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Donating second-hand clothes: Charity or fuelling an unethical multi-billion Dollar industry?

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posted on May, 31 2012 @ 05:05 PM
Have you ever donated old clothing, or second-hand clothes (shc) to charity?
It seems like a moral thing to do, after all it's an act of kindness and recycling.
But, what actually happens to most of those old clothes?

I just watched two documentaries that have some very concerning answers.
The documentaries follow the shc from two of the world's richer countries (the US and Germany) from where most of the clothing is put into bales and exported to Third World countries.
The German clothing ended up in Tanzania and some other African countries, where it is bought by whole-sellers and then resold to vendors.
It is not given away for free, and the higher quality items are even priced out of reach to the poor, who can only afford the lowest quality clothes.
The clothing, known as "mitumba" in Tanzania, has flooded the market and has effectively ended the local textile industry.
A few unemployed former textile workers now work in sweat-shop conditions in clothes markets, fixing and adjusting the sizes of donated clothes for resale. Shockingly they have to adjust Western plus-sizes to fit the thinner figures of the local market.

The American documentary is even more shocking, and claims that from production to resale in the Third World a pair of jeans has increased in value by 1000 percent!
In the Dominican Republic the clothes are even sometimes dumped under the supervision of armed guards and then set on fire, prompting the locals into a frenzy of clothes grabbing to fill up their bales for re-adjustment and resale. The procedure is repeated truck after truck, and the aim of the fire is seemingly to hurry the process.

In the German documentary the clothes are collected from Red Cross donation points in Germany, where a few are given away for free to needy locals, but the shelves are already well-stocked with the high-end items. The rest are sold to a for-profit organization where some ends up in Eastern Europe, but tons are then shipped off to be resold in Africa.
Similarly in the US a few items are sold cheaply locally, but most of it ends up as a commodity in the Third World.

The German documentary shows some of the middle-men in Tanzania who are extremely wealthy from the "charity industry".
I suppose one argument by the for-profit companies is that actually giving the clothes away for free in a Third World country is unsustainable, considering the transport, hygiene treatments and distribution costs, while the vendors say the locals like the Western clothes and they provide jobs to some (despite being a huge factor in the collapse of the local textile industry).

Do you donate clothes and care where they end up?
Is it ethical to allow people to believe their clothes are going to charity when they go to for-profit industries?
Is it OK if it mainly profits middle-men with luxury cars who are often not even from the local community?

In SA getting rid of old clothes isn't very difficult - one can just go to any public transport point and distribute them, although we give ours to a local hospice where it's sold cheaply on site (we've bought items there too).
I've heard that in some richer countries getting rid of old stuff can actually be quite difficult, and one hears of South Africans who furnished entire apartments in some countries from stuff they collected from the pavement, that would be considered "brand new" by our average standards.
I suppose one could also look at how cheap textiles from Asia have helped to create an extreme throwaway fashion industry, which also threatens local industries by direct competition.

I'm not sure of any good solutions, but this trade does seem unethical if the person who donates is not aware that they are feeding a commodity and for-profit industry.

Here is the US documentary:

Here is a translated and shortened version of the German documentary:

edit on 31-5-2012 by halfoldman because: (no reason given)

posted on May, 31 2012 @ 05:09 PM
reply to post by halfoldman

Yep. Have you shopped at Goodwill? There are some decent deals, and there are some major ripoffs.

Donating them to a shelter is even worse, because they end up in the trash.

Instead, how about just putting them in paper for free, or having a yard sale and marking everything a nickel?

Anytime you put things in the hands of a giant corporation or a government, you can bet things are going to get screwed up and exploited for gain.

posted on May, 31 2012 @ 05:14 PM
reply to post by halfoldman

Yeah, that's why we should only donate to local charities. I donate all my old stuff to the local children's home thrift store, all sold on site and goes straight into their organization and benefits the troubled and homeless kids they serve.
It is real easy to find out where the stuff goes and whom the money they raise benefits, all you gotta do is ask and they'll show you.
I don't know about all their locations, but I know the Salvation Army where I live gives very little back to the community with what they raise at their thrift store, plus they overcharge a lot. Probably because its a small town and they think they can get away with it.

posted on May, 31 2012 @ 05:19 PM
reply to post by halfoldman

Where I work (in the U.S) we buy boxes of clothes that have been cleaned and cut up to be used for rags. Some profit there, but I don't know where the money goes.

