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Consumer attitudes towards modern slavery

Report, research summary and practitioner guidance on consumer attitudes, intentions and behaviours towards modern slavery.

Published: 8th October 2021

This is a research summary of ‘Addressing consumer awareness and (in)action towards modern slavery’, a Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (the Modern Slavery PEC) research project carried out by Royal Holloway University of London, University of Glasgow, University of Melbourne, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The full report, research summary and guidance for practitioners can be accessed below.

This research looked at how consumer attitudes, intentions and behaviour can be mobilised to address modern slavery and to identify what interventions are effective in operationalising consumer action on modern slavery. The research team carried out a review of academic literature and held 12 interviews with experts representing 10 case study campaigns that sought to mobilise the consumer to address modern slavery, across the three sectors of services, agriculture and clothing. They have also produced a guide of practical recommendations for practitioners.

Key findings

  • Responsibility for addressing modern slavery needs to be fairly distributed across different stakeholders, such as governments and businesses. Consumers need to be reassured that they are not responsible for causing modern slavery, but co-responsible for addressing it.
  • Raising awareness might be effective in shifting attitudes towards modern slavery, but will not necessarily impact on consumers’ actual behaviour.
  • Identifying actions for each audience is essential to supporting and guiding consumers to take action on modern slavery.
  • Consumers are also citizens. This means, in addition to changing consumption habits, consumers can be mobilised to act as a lever to pressure decisionmakers.
  • Campaigns seeking to mobilise consumer action need to apply marketing and evaluation principles to target specific audiences, improve effectiveness and enable learning.

Priority recommendations

  • Position calls for action on modern slavery within a holistic multi-stakeholder environment, assigning responsibilities and actions across different stakeholders. It is important to assign consumers appropriate responsibilities that are balanced with their power to enact change.
  • Responsibilities should be reflected in communication message framing. Consumers need to be reassured that responsibility is distributed proportionately and fairly across stakeholders.
  • Consumers need to be assured that they can continue to consume, just differently. There are a range of possible actions beyond decisions to (not) buy. This can include broader civic and political mobilisation.
  • Barriers to consumer action can be both contextual and psychosocial. These need to be recognised and addressed.
  • The communication of pathways to action is vital to support consumer-citizen mobilisation. This enables consumers to act, feel a shared sense of responsibility and to consume differently.
  • Pathways to action can include changing consumption behaviours; and/or, civic actions, such as, reporting instances of modern slavery and signing petitions. Reminding consumers of actions and triggering these actions at point of purchase can reinforce new habits.
  • Modern slavery campaigns need to be tailored and targeted to the most audience/s with the ability to act. The credibility of the source is important.
  • Campaigns must be supported by clear objectives, goal setting and evaluation measurement. A strategic approach to evaluation is essential.
  • Marketing principles (e.g., segmentation and targeting, branding, advertising and communication) should be engaged to support campaigns in informing, persuading, motivating and mobilising consumer action and implemented through the design, development and evaluation of modern slavery campaigns.