‘Freedom Through Marketing’ Is Not Doublespeak

Abstract

The articles comprising this thematic symposium suggest options for exploring the nexus between freedom and unfreedom, as exemplified by the British abolitionists’ anti-slavery campaign and the paradox of freedom. Each article has implications for how these abolitionists achieved their goals, social activists’ efforts to secure reparations for slave ancestors, and modern slavery (e.g., human trafficking). We present the abolitionists’ undertaking as a marketing campaign, highlighting the role of instilling moral agency and indignation through re-humanizing the dehumanized. Despite this campaign’s eventual success, its post-emancipation phase illustrates a paradox of freedom. After introducing mystification as an explanation for the obscuring rhetoric used to conceal post-emancipation violations of freedom during the West’s colonial phase, we briefly discuss the appropriateness of reparations. Finally, we discuss the contributions made by the articles in this thematic symposium.

Prologue

Following the 50th Academy of Marketing conference on freedom through marketing, a symposium was convened to explore how freedom through marketing and ethics intersect. Given its anti-slavery—and thus freedom—connection, partly because famous son William Wilberforce helped spearhead Britain’s abolition movement (Hague 2008; Metaxas 2007; Oldfield 2007), the University of Hull was an ideal venue for the conference and symposium.Footnote 1 To sustain the university’s commitment to exploring the freedom–slavery nexus, symposium organizers queried attendees about the relationship between freedom and marketing. This thematic symposium for Journal of Business Ethics reflects that relationship.

Our introductory article presents historical lessons about counter-marketing in markets characterized by inequality, injustice, and oppression. We proceed as follows. After introducing quantitative and qualitative freedom, we discuss British abolitionists’ use of counter-marketing to convince Britons to spurn slavery.Footnote 2 Because post-abolitionist colonial occupation compromised the abolitionists’ original counter-marketing efforts, we next question the promulgation of revisionist historical accounts that are consistent with social mystification and designed to justify humanitarian imperialism by mythologizing Britain’s abolishment of slavery (Forclaz 2015). Then, we briefly explore the appropriateness of reparations for ancestors—analogous to legal remedies to compensate consumers for injuries caused by product use—harmed by the slave trade’s legacy (Beckles 2013; Feagin 2004; Streich 2002; Valls 1999). Finally, we preview this thematic symposium’s five articles and relate them to the British abolitionists’ anti-slavery movement and freedom from injustice, inequality, and oppression for modern slaves (e.g., human trafficking). Ignoring parallels between the slave trade’s legacy and modern slavery is tantamount to protecting humanity from “understanding that, like the consumers of the past, we are dependent on the abhorrent exploitation of others” (Bravo 2007, p. 295).

Quantitative Versus Qualitative Freedom

Given its ambiguous, value-laden, and contested nature, freedom is ethereal and problematic because it camouflages differing connotations (Foner 1994; Gray 1991; Taylor 2004). Freedom’s “complex historical deposit” (Williams 2001, p. 4) has limited its unified conceptualization and subjected it to semantic and ontological snags (Schut and Grassiani 2017). Although other schemes exist for categorizing freedom [e.g., negative versus positive (Berlin 1988; Fromm 1941), formal versus substantive (Sen 1999)], the quantitative versus qualitative scheme is the most parsimonious (Dierksmeier and Pirson 2010).

Quantitative freedom depreciates the “intrinsic values of culture, gender differences, traditional life forms and their respective specificities, making invisible the very contexts out of which real freedom and autonomy grow” (Dierksmeier and Pirson 2010, p. 10). Its maxim ‘the more, the better’ and its dictum ‘homo economicus’ instrumentalizes people by ignoring their inalienable rights (Pirson 2017; Sen 1999). For example, quantitative freedom’s effect on gender inequality are artifacts of macroeconomic policy’s three gender biases: male breadwinner bias (i.e., perpetuating women’s financial dependence on men), commodification bias (i.e., ignoring women’s income-in-kind), and deflationary bias (i.e., slashing social service expenditures) (Gasper and Van Staveren 2003; Sen 1999). Our later discussion about implications for Britain’s abolitionist and post-emancipation stories reflect a rupture in quantitative freedom (i.e., transition from the abolitionist’s qualitative freedom to post-emancipatory quantitative neo-liberalism).

In contrast, qualitative freedom espouses self-reflective and self-constraining liberty, thus prioritizing people’s self-actualization as social agents (Dierksmeier and Pirson 2010). Its maxim ‘the better, the more’ reflects a universalistic principle: people are social beings. Given the importance of social self-identity, qualitative freedom “circumscribes to the realm of both individual and societal liberties so that all can live in dignity and freedom” (Dierksmeier and Pirson 2010, p. 15). By prioritizing human essence, qualitative freedom assumes each “person…[is] a moral entity….worthy of performing moral acts and receiving moral acts” (Waytz et al. 2013, p. 61).

Substantive freedom, which is the capacity to achieve valued ends by ‘being and doing,’ reifies the qualitative approach by relying on capacity rather than external influence (Sen 1999). Qualitative freedom ensures equality and tolerance, with examples often extending from non-Western perspectives that espouse freedom as social responsibility; hence, “Western traditions are not the only ones that prepare us for a freedom based approach to social understanding” (Sen 1999, p. 249).

Humanistic marketing, which conforms to a qualitative approach to freedom characterized as “morally grounded, participative and relationally oriented” (Dierksmeier and Pirson 2010, p. 20), dignifies rather than commodifies consumers (Varey and Pirsons 2014) (i.e., treats them “as whole human beings with minds, hearts, and spirits”) (Kotler et al. 2010, p. 4). Humanistic marketing considers consumers’ extended well-being and creates exchanges that enhance their lives and unleash their creativity (Varey and Pirson 2014).

Freedom-Related Values

Although scholars may view economic development as the means and end of freedom (Sen 1999), this perspective ignores freedom’s cluster of interrelated values (Gasper and Van Staveren 2003; Nussbaum 1995). Consequently, the importance of values related to freedom—such as caring, empathy, self-esteem, friendship, respect, and justice—is obfuscated. In contrast, a ‘capabilities approach’ highlights unfreedoms (e.g., women face lower education levels, reproductive health risks, and labor market discrimination), as all “capabilities that human beings could acquire are to be understood as freedoms” (Gasper and Van Staveren 2003, p. 9). This approach also demands greater attention to internal powers and external opportunities because capabilities often require nurturing to flourish (Crocker 1995). Because freedom, justice, and caring are interconnected yet distinct, freedom should encapsulate these values, as attaining it at a personal agency level ultimately requires social justice (Staveren 2001). Thus, any exploration of freedom through marketing should consider violations of inequality, injustice, and oppression.

