For many years, the debate between free trade and fair trade has been ongoing, and it has been one of the stalwarts of economic argument recently, in an ever changing field. Free trade proponents across the world argue that it is a viable policy to ensure a level playing field between all manufacturers, and to therefore grow the economies of developing countries through increased competition and increased production. However, it could be argued that the ramifications of free trade outweigh its benefits, and it is for this very reason that I am an advocate of fair trade, not free trade. Free trade has several disastrous repercussions attached to itself, including environmental degradation, poor working conditions, and the loss of jobs. These points mean that free trade can never be morally, or indeed economically justified.
Firstly, the introduction of free trade means that there will be a substantial decrease in the quality of working conditions. If all companies start on a level playing field, they will be forced to pay their workers less and less in order to increase margins, boost production (due to more workers being paid less) and therefore gain a comparative advantage. In order to increase profits, some companies would even resort to using child labour in order to increase production. Some symptoms of these can already be seen in many emerging economies such as those of India and China. In the 21st century, we cannot allow such blatant exploitation of workers, whose salaries were barely enough to provide a subsistence lifestyle to begin with. We cannot look at free trade on the surface and accept it, and we must think of the images of poor workers being forced to work 12-hour days, and children working in dirty factories when they should be frolicking outside.
The ruthless nature of free trade, in wiping out companies that simply are not good enough, also means that companies have to look to increase production rapidly without any concern for the environment. This means that environmental degradation occurs faster and faster, with every company needing to resort to these measures in order to gain a comparative advantage. With levels of global warming higher than they have ever been before, it is axiomatic that this policy is not economically or environmentally viable. We need to keep 80% of discovered fossil fuels in the ground to avoid going above 2°C warming, and the introduction of free trade would be a gargantuan barrier to this, ensuring that this target can never be met. Again, this will come at a cost to developing countries such as Bangladesh, where 70% of the country is less than 1 metre above sea level. This is not a compromise which we can make, and this reason alone should be enough to convince one that free trade is wrong.
Finally, free trade leads to job losses in host countries such as the USA and the UK. This means that, for example, US nationals will lose their jobs to workers from developing countries, who are prepared to work for a much cheaper price. Eventually, this will lead to these US or UK nationals either being forced to work at cheaper rates, which will not be enough to support their families, or to levels of unemployment increasing in these host countries. Either possible outcome will only exacerbate the already great problem of income inequality in the host countries, as the workers earning minimum wage will be earning far less than the chief executives of the company they work for, who will naturally take the lion’s share of the newfound profits. It is for all these reasons that I believe that free trade is immoral and wrong, and should not be practiced in the 21st century.