Ethical consumer behaviour and sustainability expert at Kingston Business School, Dr Smirti Kutaula, set out to examine how emotionally involved people are with the fair trade ethos. Dr Kutaula, alongside academics at the University of Surrey, University of Cyprus and Cyprus University of Technology wanted to understand the relationship between personality and fair trade engagement.
The researchers used the ‘big five personality trait’ model, a psychological theory that measures five key dimensions of an individual’s personality – agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness, extroversion, and neuroticism. Conducting a survey of 323 consumers in the UK and India, followed by 18 in-depth interviews, they holed to get a ‘greater understanding’ of how personality shapes perceptions and behaviours when it comes to fair trade products.
The interview process also sought to identify how involvement with the fair trade ethos influences attitudes towards the circular economy.
Personalities more likely to back fair trade… or not
The findings of the study, published in The Journal of Business Research, revealed that individuals who are ‘extraverted’, ‘agreeable’, or ‘conscientious’ are more likely to support fair trade.
“Our analysis of the interviews highlighted that extraverts were significantly more engaged with fair trade and spreading awareness of its ethos,” Dr Kutaula explained. “They are more likely to share their beliefs around supporting the fair trade ethos with their family and friends, as well as recommending products,” she added.
Those with the ‘agreeableness’ trait were aware of the impact of their consumption on producers and workers down the supply chain and those with the ‘consciousness’ trait felt strongly that they had an individual responsibility to help protect the environment when consuming fair trade products.
Interestingly, the ‘openness’ personality trait does not have any significant impact on fair trade engagement, while ‘neuroticism’ has a negative effect.
“We found that interviewees who exhibited the openness trait were more curious to experiment and try out different products, rather than focusing on fair trade products. While openness means you are honest about whether you behave ethically or not, it might not necessarily lead to ethical behaviour,” Dr Kutaula noted.
Ethical attitudes extend to circular economy
The researchers also discovered that people who displayed high levels of fair trade engagement were more ethically conscious in their decision making and consumption choices relating to the circular economy.
“They had an increased understanding of how wider sustainability issues are linked with fair trade,” Dr Kutaula elaborated. “They recognised that fair trade products are produced in a way that is not harmful to the environment and that these products use packaging which can be widely recycled, reused, or repurposed. Some were even re-purposing the packaging from their tea bags or coffee to store items such as make-up or jewellery.”
Dr Kutaula stressed this finding highlights the importance of marketing fair trade products in conjunction with the circular economy rather than treating them as separate issues.
“Fair trade companies could look at ways to incorporate the circular economy in their strategies to raise awareness for multiple social and environmental issues,” she said. “A lot of marketing around fair trade focuses on the social implications, the poor working conditions of developing countries. Fair trade is also increasingly linked with economic and environmental aspects of sustainability and our research shows that these issues feed into consumers decisions to support fair trade and buy fair trade products.”
The research also demonstrates personality-based marketing could be a beneficial tool for selling and promoting fair trade products, Dr Kutaula said. “Companies producing and selling these products could explore ways to target consumers who demonstrate the three personality traits – extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness,” she said. “For example, they can target extraverts with promotional campaigns which stress the importance of fair trade and the circular economy and provide opportunities for them to actively share what they have learnt with other consumers.”
'Integrating fair trade with circular economy: Personality traits, consumer engagement, and ethically-minded behavior'
Journal of business research
Authors: Smirti Kutaula, AlvinaG illani, Leonidas C. Leonidou, Paul Christodoulides