Slavery and the Paradox of Freedom

The genocidal components of Western colonial history are well-documented (Beckles 2013; Davis 2001; Hochschild; 1999; Wahab and Jones 2011; Leach et al. 2013; Stannard 1992). Recognizing these components exposes the sociopathological norms that Wilberforce, his contemporaries, and slaves faced. “The colonizers had the intent to destroy, in whole, or in part ethnic, ‘racial’, and religious groups that complicated the colonial project” (Leach et al. 2013, p. 36). Estimates of Blacks killed by the transatlantic slave trade range from four million (Lovejoy 1989; Rogozinski 2000) to 60 million (Sherwood 2012; Stannard 1992).

The debate about freedom’s evolution “has bruited in the open what we cannot stand to hear,” namely that its construction is intertwined with the West’s historical relationship with slavery, as evinced by the “grandeur and horrors of industrial Europe and America” (Patterson 1991, pp. 402–403). Although slavery is the underside of freedom, the slavery–freedom dyad has long resisted political and social consensus (Engerman 2003). Compounding the complex historical trajectory of Western freedom was the parallel between enslaving the ‘other’ and self-slavery to create “passive subjects over whom monarchs claimed divinely sanctioned absolute rule” (Smallwood 2014, p. 111). Emancipation from self-slavery decentralized the personal liberty of white men, who became the “the freest individuals the Western world had ever known” (Appleby 1992, p. 155) by institutionalizing slavery (Berlin 1998; Blackburn 1988; Davis 1975).

Richard Price, a friend of Thomas Jefferson, noted the incongruence between a “people who have been struggling so earnestly to save themselves from slavery” and their readiness to enslave others (Boyd 1953, p. 259). Explaining Western ‘expansion of freedom’ and “assigning responsibility for the positive transformations of freedom” (Smallwood 2014, p. 113) makes freedom problematic (Wahab and Jones 2011). The post-emancipation political and social acceptability of colonialism, or “liberalism’s contentious reformulations beyond abolition,” reveal the paradox of “blurring the boundaries between slavery and abolition and the equation of the latter with freedom” by questioning the “seemingly tidy and unproblematic relationship between unfreedom and freedom” (Wahab and Jones 2011, p. 4). The British abolitionists’ legacy suggests that oppression, inequality, and injustice haunt freedom (Grant 2013; Parijs 1997; Sen 1999), yet attaining freedom for silenced or marginalized persons means recognizing it is bound by moral responsibility and respect for human dignity (Pirson 2017).

Modern management, built on capitalism and free markets, is rooted in slavery (Rosenthal 2018); for example, the transatlantic slave trade contributed substantially to British and U.S. economic development (Beckert and Rockman 2016; Draper 2009; Hall et al. 2014; Inikori 1987; Johnson 2010; Mintz 1986). As “one of the most ambitious experiments in social engineering of the early modern era: the establishment of slave plantations” (Osterhammel and Petersson 2005, p. 47), the commodification of slaves was instrumental in restructuring Western economies (Black 2015). Providing new consumer goods to “stimulate the body, mind and senses: sugar, tobacco, caffeine…coffee and chocolate” slavery’s profitability relied on substantially altering the Western consumers’ palate (Black 2015, p. 40).

Abolitionists’ Campaign

Because “for the abolitionists, freedom was the avowed central issue in the debate over slavery” (Drescher 1997, p. 135), their society-transforming efforts comprised a prototypical campaign for freedom through marketing. Their campaign, which refuted dehumanizing Blacks as subhuman apes, vile brutes, or three-fifths of a person (in the antebellum U.S.), involved mass media and emotive appeals (Drescher 1997, 2009; Haslam et al. 2013; Hastings 2017; Smith 2012; Woods 2015). Ultimately, benevolent appeals meant to arouse compassion and sympathy for slaves and retributive appeals meant to rebuke slave traders spurred Britons into action (Woods 2015).

Their campaign serves as an exemplar for social marketing (Hastings 2017), social and human rights movements (Drescher 1997; Smith 2012), boycotting (Irving et al. 2002), and the evolution of public relations (Kotler and Mindak 1978). The abolitionists invented and used many of the techniques we now associate with social marketing campaigns (Hastings 2017; Hochschild 2006). The key elements of strategic marketing planning were evident in mobilizing anti-slavery sentiment and actualized through tactical deliberation; for example by using petitions, marches, logos, boycotts, logos, fliers and mass media outlets like newsletters (Hochschild 2006). The campaign’s success can be gauged only through its appeal to diverse British audiences and its ability to transform the public’s moral belief “from unreflective to vehement condemnation” (Woods 2015, p. 677).

Campaign logos were ubiquitous and essential to raising awareness, interest, curiosity, and a desire for action (Smith 2012). Perhaps the quintessential campaign logo was Josiah Wedgwood’s seal, which depicted a kneeling Black slave below the caption ‘Am I not a man and a brother.’ Although this image would be unacceptable today, it was disseminated to Britons conditioned to viewing Blacks as abnegated from fundamental human qualities.

From the ‘Negro-ape metaphor’ to Nazi propaganda about ‘Jews as humanity’s vermin’ (Lott 1999; Mieder 1982; Potts 1997), dehumanizing rhetoric has been an insidious precursor of genocidal acts (Bain et al. 2013; Stanton 2004; Zimbardo 2011). Dehumanization is the “very phase where the death spiral of genocide” becomes acceptable (Stanton 2004, p. 214). In contrast, humanization begins with empathizing or imagining other people’s perspectives, i.e., having a theory of mind (Fiske 2009; Halpern and Weinstein 2004; Harris and Fiske 2009).

