C. (2013). Caring democracy: Markets, equality, and justice. New York: New York University Press.
van Staveren, I. (2001). The values of economics: An Aristotelian approach. London: Routledge.
van Staveren, I. (2005). Modelling care. Review of Social Economy, 63, 567–586.
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.
Watson, J. (2008). Nursing: The philosophy and science of caring (rev ed.). Boulder: University Press of Colorado.
Williams, B. (1985). Ethics and the limits of philosophy. London: Fontana.
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.
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
Shaw, D., McMaster, R. & Newholm, T. Care and Commitment in Ethical Consumption: An Exploration of the ‘Attitude–Behaviour Gap’. J Bus Ethics 136, 251–265 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-014-2442-y
- Ethical consumer