Food and beverage firms are frequently criticised for their impact on the spread of non-communicable diseases like obesity and diabetes type 2. In this article we explore under what conditions the sales and marketing of unhealthy food and beverage products is irresponsible.
Starting from the notion of ordinary morality we argue that firms have a duty to respect people’s autonomy and adhere to the principle of non-maleficence in both market and non-market environments. We show how these considerations are relevant when thinking about immoral behaviour in the food and beverage industry, and identify under what conditions sales and marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to adults and children is wrong.
Based on this analysis we argue that firms should take into account: whether consumers are able to identify manipulative marketing, the degree of manipulation, as well as the negative impact a product has on health. We hold that for the food industry to act responsible it should re-evaluate the marketing of unhealthy products to adults and refrain from marketing to children. We conclude this study by making several recommendations on how the food industry should interact with consumers and highlight what changes need to be made in corporate practice.