CSR Chic

Jung Ha-Brookshire weaves social responsibility into fashion’s fabric.

illustration of recycled shoe
Nike is consistently named among the most sustainable companies in the world. Illustration by Blake Dinsdale.

Published on Show Me Mizzou April 30, 2024
Story by Blaire Leible Garwitz, MA ’06

Quality and price aren’t the only things that matter to consumers today. Buyers also consider a company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts when shopping. For example, does a company practice sustainability by reducing its impact on the environment? Does it protect workers manufacturing its products? And how does it make consumers aware of its societal impact? 

According to University of Missouri Professor Jung Ha-Brookshire, if companies want to shift toward sustainability, employees need to be aware of employers’ social initiatives and act as ambassadors to inform consumers of these CSR activities.

Ha-Brookshire, professor in the Department of Textile & Apparel Management in the College of Arts and Science, and her colleagues recently conducted a survey of employees and consumers of Nike and H&M. Both clothing brands were named among the most sustainable companies in the world by the nonprofit Corporate Knights. 

The research team asked consumers about the companies’ sustainability practices, and they queried employees on what CSR’s role should be in the fashion industry and how well they feel their company performed.

“We hypothesized that the bigger the CSR performance-perception gap is, the less committed to their companies an employee will be,” Ha-Brookshire says. “With less commitment, are employees going above and beyond for their company — what we call organizational citizenship behavior?”

The study, published in the journal Fashion and Textiles, found that although both Nike and H&M employees felt their respective company was doing a good job with sustainability, consumers’ perceptions toward these companies’ CSR performance were not as positive as employees’ perceptions were. Additionally, the research team’s hypothesis proved correct. A larger performance-perception gap led to less job commitment by employees, which resulted in declining organizational citizenship behavior, such as being less inclined to involve themselves in community sustainability programs.

Ha-Brookshire and team say the survey findings show companies have an opportunity to improve the communication of their sustainability and CSR practices and ultimately expand their consumer base.

While companies certainly play an important role in sustainability, Ha-Brookshire stresses that consumers also have responsibilities. “What consumers do after purchasing and using products — how they discard products at the end — is just as important as a company’s CSR activities,” she says. “We’ve got to work on sustainability together.”

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