Wedgwood’s rhetorical self-reflective question re-humanized Blacks as ‘men’ and ‘brothers’ worthy of empathy and compassion. Other iconic campaign images, such as slaves tightly packed into the interior of the infamous slave ship Brookes, aroused moral indignation by depicting slave traders’ brutality (Woods 2015). Although criticized for objectifying slaves, Wedgewood’s seal forced viewers to imagine their experiences, and imagination is central to the re-humanization process that bridges humanization of ‘others’ through empathetic imagination (Nafisi 2008; Oelofsen 2009). Conversely, the lack of imagination is indifference, which renders ‘others’ lives and subjectivities invisible (Oelofsen 2009). With 7000 posters hung nationwide and reproduced in newspapers, books, and pamphlets, these images reminded viewers of the cruelty slaves encountered (Lubbock 2007; Smith 2012).

The roughly 130 slave deaths about the slave ship Zong fomented Britons’ moral indignation toward the slave trade. Olaudah Equiano—the first freed British slave—spearheaded the ship owners’ subsequent trial for manslaughter. The Zong affair provided pivotal motivation for establishing the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1787. The following year, Parliament passed its first Slave Trade Act to regulate conditions slaves encountered during transit. Visual campaign elements and stories conditioned slaves to pursue their emancipation, as the ‘Ode to Philanthropy’ in the London Chronicle captured, ‘All proclaim fair freedom’s reign’ (Drescher 2012). Wedgewood’s iconic seal reflected abettors’ endorsement of the abolitionist movement (Clarkson 1808).

Paralleling these public displays were consumer boycotts, which tangibilized support for the anti-slavery movement. In a prelude to modern consumer boycotts, U.S. abolitionists urged consumers to buy goods made by free workers (Glickman 2004). These abolitionists, who were proponents of the early U.S. Evangelical values and similar to modern consumer activists, viewed the “consumption system as the enemy and the blind and embedded consumers as an inextricable and essential part of that system” (Kozinets and Handelman 2004, p. 702).

Religious networks helped to disseminate the British abolitionists’ appeals (Drescher 1977). Spiritual allegiances bolstered the abolitionist movement’s leading protagonists (Lysack 2012). The Clapham sect, a group of Anglican evangelists, was Wilberforce’s most ardent abettor; the Quakers supported Thomas Clarkson; the Methodists supported Equiano after his conversion to Christianity; and the Catholics supported Daniel O’Connell. These protagonists’ writings show “how their interior spiritual lives nourished their activism and engagement with the abolition movement” (Lysack 2012, p. 169). Central to their appeals was re-humanizing the self before re-humanizing ‘the other’ and proselytizing that all human beings, but especially Christians, were innately compassionate. “[V]ivid, unforgettable descriptions of acts of great injustice done to their fellow human being” (Hochschild 2006, p. 366) were instrumental to activating the moral agency and indignation essential to bridging the public-slave lacuna (Hastings 2017; Wood 2007). Such descriptions dovetail current theories about launching successful social movements, advancing social harmony between belligerent groups, and countering dehumanization (Bain et al. 2013). Hence, the abolitionists tapped into public opposition to the prevailing societal myth and provided an alternative.

In the early nineteenth century Britain, anti-slavery messages proliferated when they began appealing to an expanding middle-class consciousness (Oldfield 2012). Already dissatisfied with their ruling elite, the loss of the American colonies heightened the middle classes’ self-referential reasons for abolishing slavery as a “way of reaffirming [Britain’s] unique commitment to liberty” (Colley 2005, p. 354). This era was denoted by intensifying public “enthusiasm for parliamentary reform, for religious liberalisation….for virtually anything…that might prevent a similar national humiliation in the future” (Colley 2005, p. 143). Although the Zong massacre impelled moral indignation toward slave traders, these traders also represented the British elite class (Pettigrew 2007). Given slavery’s continuing legality in the U.S., British anti-slavery sentiment became an “emblem of national virtue” that served to “rebut American pretensions to superior freedoms” (Colley 2005, p. 54).

Anti-slavery appeals were diverse because their proponents were diverse: radicals who struggled for the rights of men, employees who were empathetic to ‘the fellow oppressed,’ employers who viewed slavery as an affront to free-market economies, and traditionalists who still believed the British system embraced freedom (Colley 2005). Consequently, Britons restored their reputation as champions of moral integrity, with the abolishment of slavery used as “irrefutable proof…[Britain’s] power was founded on religion, on freedom and on moral calibre” (Colley 2005, p. 359). Britons’ establishing the Society for the Abolition Slave Trade in May 1787 was not coincidental (Oldfield 2012).

Mystifying the Past and Present

Social myths with a strong ideological component or infused with beliefs and values promulgating by the dominant group’s weltanschauung often “mystify or mask unsettling, social or political realities” (Dholakia and Firat 2016, p. 406). People adopt these myths to create self-mystification (i.e., self-delusion and cultural mystification) and self-justification experiences (Becker 1997; Dholakia and Firat 2016). Fundamentally, mystification is “confusion between appearance and reality, between knowledge and opinion” (Dholakia 2016, p. 401) that obscures social reality by “masking or suppressing external social challenges to the dominant group” (Hirschman 1993, p. 538). Essential to promoting injurious or maladaptive ideas, mystification can entail “the fostering of delusional consciousness, a consciousness that suppresses the self-interest or class interest of the adopters and supplants it with a consciousness that is either diversionary or deflective or (more insidiously) oppositional and injurious” (Dholakia and Firat 2016, p. 407). Dominant groups use mystification to legitimize their social control identity projects (Eagleton 1991). Capitalist elites use mystical associations (e.g., plutonomy, freedom, opportunity, and enterprise) to celebrate growing social inequality, thus rendering it “invisible, innocuous, acceptable, or even celebrated” (Dholakia and Firat 2016, p. 407).

Mystification relies on ‘bounded awareness’ and ‘bounded ethicality’ (i.e., cognitive constraints that make people unaware their decisions are counter to their values and principles) (Chugh and Bazerman 2007; Chugh et al. 2005). Related to ‘ethical blindness’ [i.e., “temporary inability of a decision maker to see the ethical dimension of a decision at stake” (Palazzo et al. 2012, p. 325)], these cognitive constraints can cause “good people to behave in pathological ways that are alien to their nature” (Zimbardo 2007, p. 195; also see Bandura 2002; Tenbrunsel and Smith-Crowe 2008). Ethical blindness tends to shift ethical decision making from a rational process often rooted in Kantian or utilitarian principles to an automatic, intuitive, or unconscious process (Haidt 2012; Sonenshein 2007). Situational pressures, institutional pressures, and rigid framing foster ethical blindness (Palazzo et al. 2012).

