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How Not To Convince Friends To Buy Fair Trade

october-3October is a month full of months—and days.  The best-known is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  It’s also Pizza Month and Computer Learning Month.  Each day of October has multiple celebrations attached to it like World Farm Animals Day (10/2), Ship In A Bottle Day (10/4), Pierogi Day (10/8), and Be Bald and Free Day (10/14).

October is also Fair Trade Month, a time to talk about who and where our products come from.  But recent research suggests there are wrong and right ways to spread the word about ethical shopping.

Rebecca Walker Reczek, a consumer psychology professor at Ohio State University, reported on three studies1 she and her colleagues conducted. They showed that consumers who think about ethical issues when shopping won’t necessarily influence others to do the same.

For example, you might talk to a friend about how the scarf you bought wasn’t made in a sweatshop or by child labor. The studies found that instead of feeling inspired, shoppers tend to feel threatened. The participants in the studies more often than not put down the ethically minded consumer and said they had less interest in supporting fair trade causes.


The authors were quick to point out that their results didn’t mean people don’t care about ethical shopping.  It’s just that when we compare poorly to someone else, we can get defensive. Shopping ethically and then holding ourselves up as pinnacles of fairness can raise the hackles of someone you’re trying to persuade.

So what are Reczek’s suggestions for a more effective way to inspire others?  She says to “connect with them first on another issue that makes them feel you’re recognizing they’re also a thoughtful and concerned consumer.”

Talk about how you love fair trade clothing because it’s meticulously handmade and uses natural dyes. Or share some fair trade chocolate with them, telling them how much you enjoy it “in a way that doesn’t make them feel badly for not already buying it themselves.”

Once you’ve connected with them this way, then you can approach the problems fair trade works to solve. You’re much more likely to have an open conversation that just might convince them to care about being fair as much as you do.

1.  Journal of Consumer Psychology, July 2016.


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