CAPITALISM has clocked the ethical consumer. Shoe brands like TOMS and Skechers tease in customers by matching purchases with a donation of a pair of shoes to a child in need. So far, TOMS has handed out 60m pairs of shoes, letting fashion-conscious consumers feel good about boosting children’s health, access to education and confidence. But evidence suggests that shoppers’ warm glow is unjustified.
Handing out aid in kind gives plenty to worry about. It could suck life from local markets, and foster a culture of aid-dependency. Handing out goods rather than cash runs the risk of spending money on things people neither need nor want. To find out if its intervention had worked, TOMS, to its credit, asked a group of academics to investigate and gave them assurances that they could publish whatever they liked. In late 2012 they randomly picked which of 1,578 children across 18 rural communities in El Salvador would receive pairs of TOMS’ black-canvas, rubber-soled shoes. By comparing the places and children who received the shoes with ones that did not, they could work out how much these boots really gave…Continue reading