‘Frames’ [i.e., “mental structures that simplify and guide our understanding of a complex reality” (Schoemaker 2004, p. 21)] limit ethical and moral decisions to an already accepted weltanschauung (Weick 1995). “[B]y masking some elements and highlighting others, frames make people blind to some aspects of a problem” (Palazzo et al. 2012, p. 327). ‘Rigid framing,’ which occurs when a strong frame obscures alternative frames that would have provided a fuller perspective (Schoemaker and Russo 2001), can induce ethical and moral reasoning tied to a “narrow and self-referential closed concept of reality” (Palazzo et al. 2012, p. 327). To avoid such reasoning and consider a broader range of options, people should rely on a repertoire of frames (Schoemaker and Russo 2001; Weick 1995). When competing frames are silenced, discourse counter-constructions become unthinkable or unmentionable, and presupposed discourse assumes greater dominance (Hall 2003).

Restricting frames can lead to mental microcosms (i.e., rigid in-group weltanschauung-infused interpretations) that presume people’s decisions are ethical or moral because they already have all relevant knowledge (Lakoff 2004). Moral imagination—“an ability to imaginatively discern various possibilities for acting within a given situation and to envision the potential help and harm that are likely to result from a given action” (Johnson 1993, p. 202)—is essential to overcoming such microcosms. Sadly, many Westerners’ reliance on a moral disengagement frame for assessing the appropriateness of reparations for slave ancestors is a product of their restricted moral imagination about the transatlantic slave trade’s legacy and mystification of post-emancipation slavery (Brooks 2004; Ulrich 2001).

Mystifying Post-emancipation Slavery

Abolishing slavery became the grounds for reasserting the British Empire’s moral superiority, which legitimized its post-abolitionist colonial projects and “its particular claim to speak for those who were too weak to speak for themselves” (Oldfield 2007, p. 1). “Slavery has become spectacularly mythologised within English culture” (Wood 2007, p. 7) through national aggrandizement (e.g., re-created post-abolitionist imperialistic discourse, celebrated moral leadership, self-congratulatory claims about protecting ‘the weak’) (Oldfield 2007). A new form of humanitarian imperialism began to define Britain and characterize a pan-European civilizing mission in Africa (Forclaz 2015). Anti-slavery ceremonials typically positioned abolitionism as the noblest chapter in Britain’s history of freedom, lauding Britons for their independence, freedom loving, idealism, bravery, and stewardship (Oldfield 2007).

Ironically, “[t]he triumph of anti-slavery ideas…gave a new life to British racial prejudice” because the economic and social benefits to emancipated Blacks were “muted by state interventions whenever the free market seemed to be to the advantage of black over white interests” (Huzzey 2012, p. 209). The beneficent despotism that characterized nineteenth century Britain was partially a racist response to slave emancipation, as international slavery continued to yield handsome returns to British investors (Cooper 2000; Drescher 2009). Britain’s formal abolition of slavery paralleled a rise in its informal entanglement with U.S. slavery to the extent that “even more than in its early days of development, slavery showed all the signs of being a vigorous global economic system” (Walvin 2011, p. 201). The racism that fueled the slave trade evolved into “freed individual slaves whilst justifying the domination of entire nations” (Holt 1992, p. 17). Hence, the case for British colonialism showed the ongoing economic viability of slave labor well after emancipation (Drescher 1997).

Rather than focusing on the slaves’ emancipation or slavery’s abolishment, Britons mythologized the abolitionists’ legacy (Oldfield 2007). Britain’s slavery heritage fixated on slavery as the slave trade, thus relegating it to a regrettable maritime activity of the distant past (Beech 2001). Defining slavery from a non-Black perspective silences representation of what occurred to the people who endured slavery and discounts Black and female activists’ contributions to abolitionism (Cashmore and Jennings 2001).

‘Abolitionist discourse’—the type of post-genocidal amnesia that characterized Britain’s national branding—perverts national mythologies via revisionist historical accounts (Waterton and Wilson 2009). Such discourse, recounted during the U.K.’s bicentennial commemoration of abolitionism, focused on (1) ensuring Britons they live in better times by ‘distancing the past,’ (2) assigning responsibility to the institution of slavery rather than to governments, businesses, or persons, (3) aggrandizing Britons as moral agents and thus stressing their benevolence, and (4) deflecting blame by, for example, inverting racism (i.e., blaming victims for their mistreatment) (Beech 2001; Oldfield 2007; Waterton and Wilson 2009). By mystifying the abolitionists’ legacy, this commemoration perpetuated a positive national image while minimizing freedom from prolonged injustices (Paton 2009; Paton and Webster 2009; Streich 2002; Waterton and Wilson 2009).

In Western histories, “explicit and strong self-criticism for past generations’ genocide, or other mass violence, is a rarity…[that shows] the absence, rather than the presence, of self-criticism for the in-group’s mass violence” (Leach et al. 2013, p.47). Genocide psychologists and historians attribute this lack of self-criticism to memory repressing, limited monitoring, and evaluating events as peripheral and meaningless, which contributes “to the same self-serving bias, aimed at silencing past contents capable of disadvantaging present-day social belonging” (Leone and Mastrovito 2010, p. 15). What emerges is collective false memories or shared selective representations of the past (Volpato and Licata 2010), enabling a culture to “retain from the past only what still lives or is capable of living in the consciousness of the groups keeping the memory alive” (Halbwachs 1980, p. 80). By managing collective memories, in-groups can shape their society’s weltanschauung because “the past [can] be continually…re-made, reconstructed in the interests of the present” (Bartlett 1932, p. 309), thus legitimizing current in-group actions (Volpato and Licata 2010).

Politicians tend to shield their constituents from moral doubt attributable to ancestral wrongdoing. Achieving personal agency for people subject to oppression, inequality, or injustice requires appreciating how freedom complements social justice and caring (Nussbaum 1995; Staveren 2001), as evinced by the abolitionists’ appeals to moral agency (Hastings 2017). However, social justice and caring also relate to links between political and economic forces, which means freedom is intersectional and environmentally bound (Sen 1999). To promote freedom and counter prevailing sociopolitical and economic dogma, British abolitionists aroused empathy and moral agency or appealed to retributive and moral indignation. As abolitionist Mary Wollstonecraft noted, “it is unsustainable to have a defence of freedom of human beings that separates some people whose liberties matter from others not to be included in that favoured category” (Sen 1999, p. 116).