posted on May, 31 2012 @ 05:26 PM
that explains why i see all the soldiers in africa wearing 80's green adidas track pants and dallas cowboys superbowl champions 1995 t-shirts with holes in it.

edit on 31-5-2012 by randomname because: (no reason given)

posted on May, 31 2012 @ 05:36 PM
*mouth hanging open in shock*

I can't believe this! I mean, I guess I'm not surprised but can't anything in this world be used for the good of others? Ugh. Somebody get me off this mudball PLEASE!

posted on May, 31 2012 @ 05:40 PM
Now that I think about it I don't really know where all the clothes end up that we donate to the hospice.
It's quite possible that some of it resold elsewhere, although I doubt it's really exported from SA, but anything is possible, especially as we have a big immigrant population from other African countries with great business acumen, and they rarely stay poor for long.
There's a lot of information being pushed that one shouldn't just give stuff away randomly because it attracts the homeless and feeds their lifestyles of addiction and crime, and undermines their re-integration into their communities.
One should give to "responsible charities" only.
But this is also problematic, because it usually centers around two or three institutions in our town who already receive NGO funding, and there's all kinds of persistent rumors about one children's home where staff have kept entire donated sheep, and resell the best clothing for their own profit.

There's also a similar argument about food aid undermining African food production in some countries.
Despite SA being a middle income country with huge masses of very poor people, one can still never be sure about ethical charity distribution.
edit on 31-5-2012 by halfoldman because: (no reason given)

posted on May, 31 2012 @ 05:47 PM
I work on foreclosed homes and I hate to throw away good stuff. the problem is my house and yard look like it but I never buy many things at the store. Right now I have 5-8 boxes and bags of womans clothes. I try to give them away to people I know or run across but I do donate some stuff to Goodwill like furniture, clothes and books and such. I save many books too..... I did a hoarders 2 bedroom house where we got five 40 yard trash dumpsters out of the house!

There are 4-profit clothes dumpsters around some places and they give the county$1000 a year to put the clothes boxes. I see this as a problem and I understand how this can destroy a local economy.

posted on May, 31 2012 @ 06:09 PM
One also wonders about the impression that people in Third World countries get of the countries which "donate" these clothes.

They would sure seem like the lands of milk and honey where the streets are paved in gold, and the psychological effects alone might encourage illegal and dangerous emigration, human trafficking and high expectations to go to such places, with little realization of the hostility, further exploitation and minimal rewards at the destination.

Not to sound like an uncharitable Mr. Scrooge, but if one views these piles of clothing that people gave away for free in a foreign country from a poor perspective, then that place certainly seems very desirable.

posted on May, 31 2012 @ 06:23 PM
reply to post by halfoldman

And this is why I never donate to charity organizations that are not locally run and locally beneficial. Multi state, international, etc.. they are all scams in my eyes. They all have an agenda, a goal, they make obscene amounts of money and their benefits are not clearly seen.

But a small charity helping local children with cancer.. or a local homeless shelter or local veteran job placement service.. These you can see with your own eyes the effect they have on your community. Yeah you can still get scammed, but at least you know when you get scammed. Good luck tracking what your money pays for from the likes of the Red Cross.

posted on May, 31 2012 @ 06:51 PM
Several years ago, I worked in the clothing industry for about a year. I learned that large organizations bale and sell used clothing to other countries. Those countries then go through and take what they want (or not) and sell them BACK to US, where secondhand wholesalers resell them to second hand retailers as used clothing, grade A, B etc.
go figure. I also now USUALLY only donate to local small thrift stores etc. However, the problem with this is, if everyone did that, the local small businesses could not handle the enormous - literally tonnage - that the US discards every single day. Anyone who has been to a Goodwill center where they roll out the huge carts of clothing to be purchasd at 50 cents a pound knows exactly what I mean. And, there ARE many people in other countries who DO benefit. To deprive them all because there are a few greedy abusers isn't the answer. I say spread the love,,,, I mean clothing

posted on May, 31 2012 @ 07:00 PM

Originally posted by halfoldman
Have you ever donated old clothing, or second-hand clothes (shc) to charity?
It seems like a moral thing to do, after all it's an act of kindness and recycling.

Sounds like the same dichotomy in the title.

I give second-hand clothes away to clear space, and considering they are still useful, I give them to organizations that allegedly make use of them. Some may use them for dishonest reasons and some may use them for honest reasons.

posted on May, 31 2012 @ 07:14 PM
reply to post by Gridrebel

Good points.

