Donating clothes: aid or harm?

Monday, June 01, 2015

I have always been a huge fan of secondhand shopping, so in a way Ghana is a paradise for me. Why? Because of the markets strewn with huge amounts of secondhand clothes at cheap and negotiable prices.
However there is a dark side to it: A fair share of these clothes have once been donated in countries outside of Africa. I guess everyone has once or twice donated some old clothes or shoes in the hope to help someone with something you don't need anymore, but can still be useful for someone else.
The problem is that a lot of these "donated" clothes are sold in bulk to traders in African countries, like Ghana, who sell them to smaller traders, who sell them on the market.

Never in all my time in Ghana, have I witnessed or heard of clothes being distributed to the poor for free (the only exception was a pair of TOMS to each child in one of the local junior high schools in my town). Now this might not come as a surprise to you, but many of the organisations collecting donated clothes would like to create this very image and often they are succesful.

The deception of donors is not the only thing I find problematic. It is also the economic effect on African countries. One could argue that dealing with secondhand clothes also contributes to the countries' economy and it certainly does. Nevertheless, the effect is small and it also damages the countries' own textile and clothing production. Another thing is the dependency on other countries due to the import of clothes. The prices are low (one tee shirt can cost one cedi, you pay the same for two grilled plantains, a staple food), which is why the profit margins when selling second hand clothes are rather thin. Far less people in the country itself benefit from it than if you bought fabric and give an order to a seamstress.
Some organisations argue that the people buying second hand clothes and those buying fabrics were two different customer groups, however my personal experience in Ghana was quite different.

 What now?

I'm not saying that any donation of clothes is bad, but if you do donate, make sure you select a reliable organisation. You should also consider only donating to organisations who operate within your own country and distribute clothes to refugees or the homeless.
If your aim is to support African countries and their economies, I would recommend to choose products, which are produced by native businesses in the countries themselves, instead by global corporations that just export the raw materials.

- Sarah

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3 Kommentare

  1. Interesting read! Thank you ( :

  2. You're welcome, just let me know when you'd like to know something in partiular about Ghana, maybe I can help you ;)

  3. I never realised this! Thanks for this post.