The post-emancipation legacy of colonialism problematizes the story of freedom from the slave trade (Wahab and Jones 2011). Calls for reparations could be considered counter-marketing that recognizes ignoring historical injustices to Blacks is tantamount to ignoring their voices as wholesome, which is a counter-marketing prerequisite (Kotler 1973).

Replacing Rhetoric with Reparations

When oppression, injustice, and inequality are substantial, like that caused by the transatlantic slave trade, implications for using reparations for the victims and possibly their ancestors are ethically daunting. Do policy makers risk their idealized national identity by facing specters or phantoms from the past (Derrida 1993)? For example, poverty in Europe’s African colonies was a byproduct of creating European wealth and luxury via the slave trade (DuBois 1946). The human rights abuses of this trade produced ‘unjust enrichment’ [i.e., to possess “property, money, or benefits which in justice and equity belong to another” (Ballentine and Anderson 1969, p. 1320)] for Westerners. Obfuscating discussions about white privilege as the foundation of Western societies arising from slavery-derived economic gains normalizes ‘unjust impoverishment’ [i.e., “conditions of those who have suffered at the hands of those who have been unfairly enriched” (Feagin 2004, p. 51)]. Thus, how can injured parties overcome the ‘magic of mystification’ nations often use to maintain a social self-image as moral and humane champions of global freedom?

A society’s wealth distribution is ‘just’ only if the original acquisitions of holdings did not usurp anyone’s rights (Nozick 1974). Regarding the slave trade, the lack of reparations and affirmative action needed to rectify previous wrongs means ignoring the slave trade’s history and its aftermath (Valls 1999). Because injustices inflicted on Blacks via the slave trade were more extensive than the injustices inflicted on other racial groups, reparations are justifiable despite the ‘British press’ using inverted racism to discourage an open dialog (Waterton and Wilson 2009).

Full reparation payments for the ancestors of Black slaves would total trillions of dollars (Feagin 2004; Marketti 1990). Major international reparations efforts are ongoing. In 1991, representatives to the first Pan-African Conference on Reparations for African Casualties of European Colonialism called for “the international community to recognize that there is a unique and unprecedented moral debt owed to African peoples which has yet to be paid—the debt of compensation to the Africans as the most humiliated and exploited people of the last four centuries of modern history.” The Caricom Reparations Committee is a twelve-nation committee demanding compensation from the UK and other European colonial powers “for the Crimes against Humanity of Native Genocide, the Transatlantic Slave Trade and a racialized system of chattel Slavery.” Caricom’s lobbying of the U.N. General Assembly lead to recognizing 2015 to 2024 as the “International Decade for People of African Descent” (UNGA 68/237 2014). Rather than mere statements of regret, Caricom’s ten-point plan includes full formal apologies, compensatory reparations (e.g., debt cancellation), and affirmative action targeting Blacks’ health and educational disparities.

An official apology and reparations remain key concerns among slave trade ancestors (Tibbles 2008). British sentiment is mixed. Although two BBC polls showed most Britons—91.1% and 67%, respectively—opposed to an apology, a different poll showed 62.8% supported it (Tibbles 2008). The U.K. government’s stance remains that slavery was legal until 1807, so it cannot “formally apologise for it and leave itself open to claims to compensation” (Tibbles 2008, p. 300). Unfortunately, current manifestations of slavery, such as human trafficking, will continue to resist change until the transatlantic slave trade’s legacy is fully recognized.

Modern Slavery

The transatlantic slave trade was the birth of modern slavery because it shows “that the spontaneous dynamic of civil society…in the modern sense of the term…is also pregnant with disaster and mayhem…[and] destructive patterns of human conduct” (Blackburn 1998, pp. 5–6). In essence, transatlantic slavery was modern slavery—a massive and ongoing tragedy with death estimates ranging from 12 million to 40 million persons (Bales 1999; Gilroy 1993; ILO 2018; Kapstein 2006). Dissociating modern slavery from the transatlantic slave trade obfuscates the “structural and systemic similarities in the two phenomena by mystifying and thus concealing the full structural participation of ‘legitimate’ enterprises and institutions in modern trafficking in humans” (Bravo 2007, p. 256). Moreover, by disavowing the role of race and racism (Davidson 2015), modern abolitionist activists’ calls for freedom shift responsibility for slavery from the underlying structural and dominant institutional apparatus that nurtured slavery (Bernstein 2010).

Although modern slavery is characterized more by poverty than color (Bales 2009), making it colorblind discounts victims living in nations once colonized by Western imperialists who embraced a racial superiority dogma (Davidson 2015). Colorblind activists engage in a modern ‘white (wo)man’s burden’ (Kempadoo 2015) or ‘rescue industry’ that exculpates the Northern Hemisphere’s industrial countries—the largest profiters from global trades in trafficked (especially sexual) labor (Belser et al. 2005)—from benefits attributable to structures and systems derived from colonialism (McGrath and Mieres 2014).

Although transatlantic and modern slavery differ somewhat, the same global economic structures connect them (Bravo 2007). Temporally distancing modern slavery from transatlantic slavery enables neo-abolitionist policy makers to relegate the latter’s legacy to history’s trash bin and condemn modern slavery as a horror compelling a moral crusade against unconscionable evil (Forclaz 2015). Shifting the problem of modern slavery to developing nations “absolve[es] the West from complicity in sustaining contemporary conditions of exploitation, force and violence in labor markets” (Davidson 2015, p. 15). Moreover, modern slaves risk deportation as illegal immigrants if they complain to authorities (Davidson 2015). Thus, the cycle of mystification continues to reinforce the illusion of noble saviors rescuing ‘mostly brown people’ (Rothschild 2011).

