Consumers may view outsourcing of production activities, especially to low-income countries as undermining socially responsible behaviour, e.g., through environmental degradation and worker exploitation. Nevertheless, there appears to be no strong evidence of causal links between supply chains and moral responsibility.
Recent experimental research on “diffusion of responsibility,” however, might be brought to bear on this: these findings suggest that agents can and often will distance themselves from responsibility for their actions, both in their own eyes and in the eyes of others. The overarching question of this project is whether the development of supply chains is related to attributions of moral responsibility by the affected parties, e.g., do consumers shift responsibility from final good producers to suppliers, when the former outsource to the latter, and, if so, do such attributions of moral responsibility affect outsourcing decisions?
Addressing these questions with observational data is problematic. The increasing prevalence of supply chains is surely related to technological innovations and structural changes in trade unrelated to moral motivation. It is difficult to disentangle these developments from diffusion of responsibility and to identify possible causal relationships between the diffusion of production from diffusion of responsibility. We propose a set of economic experiments in the laboratory and the field to tighten causal inferences while maintaining a high level of external validity (i.e., relevance to the field).