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Gone are those days when consumers had very few choices to opt from and natural resources were not as scarce as today. Today, a consumer has plenty of choices before s/he decides to consume. A consumer, in general, now considers non-functional features of a product too like its impact on environment and other people around. A soap consumed traces its origins on carbon footprints and its drainage into the eco-system potentially affects environment in a way or the other. The consumer's buying decisions are largely moderated by the awareness s/he posses now; courtesy advent of information technology and explosion of mass communication means. The consumer now feels more powerful than ever as technology has offered wide variations in product's s/he uses. Paired with power to reject or accept freely, it allows consumer the opportunity to dictate his/her terms and conditions to the corporate. Morality, ethics and conscience are the driving forces that make a consumer demand for products that not only meet their needs in efficient possible way but also leave least negative impact on environment and people around. The underlying judgment criterion of a consumer is defined in simple words by Aldo Leopold, an environmentalist: "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise". Thinking short term, the consumers have ample opportunity to exploit resources available today, without caring for the generation today and generations to come. Or they can opt to consume responsibly and keep the world resources safe for tomorrow. The consumers have choice whether consume in responsible manner and encourage socially responsible corporations by buying their products or buy everything that meets their need, without caring about transparency and provenance of the product's supply chain.
From Consumer Social Responsibility to Corporate Social Responsibility
Corporations make profits by offering that is demanded by the consumers in a given region. They make economic profits by designing and selling the 'package' products which not only satisfy the consumer's need, but also complements their social, ethical and sometimes religious beliefs in some way. Only the corporations which have lived up to the expectations of the consumers have survived. Taking into account the beliefs widely held by the consumers and delivering accordingly, is license to operate sustainably in a given region. Corporate practices to conduct business are governed by the buying habits of consumer. The 'package' corporate offerings keep on evolving as the consciousness of consumer to seek desirable 'package' features keep on changing. The offerings are only the reflections of what consumers seek at a given point in time. The consumer has now evolved into an ethical consumer.
Globally, concept of multi-cultural markets with sense of respect for differences in values and beliefs has fostered. This has led to reinforcement of commonly held beliefs about eco-system and socialism. Now, the consumer all around the world has started to speak the same language that dictates, with good reasons, the do's and don'ts of corporate conduct. With all the code of ethics like the ones laid down by National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) in US and Consumer Rights Commission of Pakistan, for instance, consumers now hold their own code of ethics and socially compliant code of conduct to evaluate the offerings of the corporate. Now, the consumers, in general, understand that they are part of the system and their decisions matter. The corporate can now realize the Consumer Social Responsibility, a doctrine that governs buying decisions strongly now.
As the corporations spread their wings and firm their feet in numerous countries, sustainability of the businesses is linked strongly with their good image as socially responsible corporate. The corporations now endeavor hard to find a match between the consumer demands and corporate offerings. Whether they succeed or fail to rise to the expectations remain a question. Their evaluation in public is mainly directed by the seriousness and depth of effort they make to render their supply chain as transparent and accountable as possible. Now the corporations project their efforts as Corporate Social Responsibility. There are a number of criteria against which the evaluation of their performance can be done. Consumer Social Responsibility is one of them. Nevertheless, there are corporations, like Adidas, Puma and Nokia who travelled an extra mile to make to list of top 50 socially responsible companies in 2010. (Jantzi-Maclean's Corporate Social Responsibility Report 2010)
Social Compliance in International Perspective
Consumer buying behaviors are governed by various socio-economic and environmental factors such as buying power, income per capita, literacy rate, social classes, income groups, climate, religious and cultural beliefs and psychographic characteristics etc. Technological advancement in almost every walk of life has been immense since the industrial revolution in mid and late twentieth century. Consumers in western countries have been adapting to lifestyle changes that have offered them greater convenience and economy in various ways. So has been the case with consumers in rest of the world where most of the trends and buying habits were adapted by inspiration from developed economies in the west. With growing innovations and alternatives in products and services, consumers are becoming more socially concerned about the buying and consuming habits. Today's consumer now tend to care about social aspects of a product, which may include carbon footprints, waste management, involuntary labor, child labor, Halal/Haram (for some people), factory worker's health and safety, involvement of sweatshops and hazardous gas emission management, to name a few.
With growing concerns over transparency and accountability of supply chain of products, companies like Apple Inc., GAP, HP and many others have introduced social audits as inevitable part of conducting business responsibly in today's world ( Academia has gone as far as holding it mandatory part of corporate governance). It not only helps them maintain an adequate level of supply chain transparency but also develop and improve their business practices on the lines of environment, ethics, health and safety and human rights. Today, companies are willing to spend millions of dollars in social and environmental audits to gain consumers trust and enjoy their confidence in products. It might have cost them an extra penny to achieve the results but that extra money spent is not comparable with the customer loyalty they earn in return. In contrast, corporations not complying with socially responsible business practices have not only spoilt the society but also caused harm to their natural environment in an irrecoverable way.
Social Compliance in Regional Perspective
Like other countries, some companies in sub-continent, especially multi-nationals like Unilever, P&G, Shell Pakistan and Nestle etc. continuously engage all their stakeholders to improve upon business practices on the grounds of social compliance. This is one aspect of social compliance where these companies follow the ethical values their respective principal practice worldwide. Besides, law also requires them to follow certain directives like allowable limits of air emissions and waste water management.
Although these companies constantly publicize their efforts to comply with socially responsible business practices, do the consumers of our society really care? Does an average consumer really care about the efforts a manufacturer makes? Does the consumer really care that the product s/he consumes involved some unethical business practice up the supply chain? Does s/he really care that the product was manufactured by child labor at some stage in the supply chain? Does s/he really care that the carbon emissions in supply chain of supplier of the manufacturer were compliant to national and international emission standards? Is s/he ready to spend some extra money in buying a product from a socially responsible business entity than to prefer buying cheaper product of a non-compliant manufacturer, even if s/he knows the product s/he is buying has involved some unethical and/or unlawful business practice? Is an average consumer of our society aware and conscious enough to contribute towards ethical and socially compliant business practices?
Research Roll Out
This study rolls out a scientifically planned research effort to gain an insight into the consumer social responsibility of an average consumer of our society. The study attempts to unveil if Pakistani consumers actually care to find out provenance of the product they use. The level of awareness of Pakistani consumers possess depends on a number of factors. One of the strongest is their socio economic background. Unlike it is the case with international consumers, basics needs of a big part of the population is not fulfilled and most of the population is busy striving to achieve the basic necessities. Considering the demographics, socio economic status and the educational background of our consumer, this study ventures to know if social compliance really matters to our consumers.
This study aims to conduct a questionnaire in a select sample of population. The questionnaire will tap into the awareness level of the sample regarding the topic under consideration and bring out their personal notions about various social compliance behaviors. The study anticipates interesting results after subjecting the gathered questionnaire data to statistical analysis. The study may reveal some surprising behaviors of the population as there have been no formal investigation, such as this, took place before.