Exacerbating denial of the transatlantic slave trade as nascent modern slavery are calls for ‘managed race migration,’ which is rooted in the slave and colonial states’ efforts to oversee the migration of people considered ‘outsiders and sub-persons’ (Davidson 2015). Many U.S. and U.K. policy makers demonize immigrants with blatantly dehumanizing rhetoric, referring to them as a flood, an invasion, aliens, leeches, bloodsuckers, and parasites (Musolff 2015; Nevins 2001). The language of modern slavery must be shunned before further dehumanizing its victims within an ideographical discourse or “taken-for-granted ‘naturalized’ world of common sense” (Hall 2003, p. 90). Hence, we dedicate the remainder of this article to reviewing the thematic symposium articles’ contribution to the paradox of freedom that underpins discussions about slavery. We highlight implications for grasping the British abolitionists’ legacy and how anti-slavery activists can emancipate modern slavery’s victims.

Thematic Symposium Overview

Ron Hill’s “Freedom of the Will and Consumption Restrictions: A Consideration of Vulnerable Consumer,” which serves as a reminder of the limited studies examining abnegations of consumer free will, reflects marketing’s dearth of qualitative freedom studies (Dierksmeier 2014). Because free will is intertwined with “moral responsibility, love and friendship, and the dignity of the person” (Hill, p. X), examining it reifies freedom within a family of values. Hill argues that restricting free will can activate vulnerable people’s retro-coping mechanisms to attain freedom. His discussion on commodification as dehumanization relates to the experiences of Black slaves because it highlights humanness as the abnegateds’ transcendental goal.

“[S]laves were the active agents of their own emancipation” (Matthews 2006, p. 2) and abolitionists subsequently used rebellions, which slaves actualized as self-transcendence, in their anti-slavery campaigns. Abolitionists “sympathized with, justified, and positively conceptualized and esteemed the slave’s resistance to enslavement” (Matthews 2006, p. 12). However, ‘bottom up–top down’ emancipation was contested because many abolitionists reluctantly reified slave revolts while other abolitionists promoted slave uprisings as self-defense against oppression (Midgley 1992). Without slave revolts, “the British anti-slavery movement would have been non-existent” (Matthews 2006, p. 5). Perhaps the key event in abolishing slavery, the Jamaican revolt of 1831 was decisive in precipitating emancipation (Green 1976; Heuman 1996).

By managing the parliamentary and associative plantation plutocracy’s retributive action against the rebels, Wilberforce used the U.K.’s abolitionist movement to synergize revolts abroad. Arguing that unbearable conditions provided ‘just cause’ while fearing slave revolts could stall government-steered slave reforms, Wilberforce positioned the revolts as evidence ‘pledges for change’ should be formalized into action. Thus, Hill’s account dovetails a ‘bottom up–‘topdown’ approach to actualizing freedom through marketing, with grassroots activists guided and supported by public policy makers and vice versa. Noncooperation between state and grassroots organizations challenging modern slavery remains a chronic problem. For governments and U.N. agencies to emancipate the world from modern slavery, “they must partner with groups that can offer slaves a way to pull themselves up from bondage” and “encourage groups that empower slaves to free themselves” (Skinner 2008, p. 67).

Wilberforce faced a classic ‘wicked problem’, i.e., an intractable and inherently complex problem (Houghton and Tuffley 2015; Rittel and Webber 1973). With Rhino’s horn trafficking as the exemplar, “An Ethical Marketing Approach to Wicked Problems: Macromarketing for the Common Good” by Thomas Pittz, Susan Steiner, and Julie Pennington, posits that the common-good perspective is superior for addressing such problems. They argue the breadth of stakeholders in complex market systems precludes reliance on distributive justice solutions. Wildlife crime in the form of poaching is the most immediate threat to wild rhinoceroses (as well as other endangered species) and is a direct outcome of the marketing system’s failure. Although the suggestion to legalize Rhino horn sales seemingly would provoke animal rights activists and conservationists, it encourages reexamining horn consumption from the perspective of often-silenced local or community stakeholders for whom the Rhino’s full value cannot be optimized without considering the benefits of Rhino farming.

The common-good perspective has a long and established etiology from Aristotle to Rawls. Although Western political ideology traditionally links justice to the common good, “it is critical that the sources of caritas (charity) and mercy be recognized, respected, and reinforced as indispensable educators for and aspects of the common good” (Keys 2013, p. 244). Justice may cause peace indirectly, yet “charity surpasses justice [because due] to its very nature it causes peace…by forging true and good union within and among human beings” (Keys 2013, p. 253).

Management research largely ignores a common-good perspective (Cooke 2003; Crane 2013). Consider the dearth of studies on corporate culpability for modern slavery, i.e., “denial of slavery in management studies” (Cooke 2003, p. 1895), which has spurred calls for post-colonial studies in management sciences (Westwood and Jack 2007). Obfuscating slavery’s history disregards modern slavery’s victims while obscuring exploitive corporate policies. A common-good approach could shed light on modern slavery by unveiling stakeholders like the multinational corporations that permitted child labor in sweat shop industries (Klein 2009).

In “Emancipatory Ethical Social Media Campaigns: Fostering Relationship Harmony and Peace,” Arsalan Ghouri, Pervaiz Akhtar, Maya Vachkova, Muhammad Shahbaz, and Aviral Tiwari consider stifled disagreement between belligerent communities: specifically, Indians and Pakistanis. They queried Pakistani respondents to validate relational musicology as a way to foster social harmony by imagining the possibilities of cross-group friendship. Although they do not advocate a dual Indian–Pakistani national anthem, Ghouri et al. stress the potential of imaginary emancipatory ethics, echoing research validating the role of imagining cross-group friendship as a way to foster greater cross-group understanding (Crisp and Turner 2009; Husnu and Crisp 2010).

Emancipatory ethics shifts the focus from state-centric spheres of influence and understanding to eliminating the suffering of society’s most vulnerable people (McDonald 2007). Social activists, as agents of emancipatory ethics, can refute a status quo’s maladaptive rhetoric. Like Pittz et al.’s call to recognize local voices in discourses about selling Rhino horns, Ghouri et al.’s call for a wider emancipatory appeal echoes Wilberforce and his contemporaries’ approach to mass mobilization through protest and petitions. Unfortunately, anti-trafficking activists have breached the emancipatory ethics of representing modern slavery’s victims while exposing state-centric policies that dehumanize legal immigrants as criminals or ‘illegals’ (Sharma 2005). Continuing state-centric conformity in anti-trafficking campaigns contributes to mystifying the “role of nation-states in the process of migration” by concealing the causes of “knowing why there is a lack of safe migration routes available” (Sharma 2005, p. 106). Moreover, emancipatory ethics suggests that “some of our strongest allies in ending slavery will be freed slaves. As more are liberated, they will guide us to better detection and better re-integration” (Bales 2009, p. 17).

