Shopping and Shaping Corporate Social Responsibility via the iPod
Product "goodness" is an emerging issue for consumers, as the effects of purchasing decisions are shifting to a more global perspective in the media. In the 1980s, concern about the conditions of people producing goods was a question brought up by activists-and when mainstream media joined the conversation, revelations such as children making Nike shoes in Southeast Asia, dye workers from India getting sick from the chemicals used for linens and rugs exported to Denmark by Jysk, or Hollywood movies about the working conditions in South African diamond mines have become part of mainstream culture in Europe and the U.S. This consumer consciousness has been growing in tandem with corporate awareness and focus on Corporate Social Responsibility-calling for a general trend of examining the global context of products. From this trend, process focused product labels have not only emerged, but have become recognized standards in mainstream markets-i.e. organic, fair trade. From a business perspective, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is considered in terms of consumer behavior in response to corporate communication. For example, Mohr & Webb (2005), in their study in consumer behavior focused on scenarios where shoppers were asked about CSR in their product decisions found that: "...when consumers are given information that they trust about a company's level of social responsibility, it affects how they evaluate the company and their purchase intentions. Furthermore, a low price did not appear to compensate for a low level of social responsibility. These results indicate that many American consumers value CSR and may use it as a purchasing criterion even when there is not a product parity situation." This paper looks at extending CSR knowledge about a product from a mere "purchasing criterion" used by companies in sense-giving communication aimed at consumers to understanding knowledge asymmetries involved in an ongoing process of constructing CSR knowledge about products, or product "goodness" among consumers, NGOs, B-corporations, and corporations through an Iphone application. Asymmetries in knowledge about product "goodness" make it difficult for ethically inspired consumers to make informed decisions about the products they purchase. These knowledge asymmetries emerge from differing perspectives on guidelines for consumer safety set by government bodies, CSR initiatives and actions towards workers, and findings of independent researchers. Currently, differing perspectives on product "goodness" are being addressed and mediated by NGOs and B-corporations, as they work with private companies and corporations to communicate product information to consumers. One organization, Goodguide.com, uses an IpodTM application to inform consumers about product ratings from individual health, social and environmental perspectives. This application gathers data from corporations on their product ingredients, and use organizational rating systems based on information from U.S. Federal agencies, the companies themselves and scientific research. The purpose of the Ipod application Good GuideTM is to offer consumers a tool for mediating knowledge asymmetries about the products from multiple perspectives. In light of this new technology, this paper argues for a shift from the notion of institutionalization of CSR as a company-focused model (Schultz & Wehmeier 2010) to a focus on inter-institutional and institution-consumer knowledge asymmetries affecting consumer sensemaking practices in purchasing. Data from the Good GuideTM Ipod application, YouTube Videos about a legal controversy involving the good guide, and the Good GuideTM website are approached from a sensemaking perspective (Weick, 1995; Gioia & Chttipeddi 1991). References: Mohr, L.A. & Webb , D. J. (2005). The Effects of Corporate Social Responsibility and Price on Consumer Responses. The Journal of Consumer Affairs, Vol. 39, No. I. 2005. Schultz, F. & Wehmeier, S. (2010). Institutionalization of corporate social responsibility within corporate communications: Combining institutional, sensemaking and communication perspectives. Corporate Communications: An International Journal. Vol.15, no. 1. Gioia, D.A. & Chttipeddi, K. (1991) "Sensemaking & Sensegiving in strategic change initiation." Strategic Management Journal. 12 (6). Wieck, K. (1995) Sensemaking in Organizations. Thousand Oaks. CA: Sage.