Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Clothing donations can sometimes be harmful

I have seen firsthand the abandoned cloth factories in Central Africa, I have seen firsthand the truck loads of clothes that has been carted into the public markets by the Salvation Army; this clothing is destined to be sold by the pound.

The pre-printed t-shirts from the losing superbowl team, the castoffs that look so out of place but are very commonly seen:

People mean well, but let us face the truth, most people do not think beyond getting rid of stuff they do not want, most people have no clue of the negative impact their castoff clothing can have.

“About 80 percent of the donations are carted away by textile recyclers, says Jackie King, the executive director of Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles (SMART), a trade association for textile recyclers. She says that means about 3.8 billion pounds of clothing that is donated each year is recycled”.

“King says nearly half the donated clothes -- about 45 percent -- is exported”.

“The sale of Western cast-offs starts with charities in European and North American countries that earn money by offloading donated clothes they cannot find buyers for. The unwanted used clothes often end up in landfills. Increasingly, however, they are also being purchased by wholesalers, who then sort, label and package them into containers for export to different markets”.

“A large portion of these previously owned clothes ends up in market stalls across Africa -- according to an Oxfam report, used garments account for over 50% of the clothing sector by volume in many sub-Saharan African countries”.

"The long-term effect is that countries such as Malawi or Mozambique or Zambia can't really establish or protect their own clothing industries if they are importing second-hand goods," says Andrew Brooks, lecturer at King's College London and co-author of a study called Unravelling the Relationships between Used-Clothing Imports and the Decline of African Clothing Industries".  "Your t-shirt may be quite cheap for someone to buy, but it would be better if that person could buy a locally manufactured t-shirt, so the money stays within the economy and that helps generate jobs," he adds.

There needs to be a balance in charity. In the short term, the donations do help; however, what is the long-term goal? If the goal continues to be ‘get rid of stuff we do not want’, then the system is completely flawed. The continent of Africa needs real lasting investment, not just ‘dump and run’ as what is happening with the clothing donations, or ‘come in and takeover’, as what has happened with Asian manufacturing.
 The introduction of trade-liberalization policies and the opening of economies in the 1980s and 1990 allowed both second-hand and cheap new imports, especially from Asian countries, to enter markets across the continent. This undermined growth opportunities for many local industries and led to the closure of several African clothing factories, say experts.” (http://edition.cnn.com/2013/04/12/business/second-hand-clothes-africa)
Educate yourself on the long-term effects of the things we do, ignorance is not a good excuse.
Dr Flavius A B Akerele III
The ETeam

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