In “Addressing the Ethical Challenge of Market Inclusion in Base of the Pyramid Markets: A Macromarketing Approach,” Anaka Aiyar and Srinivas Venugopal assess Vietnam’s public policy for providing greater transformational health services to bottom-of-the-pyramid consumers. They depart from traditional bottom-of-the-pyramid studies that consider ‘profit seeking and poverty alleviation’ intrinsic to neo-liberal government approaches, i.e., assuming quantitative freedom lifts people at the pyramid’s bottom (Varman et al. 2012). Instead, they espouse market inclusion as necessitating public policy interventions that extend the ‘profit seeking and profit alleviation’ logic of neo-liberal governmentality, echoing the proposition that “eradication of poverty is the responsibility of governments” (Hill and Adrangi 1999, p. 145). Rooted in Rawlsian principles of ‘justice as fairness,’ calls for a moral and ethical foundation to alleviate bottom-of-the-pyramid problems are proliferating (Dembek and Sivasubramaniam 2016; Hahn 2009).

Perhaps the most radical and yet optimistic and simple solution for decreasing global economic inequality is a 1% tax on aggregate income paid by wealthier countries to poorer countries as compensation for the former’s cultural and environmental exploitation of the latter (Pogge 2004; Scott et al. 2011). Alternatively, governments could help actualize their citizens’ freedoms via policies that mandate decent living conditions for all, such as a liveable minimum wage or ‘worker self-directed enterprises’ that enable partial employee ownership (Kotler 2015; Nussbaum 1999; Sen 1999). Although our abolitionist example focused on the promotion ‘P’ of marketing, other counter-marketing interventions pertain to freedom through marketing. However, complications may arise when market and policy issues relate to objectification, discrimination, violence, and cultural sexism in which “subordination or refusal to acknowledge the identity of others” becomes normalized (Hein et al. 2016, p. 226).

In “Pathways to Civic Engagement with Big Social Issues: An Integrated Approach,” Dionysis Skarmeas, Constantinos Leonidou, Charalampos Saridakis, and Giuseppe Musarra advocate using civic engagement to resolve massive problems, such as global warming and climate change, income inequality, and world poverty and hunger. They develop and validate a personal civic engagement scale meant to assess donation behavior, support for socially responsible purchases, and positive word-of-mouth communications about a cause. Skarmeas et al. show that social value orientation, moral identity, and belief-in-a-just-world can create awareness of adverse consequences, shape attitudes, and encourage a sense of responsibility and obligation.

Civic engagement, through landmark petitions to Parliament, illustrates Wilberforce’s strategy, the “decisive shift…[from] individual civic participation to a focus on collective action events” (Sampson et al. 2005, p. 675), and the aforementioned ‘top down—bottom up’ approach. Skarmeas et al.’s scale for civic participation echoes key characteristics of the anti-slave trade, whether through donations by Quaker networks, humanized symbolic products, boycotts, calls for free trade, or public discourse.

By summarizing the anti-slavery campaigns waged by abolitionists, Skarmeas et al.’s article has multiple implications for freedom through marketing because civic participation is integral to social movement theorists (Sampson et al. 2005). The values that shaped the anti-slavery movement are central to their framework. Abolitionists often reminded audiences about slavery’s amorality, retribution for slave traders as sinners, and emancipation for slaves and their white Christian activists, which culminated in a social movement characterized by love-caritas and sacrifices for the common and just good. Thus, their article specifies the ingredients for sustaining anti-slavery movements and social activism in general. Critically, they urge activists to adopt a rigorous strategic approach to planning campaigns meant to ‘move the masses.’

Discussion

Whether deserved or not, marketing’s negative reputation for squandering resources while providing no social value, accounting improperly for externalities, corrupting marketplaces with exaggerated/deceitful product claims, and spurring needless and unhealthful consumption, may make freedom through marketing seem like Orwellian doublespeak (e.g., war is peace, freedom is slavery) (Lutz 2016). However, it is not doublespeak because historical examples like the British abolitionists’ campaign show that emancipating others through marketing is possible (Hastings 2017). The near-global boycotting of Apartheid South Africa or FairTrade’s spurring of ethically sourced consumption indicate that marketing can help activists represent silenced voices and challenge the underpinnings of inequality, injustice, and oppression. Whether marketing practitioners have done enough, relative to their knowledge and skills, remains for future debate. Nonetheless, we are hopeful that achieving freedom through marketing is complex but tractable. Indeed, Marketing 3.0 calls for freeing the human spirit to achieve its full potential for humanity (Kotler et al. 2010).

The British abolitionists’ humanistic campaign, meant to emancipate silenced and repressed voices, resembled Marketing 3.0. These activists induced moral indignation and instilled moral agency by challenging the negative freedom that underpinned personal liberty at the expense of qualitative freedom for ‘the other.’ Achieving freedom for others dovetails with qualitative freedom, which reflects related freedom-nurturing values such as caring, equality, justice, and empathy. The post-emancipation legacy of colonial and neo-colonial slavery—including modern slavery—indicates the abolitionists’ legacy remains important. Prioritizing emancipatory ethics, engaging in ‘top down—bottom up’ resistance to oppression, inequality, and injustice, centralizing humanness in emancipatory campaigns, identifying silent stakeholders, and harnessing antecedents of civic participation, are some contributions this thematic symposium makes to anti-modern-slavery activists and prosocial activism.

Wilberforce inculcated public sacrifice on behalf of the common good by fostering love-caritas for slaves. Although his critics lamented his deliberations supporting slave revolts (Matthews 2006), Wilberforce’s positioning of these revolts within Christian humanitarian ethics helped mobilize Britons (Keys 2013). He anticipated humanization scholars who contend empathy mediates re-humanizing the dehumanized (Fiske 2009; Harris and Fiske 2009). Extending his common-good lens to emancipatory ethics, the victims of transatlantic slavery and Black (often female) activists should define and shape the abolition story (Waterton and Wilson 2009).

