Tim Worstall applauds you for wanting to use some of your economic surplus to help out the poor and less fortunate producers of various goods in the developing world, but points out that the “fair trade” method is incredibly inefficient at funnelling any of that extra money to the original producers of your coffee or other “fair trade” goods:
However, you might want to have a little think about this in the lights of these quite astonishing numbers:
An interesting statistic is that in 2010, retail sales of fair-trade-labelled products totalled about $5.5 billion, with about $66 million premium — or about 1.2 percent of total retail sales — reaching the participating producers. There has to be a better way of helping poor farmers. Having only 1.2 cents out of every dollar spent on fair-trade products reach the target farmers is a hugely inefficient way of helping these people. If people wish to help these farmers there has to be charities out there that can transfer more than 1.2 cents per dollar to them.
It may well be that you are exercising your consumer choice as a way to make the world a better place. It’s just an incredibly inefficient method of doing so and thus you might want to reconsider that plan.
My own supposition is that the reason Fair Trade is so appallingly inefficient is the number of Interchangeable Emmas who have to be paid from that money supposedly going to producers. It takes very many poor coffee farmers’ incomes to pay for the PR bod advertising Fair Trade coffee from an office in central London. It might well be better to simply do as Madsen urges, and buy things made by poor people in poor countries. Then send the money saved by not paying the Emmas off to a charity of some minimal efficiency. Or even, if coffee farmers are really your thing, simply drink an extra cup or two a day and send the money by increasing demand for their production.
Update: In a marginally related item, Jonathan Katz explains why the policy of sending food to distant lands is less an attempt to ameliorate hunger than it is a corporate welfare policy to prop up US agribusiness:
The problem, says Christopher Barrett, an economist at Cornell University and one of the world’s leading experts on food aid, is that the U.S. has an entirely different goal when it comes to sponsoring humanitarian assistance. Feeding the hungry has never been its sole purpose.
Rather, the historical goal of food aid has been to stimulate U.S. businesses — the agriculture and shipping industries above all. Modern food aid was devised in the early days of the Cold War as a way to dispose of government-held surpluses, in order to regulate crop prices at home and create markets abroad. The main programs in the early days of food aid didn’t even give food away for free, rather selling it to foreign governments at a discount. “It just happened that this could get advertised as and provide humanitarian relief on occasion,” Barrett said.
Over time, things began to change. Surplus disposal became less important than other forms of domestic price control, and the cheaply sold food did not prove very effective in opening markets. When in the 1970s and 1980s, food donated during famine emergencies in Asia and Africa proved effective, free-food distributions took over as the dominant programs.
Today, the major players in food aid are nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as World Vision. But, because of how American laws are structured, domestic corporations still reap the much of the profit. Major U.S. agribusinesses can count on hundreds of millions of dollars in annual sales to the government.
Shipping companies do even better. Federal law mandates that at least half of all U.S. food aid must be shipped aboard U.S.-flagged vessels. With shipping costs taking up nearly 40 percent of any food assistance funding, the law guarantees hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts for shipping companies. The winner of the Mozambique shipment was no exception: Sealift Inc. has grossed $203 million in government contracts since 2011, mostly from the Pentagon, according to data at USASpending.gov. This benefit is not lost on the shipping industry: The sector’s leading coalition, USA Maritime, spent $250,000 lobbying Congress on food aid and cargo-preference laws in 2011 and 2012.