If we can learn anything from Sassy Socialist Memes, it’s that capitalism as it currently stands is a flawed system – it perpetuates inequality between the countries that make products and the countries that buy products.
Solution: For every item of something that is bought, another identical product gets donated to someone around the world. This way consumers can still buy the stuff they love, and also reduce the impacts of their consumerism habits.
Now, while the idea of “Buy one-Give one” may initially seem like a simple yet effective way of tackling problems around the world, a closer look reveals it might actually be plagued with its own set of unique problems.
Here are two reasons why the Buy one-Give one model may not be as effective as you first think:
i) It addresses symptoms, not problems
The initial premise of TOMS was simple. In countries were sanitation was inadequate, children having shoes would reduce the spread of certain transmissible diseases – in particular, diseases caused by hookworms that enter the body via the feet. Countless lives would be saved.
Consider the following hypothetical though: Let’s say it costs $25 to give a pair of shoes. And let’s say a pair of shoes is given to each of the thousand children enrolled in a rural school. That’s $25,000 spent on a short-term solution that will need to be continually replaced as the soles wear out.
Why is this money not being donated to a local health organisation to be used on long-term projects such as toilet construction or education programs?
ii) It stunts local markets
If free products are being given to disadvantaged communities, what incentive is there for locals to go out and purchase locally made items?
Brooks and Simon (2012) note in their study on African clothing imports that domestic clothing industry in countries that receive second-hand imports decline significantly. There is less scope for these countries to establish a strong domestic industry or to diversify industry, generating and keeping revenue within the home country.
The discussion around the pros and cons of the Buy one-Give one model is vast, and can not be fully explored in this brief article. For further reading try the following:
- The Economist: The economics of TOMS shoes.
- Fast Company: The Buy One Give One Model Might Make You Feel Good, But It Doesn’t Make The World Any Better.
- Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania: The One-for-one Business Model: Avoiding Unintended Consequences.