Is it bad to give your old clothes to charity?

The majority of us living in the Western world, were taught to give to charity the clothes we no longer used. Nevertheless, although our intentions are undeniably honourable, we might be doing more harm than good. As the British academic Andrew Brooks explains, “second-hand clothing maintains the status quo, it does not help the poor get richer, it just keeps things as they are at the moment”.

According to Oxfam, the global trade in second-hand clothing is worth more than $1 billion each year. If you taught that you were directly giving free clothes to the poor you were wrong. Typically, European and North American charities earn money by selling to major wholesalers the donated clothes that they could not give or sell domestically. These wholesalers then export the unwanted clothes to different markets, especially to the African continent. As such, according to an Oxfam report, used garments account for more than 50% of the clothing industry by volume in sub-Saharan Africa. For the African consumers, the debate of good or bad does not exist: these clothes are affordable, their quality is generally good and the Western designs are a success.

Nevertheless, a growing number of research suggests that the second-hand clothing donations do not led to a win-win situation as despite their positive short-term gains for African consumers, their long-term effects are unfavourable. Indeed, in the long run this trade undermines local textile and garments industries as African producers cannot compete in delivering such low prices. For instance, according to a 2006 report, the giant second-industry coupled with the very cheap clothing imports from Asia have led to a decline of 80% of the Ghanaian textile and clothing employment.

Just as we discovered in the late 60s that aid food had a negative impact in the African agricultural industry, we might me learning that our good intentions of giving clothes are also bad in the long run. Read more about this here and here.

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