Political consumerism and why business ethics matter

We have probably all witnessed it; brands that get blacklisted after doing something that their consumers highly disapprove of. Maybe we have also seen the opposite; consumers that are supporting companies when sharing their values, opinions, and vision. Consumers that change their consumption based on political and ethical interests are called political consumers.

  • Political consumers consider non-economic benefits, such as sustainable development and corporate social responsibility, to a high degree when choosing what brands to stay loyal to and purchase from, in addition to seeking to satisfy their wellbeing.
  • When companies’ values align with their audience, consumers can choose to support the business by buying their products, called “buycott.” Vice versa, when consumers disapprove, they can also do the opposite and decide to boycott a specific company’s products or services. A third way of expressing your political consumerism is trying to influence other people’s consumption through communication.
  • The fourth way is changing your lifestyle to consume differently and thereby affecting society as a whole. The last-mentioned approach is the most thorough way, yet the hardest as it requires a lot from the individual. For example, it is easier to buy a certified product compared with becoming a vegetarian/vegan or stop flying.
  • Out of Sweden’s population of 15 – 85 years, as many as 50 % are political consumers,  according to an article published by Micheletti & Stolle (2004). According to the authors, the Swedish political consumers are mostly women, well-educated and high-income earners. They also consider themselves politically interested and are overrepresented among the group that votes more to the left. As the article was published in 2004, it is fully possible that the demographics of political consumers have changed. It is interesting to observe that in the early 2000s,  every other consumer in Sweden were selecting their products and services influenced by their political/ethical interests.
  • Political consumption often arises when consumers look past egoistic interests and personal finances in their purchases. Even if the group is not entirely unselfish in their consumption, they consider human rights and the manufacturing process. Political consumers need to take their ethical, political,  and environmental responsibility and decrease their consumption’s negative consequences. For example, political consumers would likely, to a greater extent, purchase organic products to protect the environment and fair-trade certified products to make sure the working conditions in the manufacturing countries are acceptable.

For companies trying to navigate in a digital world, we believe it is even more critical to understand the concept of political consumerism and its potential impact on your business. It is easier to reach out online, share your opinions, and find like-minded people across different markets. The call for joint action can quickly spread through social media and instantly gather the masses. Recently, the dairy-free company Oatly is exposed to political consumerism after bringing in a criticized investor. Many of their customers have called out for boycott online, while others have been open with their continuous support. Regardless, the event has not passed unnoticed but rather,  is brought into the light. Arguably, the Internet has made the third way of expressing political consumerism, i.e., influencing other people’s consumption through communication, quite a bit easier. And for sure, more scalable.

Micheletti, M., Stolle, D. (2004). Politiska konsumenter: marknaden som arena för politiska val. Ju mer vi är tillsammans. Kungälv: SOM-institutet.


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