A few weeks ago, the ACCC action Sinclair Davidson and Tim Wilson are taking against Fairtrade coffee sparked the lengthiest-ever debate at this blog. But how many people might be interested in getting some social justice with their coffee?
The ABS General Social Survey 2006, the first results from which were released this week, provides some answers. It found that, over the last twelve months, a quarter of those surveyed had ‘boycotted or deliberately bought products for political, ethical or environmental reasons’. The fashion-prone young were not the most likely to buy or not buy for these reasons; on all measures of activism including this one they were below average. It was the middle-aged 45-54 year olds who were the most socially aware consumers, with 30% taking political, ethical or environmental considerations into account.
The 2005 Australia Survey of Social Attitudes asked a very similar question, except that their time period was 2 years rather than 12 months. Doubling the time period also doubled the proportion taking these factors into account, suggesting that for some consumers political purchasing is a very occasional event, rather than an everyday one like coffee (or perhaps the Fairtrade coffee is so bad that once is enough).
The AuSSA lets us see what relationship this kind of consumer behaviour has with other characteristics. One initial hypothesis proved incorrect – peope who own shares in companies mix politics with the pursuit of profit, with 57% buying or boycotting for political, ethical or environmental reasons, compared to 47% of those who do not. The Liberal/Labor/ divide was in the expected direction, but not on the expected scale: 45%/51%.
We have to go further from the median voter than Liberal/Labor to get polarised behaviour. 84% of Greens are boycotters or environmental purchasers. On the 0-10 left-right scale, 77% of the top three left categories took their politics shopping with them, compared to 43% of the top three right categories (by refusing to buy Fairtrade coffee? French cheese and wine?).
This kind of buying behaviour is more common than I thought it might be, and big enough that business would need to keep it in mind.