I sometimes wonder about the quaintness of some local "thrift stores" now, and whether there's any difference between them and the "major charities".

I'm thinking of our hospice thrift store and it seems very homely, but even here there must be bags of clothes every day that do not end up in that store.
I wonder whether I'd get an honest answer from one of the ladies who volunteer there, or whether it works on a need-to-know basis with the volunteers at the bottom being as clueless as the donors?

What matters to us is that the hospice gets something, because everyone might need a hospice sooner or later.
That's not quite satisfactory I suppose if the sick get a fraction and somebody else gets rich.
I don't think it's really big enough to make much difference compared to Western charities, and maybe the surplus is peddled somewhere locally.

What I have heard however is that a local psychiatric institution also has a thrift store, and it gets very little compared to the hospice. It's a bit more secluded, but I wonder whether it's because mental health carries a greater stigma? I'd like to think that any surplus ends up there.

edit on 31-5-2012 by halfoldman because: (no reason given)

posted on May, 31 2012 @ 09:03 PM
I volunteered at a thrift store of a MAJOR charity and will never ever donate my things again. I give it to people I know or go to areas where that are well known havens for the homeless and give the stuff away there.

There is a LOT of waste at the "big name" thrift stores. The attitude is: "Don't worry, there's always more"

Your clothes for example... if they are deemed unfashionable or have a bit of wear, they get sold to a company that cuts them up and sells them in hardware stores as bags of rags.

Stuff is wasted all the time. When I was a volunteer, I asked why some shoes had to go into the garbage when they took too long to sell. I suggested they go to a hospice or shelter. It was too much trouble to shoe the shoe-less who couldn't afford a dime. But a bigger thrift store space can be afforded without too much trouble, OH yeah and so can a debit machine... and the internet ... and snacks for the volunteers ... You don't even want to know!

So much stuff gets wasted. Donate your things to the local church bazzar if you still have those... otherwise, have a school fund raising yard sale or give them to a place you KNOW will benefit the poor.

After all, how many poor people can afford 8 bucks for a second hand dress the thrift store got for free???

posted on May, 31 2012 @ 09:53 PM
I once recieved a sack through the door to place clothing in, and leave it out a day later for collection. This is a pretty normal state of affairs here in the UK. However the sack caught my eye, it was from a charity I didn't recognise.

I took a closer look, the sack had a web address on it, and then.. A business registration number. Not a charity..

So I had a poke around their website, and found in their FAQ.

"Are you a charity?"
"No. We are a for profit business. We take the clothing you donate, grade it, then sell it on for profit. We donate 5% of our annual profits to local charities."

I was gobsmacked. By soliciting for donations in the same manner as charities, people would automatically assume they too, were a charity. So yeah, charity clothes donations seem to be a big smelly scam.

posted on May, 31 2012 @ 10:31 PM
reply to post by BMorris

Shocking isn't it?
The charities get these clothes by the ton and then they sell them right to for-profit organizations!

Maybe not everyone cares or has a problem with this, but I think the charities should declare this from the first step a garment makes!

I also think they should declare the profit margin from where it is eventually sold and who gets what.

posted on May, 31 2012 @ 10:34 PM
I donate my stuff to a local organization that sells them for next to nothing and uses the income to help run the shop and they also sponsor a food pantry.

If you have ask around you can find out if such places exist in your area.

Goodwill is pricey compared to what they charge and they give away clothes to people who are in shelter homes.

posted on May, 31 2012 @ 11:03 PM
Almost everybody is convinced that their "small" local charity is somehow not involved.
I'm not so sure.
They probably sell some of what they get in the little charity store, but considering what people donate all the time, I'm sure a lot of what's in the Third World for-profit bales come from what they don't sell as surplus or what's "too worn" from exactly those stores.

Sure we trust charities, just like the people once trusted the churches.
But I'm wondering whether what is sold cheaply (which is not really charity either) really corresponds to what actually comes in to those little stores.
If not ... where does the rest go?

posted on May, 31 2012 @ 11:13 PM
Throwing them in the local dumpster
just puts them in a land fill..

So who cares really?

posted on May, 31 2012 @ 11:18 PM
I used to donate at my local Goodwill, but not anymore. Their prices are so high, I can't even afford to buy the stuff I donate to them!

Some stuff I don't care what happens to it, but it really irks me when I think I'm helping someone out by donating items/clothing and they turn around and sell the stuff. I could have sold it myself. I never post on free cycle, but instead I wait till I see someone ask for something I have, then I contact them and give it to them that way.

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