Australian consumers are supportive of the idea of ethical purchasing but are failing to follow-through in their shopping practices, according to the findings of a new report.

The Australian Ethical Consumer Report, released by Christian aid and development organisation Baptist World Aid Australia in collaboration with social research company McCrindle, found that while 87 per cent of Australians want their consumption to be more ethical, only 46 per cent say they regularly buy from ethical or sustainable fashion brands.

Australian Ethical Consumer Report graphic1

GRAPHIC: Australian Ethical Consumer Report

It also found that Australians cite a lack of awareness of brands (39 per cent) and the expense of purchasing ethical or sustainable brands (33 per cent) as the two greatest barriers to changing purchasing behaviour. 

Other findings in the report, which draws on data gathered by McCrindle in an online survey of 2,006 nationally representative Australians conducted between 24th February and 4th March, show that Australians are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of ethical consumption. Some 62 per cent indicated they have become more aware of the impacts of their purchasing decisions over the past three years and 42 per cent strongly or somewhat agreed that they intend to change their consumption habits to be more ethical in the next 12 months.

Generation Z females score highest when it comes to ethical and sustainable purchases in what the report's creators say is a reflection of the greater sense of global citizenship felt among younger generations and a greater propensity to engage with news, resources and other information about ethical fashion. 

Dividing consumers into four 'archetypes', the survey found some 60 per cent of Australians are what it terms "practical purchasers" - defined as those who "prefer to focus on what is going to best meet their needs in the here and now, rather than worrying about their future needs or what impacts their purchases will have in the future" - while only 10 per cent are "socially-minded shoppers - those who "believe the impact of their purchases on others matters more than their own benefit" and nine per cent are "conscious consumers" who "think about the long-term impact of their purchasing decisions and bring a holistic perspective to their shopping habits". Some 22 per cent are "intentional individualists" - those who are "more likely to buy thinking about their future needs than their current needs".

Peter Keegan, director of advocacy at Baptist World Aid Australia, said the findings in the report reveal a "dissonance between who we want to be, and what we're doing to get there".

"Almost three in four Australians believe ethical fashion and related issues of human rights and environmental sustainability are important, with three in five consumers becoming more aware of the impacts of their purchases over the past three years," he said in a statement. "But a large portion of consumers are still struggling to take those next steps towards purchasing ethically. Tools like the Ethical Fashion Report are created to bridge this gap and help consumers to match intention and action."

The Ethical Fashion Report, which Baptist World Aid Australia has published since 2013, examines what fashion companies are doing to protect workers in their supply chains from unsafe working conditions and exploitation. 

The Australian Ethical Consumer Report has been released with a five minute online quiz which allows consumers to see how they compare with their peers when it comes to the issue of ethical and sustainable shopping practices, as well as helping them take steps towards changing their shopping habits. 

"Aussies pride themselves on supporting a ‘fair go for all,’ and this couldn’t be more applicable when examining the issues of injustice surrounding ethical fashion," said McCrindle's Ashley Fell in a statement. "We see younger generations, and women, more open to changing their habits to align with this value. The ‘My Shopping Type’ online quiz gives consumers a chance to see how they compare against their peers on this important issue, as well as being empowered with steps towards aligning their purchases with their values."