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- Consumer activism in contemporary society
In this essay, I shall argue and elucidate how the transformations in contemporary society have impacted the burgeoning concept of consumer activism. As a result, new risks and positive aspects have emerged for the involved stakeholders, including business organizations, consumers, and employees. Consumer activism encompasses actions taken to safeguard consumers in their economic roles by highlighting the political, ethical, and moral aspects of consumption behavior and consumerism ideology (McGregor 2016; Holzer et al. 2010).
Consumer activism in contemporary society
Although consumer activism has a long history spanning hundreds of years, it has become increasingly significant in contemporary society. The availability of information through the internet and various media platforms has intensified the voices of consumers who express their concerns and opinions about organizations, products, and brands. The opinions of others heavily influence consumer behavior and product choices (Kumar 2015). This essay will specifically address how technology and the current tumultuous political environment impact the ethical behavior of both consumers and organizations. We will explore whether these behaviors present risks or benefits for the stakeholders involved and examine the moral responsibilities it places on us as consumers.
Consumer activism is primarily represented through civil society organizations (CSOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which are non-profit entities dedicated to the public interest, devoid of commercial interests (Beinare & McCarthy 2011). These organizations bring together consumers, local community members, social movement activists, and other groups such as trade unions, charities, pressure groups, and religious organizations.
To comprehend the role of CSOs and NGOs in facilitating consumer activism, we can turn to the 'Third Sector Model.' This model defines civil society as encompassing all associations and networks between the family, market, and the state, excluding firms (Edwards 2000). It represents a balance of power within the market, state, and corporations. CSOs engage with civil society through lobbying, media efforts, protests, non-violent direct action, and various other means. The increasing size of the state and market economy has led to a rise in CSOs in contemporary society, a consequence of rapid globalization. This rise in CSOs implies an imminent likelihood of consumer activism, and the increased activity from consumers helps shape ethical behavior and experiences in society.
Technology, particularly the internet, plays a significant role in contemporary society, fostering extensive discussions on consumer activism. Consumers today make buying decisions differently, with a substantial portion actively incorporating ethical considerations into their purchases (Crane 2001). The internet provides readily accessible information to consumers seeking to make ethical choices, offering insights into issues like product safety and environmental impact (Crane 2001).
Consumer activists now express their concerns and ideas through social media platforms, particularly Twitter, prompting consumers to demand organizations to adopt ethical stances. This shift in consumer behavior shows that more individuals are getting involved in consumer activism, with one out of five Americans engaging in such activities (Horst 2018). This heightened activism places greater pressure on consumers to make ethically responsible purchases and demand ethical practices from organizations.
NGOs are high-profile actors in international development, providing services to vulnerable individuals and communities while advocating for policy changes (Lewis & Kanji 2009). They increasingly direct their efforts towards firms, using consumer pressure to hold them accountable. An example of this is Uber's experience during the #DeleteUber movement when the company faced outrage for profiting from Trump's administration travel-ban protests (Fraustino & Kennedy 2018). As a result of the public pressure orchestrated by NGOs through social media, Uber suffered a significant loss of users and had to set aside a $3 million fund to support affected drivers (Isaac 2017). This case demonstrates how consumer activism can profoundly impact an organization's brand image, transaction costs, and competitive position, compelling firms to respond rationally to activism.
Additionally, websites like 'theethicalconsumer.org' provide boycott lists to encourage ethical consumption and expose companies engaged in unethical practices. This exposure creates awareness among consumers, prompting them to question their own ethical behaviors and moral choices as consumers.
On the other hand, developments in technology and the internet have also led to more interactions between firms and activist groups (Spar & La Mure 2003). Some brands proactively align themselves with NGO demands to differentiate themselves from competitors and preserve their reputation. Starbucks, for instance, responded to Trump's travel ban by promising to hire 10,000 migrant refugees in the next five years (Schultz 2017; Vaughn & Rushe 2017). This strategic approach reflects their acknowledgment of the power they hold as a global brand and their need to embrace ethical stances.
The recent turbulent political climate has further compelled brands to clarify their values and engage in political debates. Kellogg's, for example, faced scrutiny for advertising on a right-wing website, Breitbart. Under pressure from activists, the company decided to withdraw its advertising to align with its values (Helmore 2016). Brands are no longer able to remain passive in the face of political issues as they are increasingly seen as influencers and are held accountable for their values.
In conclusion, consumer activism will continue to be an integral part of society, driven by the demands and desires of consumers for change within organizations. This essay has shown that ethical behaviors have undergone significant changes for both consumers and organizations in contemporary society. Consumers are more vocal about ethical choices, demanding organizations to adopt ethical practices. On the other hand, organizations have started working closely with CSOs, NGOs, and MSIs to address concerns that were once ignored. While it may be challenging for organizations to be entirely ethical without impacting profits, the shift towards greater ethical responsibility is evident in today's society.
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