Companies are blamed for selling foods that are detrimental to human health. The marketing strategies used by food and beverage companies remain controversial, especially considering the claims that some of their products may harm consumers. Opponents of their marketing strategies question their ethical responsibility to customers, especially children, and adolescents (Williams & Drumwright, 2012). On the other hand, the firms claim to operate ethically and responsibly (Soba & Aydin, 2011). Regardless of the debate on the ethicality of marketing strategies applied by food and beverage companies, firms are not obligated to change products regarded as harmful if they provide adequate information on those goods.
Considering their sales volumes, food and beverage companies play an essential role in the national and global economy. The companies operate ethically by following legal requirements such as accurately labeling their products. For instance, companies have to observe the FDA labeling policy for all canned foods (Resnik, 2015). Marketers also respect the ethical theory of autonomy and informed decision-making. They stop giving the right information and allow people to decide whether to consume their products or not. They also provide convenient choices to customers by selling fast foods, hence helping to save time (Soba & Aydin, 2011). The argument fits into the ethical framework of utilitarianism, focusing on happiness for the majority. Therefore, as long as companies operate according to legal and ethical marketing principles, they do not have any additional responsibility to the customers.
However, supporters of the ethical responsibility argument focus on potential harmful effects and cite specific dangers such as obesity. Besides, the companies are blamed for targeting children and adolescents who lack the willpower to resist the temptation to consume unhealthy foods (Williams & Drumwright, 2012). Their products are blamed for the ongoing obesity crisis in the US, an epidemic that has initiated policy efforts to ban dangerous products to public health, including sweetened drinks (Resnik, 2015). However, such bans face opposition from a considerable proportion of the population and marketers, citing a violation of individual choice (autonomy) rights.
Furthermore, the personal responsibility principle applies to the argument. The assumption is that individuals have a responsibility for their health and well-being. As a result, food and beverage companies are not obligated to protect autonomous customers (Resnik, 2015). Besides, the decision is made personally with adequate information on the product’s nutritional value and possible side effects (Soba & Aydin, 2011). Thus, upon sending the marketing message to the customer, the company is not responsible for the decision made by the consumer. In addition, companies operate according to the political and cultural environments. Therefore, firms have different marketing strategies for diverse markets, making their operations ethical and responsible.
As it is evident from the analysis, the question of whether food and beverage companies have an ethical responsibility to change products that are known to be harmful remains controversial. While some people, including policy-makers in government, consider the business unethical, others support the marketing strategies used by the companies terming them ethical. Regardless of the ongoing debate, the ethical obligation of the companies ends with clear labeling and product information, including the nutritional value and possible health effects of the products. Hence, buyers become aware of possible harm and make an autonomous decision to consume, which is not under the company’s responsibility.
Resnik, D.B. (2015). Food and beverage policies and public health ethics. Health Care Anal, 23, 122-133. doi:10.1007/s10728-013-0266-z
Soba, M., & Aydin, E. (2011). Ethical approach to fast food product contents and their advertisement strategies. International Journal of Business and Social Science, 2(24), 158-167.
Williams, D.J., & Drumwright M. E. (2012). Ethical and responsible food and beverage marketing to children and adolescents. ChangeLab Solutions, 1-17. Retrieved from https://www.changelabsolutions.org/sites/default/files/EthicalFoodMarketing_FINAL_20121005.pdf