Key to emancipatory ethics is prioritizing silenced voices over state policy and status quo doctrine. During the aforementioned biennial abolition commemorations, the role of British and European slavery on Africa was ignored (Paton 2009). In contrast, “while the Atlantic trade led to the enslavement of 10–12 million people, the process precipitated by [the Slave Trade Act of 1807] led to the ‘enslavement’ of an entire continent of hundreds of millions” (Paton 2009, p. 284). Indeed, the U.K.’s decision to mark August 23rd as its anti-slavery day risks public memory of the slave trade (Paton and Webster 2009). Like the U.N., perhaps a decade of commemorating the slave trade’s injustices would instill the moral agency and moral indignation Wilberforce and his contemporaries envisaged. Rather than the U.S.’s toothless annual Black History Month, the U.N.’s International Decade for People of African Descent better represents the emancipatory voices raised against injustices inflicted on Africans. The latter remembrance avoids the paradox of freedom promulgated by sugarcoated and temporally distanced British narratives and commemorations about Britons’ role in the transatlantic slave trade (Paton 2009; Waterton and Wilson 2009). Without such a shift, the post-abolitionist discourse will continue to evolve “into a wider narrative that emphasises liberal humanitarianism” (Paton 2009, p. 284), like the colonial fusion of economics and humanitarianism in the pan-European colonialists’ ‘scramble for Africa’ (Forclaz 2015).

Like the transformative dialogic approach for gender justice, which integrates justice, capabilities, and recognition, a multidimensional and multiparadigmatic perspective would help to resolve racial inequalities derived from the transatlantic slave trade’s prolonged injustices (Streich 2002). Because memory is essential to developing notions of justice, developing a moderate cosmopolitan identity in the West that is more “open to history and memory as constitutive of individual and group identities” (Streich 2002, p. 530) would recognize the slave trade’s legacy as ongoing injustice (Rawls 1971; Nozick 1974). Recognition, in terms of formal apologies and restitution by balancing basic capabilities, is critical to affirming “those who suffered the injustice [and have] moral standing” (Roberts 2001, p. 358).

When mobilizing for social change, especially for overcoming oppression, activists can participate in harnessing people’s interior lives by nurturing “interconnectedness of all human beings and to recognize the inherent humanness and value in all of us” (Todd 2009, p. 178). Compassion flourishes when people experience inner- versus outer-world discrepancies, resolvable by working toward emancipating other people (Todd 2009). Attributing humaneness to oneself and other people requires social harmony gained via self-other individuation and collective solidarity (Jung 1966). However, self-other individuation “always involves a rupture of the normalized roles of the surrounding social collective,” especially if the germane social norms reflect repressive agendas (Lorenz and Watkins 2000, p. 7). In confessing to prosocial attitudes contrary to prevailing maladaptive social norms, public individuation—i.e., recognizing and publicizing one’s distinctiveness as a moral person—can spur subsequent activism (Maslach et al. 1985).

An inherent problem in the ‘freedom-related economic underpinnings of globalization’ is it “liberates but at the same time puts pressure on nations and people around the world” (Kotler et al. 2010, p. 12). Freedom should come naturally, as our free will is bound by moral responsibility (Dierksmeier 2014). Thus, freedom should be viewed through the prism of morality because “morality is the condition under which alone a rational being can be an end-in-himself” (Kant 1785/2002). Through “our ability to be moral we gain freedom, both to be moral, and also derivatively, to be immoral” (Dierksmeier 2014, p. 66). Thus, freedom through marketing can help to attain qualitative freedom for the people it aspires to liberate.

Recommendations for Further Research

Many scholarly domains in marketing demand re-thinking extant theory and practice to “sketch out the spaces of freedom and possibility” (Tadajewski 2010, p. 217). For example, ‘critical marketing’ scholars could create knowledge that relies on race as a self-reflective prism by drawing from postcolonial theory, critical race theory, critical whiteness theory, critical multicultural theory, or a combination of these perspectives (Tadajewski 2010). Social marketing emerged in response to the question ‘Why can’t you sell brotherhood like you sell soap?’ (Kotler and Zaltman 1971). Hence, social business can “combat processes that impoverish people, or underpin oppression and structural injustice” (Baker 2014, p. 272). Much transformative marketing has been achieved, but if we are to embrace the challenges of inequality, injustice, and oppression with objectivity and representation for silenced voices as our ethos, then we will need to embrace interdisciplinary approaches.

Whether on re-humanizing migrants or tackling modern child and sex slave trades, additional research on freedom through marketing is needed. Ceteris paribus, we recommend such research take an emancipatory ethics approach that considers state and corporate policy separately from the victims of inequality, oppression, and injustice because the former may create the latter. Achieving freedom for other people begins with self-reflection about personal and societal approaches to engaging victims. The abolitionists’ story reinforces self-reflection can drive of mass mobilization for emancipatory change—hence, the urgency for further research on marketing interventions to actualize freedom.

Notes

  1. 1.

    Wilberforce’s persuasive counterarguments to the ‘sham of Negro inferiority’ (Baker 1970), which helped end slavery, were his lasting contribution to society. To commemorate him and the first centenary of the Abolitionist Act, in 1933, the University of Hull established a National Wilberforce Memorial Committee to fund an endowed Wilberforce Chair of History (Hayward 1985). In 1983, a lecture series and conference on the intersection between freedom and slavery was established. “The intertwining of cultural and political themes, inseparable from the history of West Indian slavery and its contemporary legacies…was the leitmotif of the international conference” (Hayward 1985, p. 2). More recently, the University of Hull’s Wilberforce Institute of Slavery and Emancipation helped to shape the U.K. government’s Modern Slavery Act of 2015.

  2. 2.

    In contrast to de-marketing, which seeks to reduce product demand without maligning the product, counter-marketing treats the product as inherently harmful (Kotler 1973; Kotler and Levy 1971). British abolitionists meant to eliminate demand for slaves by impugning slavery, which is counter-marketing.

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Shabbir, H., Hyman, M.R., Dean, D. et al. ‘Freedom Through Marketing’ Is Not Doublespeak. J Bus Ethics 164, 227–241 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-019-04281-x

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Keywords

  • Paradox of freedom
  • Anti-slavery campaigns
  • Abolition
  • Transatlantic slave trade
  • Reparations
  • Mystification
  • Ethical blindness
  • Human trafficking