Reasoned Ethical Engagement: Ethical Values of Consumers as Primary Antecedents of Instrumental Actions Towards Multinationals

Journal of Business Ethics 147 (1):221-238 (2018)
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Consumer actions towards multinationals encompass not just expressions of dissatisfaction and ethical identity but also what are problematically termed ‘instrumental actions’ entailing perceived purposes and likely impacts. This term may seem inappropriate where insufficient information exists for instrumentally linking means to ends, yet we consider it useful for describing purposive consumer action in its subjective aspect because it reflects the psychological reality whereby complexity-reducing social constructions give consumer actions instrumentally rational form for purposes of meaningful understanding and justification. This paper is particularly concerned to explore the complexities of cause and intention—particularly ethical intention—which are thus reduced. In particular, it considers complex interaction between individual ethical values, demographic factors and contexts of societal practice. It seeks to highlight primary antecedents among these interactants in order to guide both consumers and multinationals in their complexity-reducing social constructions to improve their fit to true causes and intentions. Study 1 involved 606 United Kingdom nationals, while study 2 involved 2561 individuals from 15 nations. Both sets of findings link higher personal income levels to propensity to engage in instrumental actions towards multinationals. Overwhelmingly, however, individual ethical values seem to matter most, irrespective of demographic or cultural contexts. These findings suggest that both consumers and multinationals engaged in ethical dialogue with consumers are best advised to articulate a universalising and not culturally or nationally bound ethical intelligence, which speaks directly to conscience within a global ethical discourse.



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