Worker welfare and modern slavery within the fashion industry remain a key supply chain challenge for many retailers, consumers, governments and advocacy groups. Yet, despite publicised worker-welfare violations, many fashion retailers continue to post record sales and profits, indicating that consumer concern does not always translate at the cash register. Research has shown that worker welfare is a less salient area of concern for fashion consumers, and the aim of this research is to investigate the reasons why this may be the case.
Due to the exploratory nature of the research, a qualitative methodology was deemed the most appropriate. Twenty-one semi-structured interviews were conducted with Australian fast-fashion consumers to investigate the underlying reasons worker-welfare violations are less likely to elicit pro-social consumer behavioural change and are a less salient area of concern.
This study found that consumers perceive worker-welfare concerns at both a proximal and cultural distance to themselves, and therefore struggle to connect with the issues associated with modern slavery. Additionally, there was an underlying social consensus that exploitative practices are an accepted part of the fast-fashion supply chain to ensure the continuation of low-cost clothing. Despite an underlying awareness of exploitative practices and acknowledgement that modern slavery is ethically wrong, other consumer values often influenced purchase behaviour and the level of concern expressed towards garment workers.
This is the first study to apply psychological distance in a fast-fashion context to better understand consumer perceptions towards modern slavery. Responding to calls for further research into ethical consumption of apparel, this study develops an in-depth understanding of the reasons why worker welfare is a less salient area of concern for fast-fashion consumers. Extending on current literature, this study qualitatively investigates consumer sentiment towards worker welfare, identifying the greatest barriers to consumers' levels of concern. In addition to a theoretical contribution to the fashion, ethics and business literature, this article provides key insight to guide practice.
Stringer, T., Payne, A.R. and Mortimer, G. (2022), "As cheap as humanly possible: why consumers care less about worker welfare", Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management, Vol. 26 No. 4, pp. 717-737. https://doi.org/10.1108/JFMM-06-2021-0158
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