This month, I’m changing it up a bit. We won’t be looking at issues within the production of garments themselves, but rather what happens to much of our clothing once we’re done with them and have donated it to charity.
Oh you thought they’d all be sold and bought by people to reuse?
Welcome to another episode of: Calling out the West and its neo-colonial practices!
If you have followed Oh So Ethical for a while you’ll know we hold swapshops now and then. One thing that really bugs me is when people think they can just donate clothes to us rather than actually take part in the swapping.
Today’s post is about donating clothes and the affect it has on other countries.
Many people want to donate clothes to charity that they’ve only worn a couple times or never even worn once. 30% of clothing in the average wardrobe doesn’t get worn according to research by Wrap. £140 million worth of clothes go to landfills every year in the UK and of the clothes donated to charity shops only 10-30% is sold in the UK. The rest is sold on to developing countries and then sold in their markets. This is how charities make money from unsold second hand clothes.
So if 81% of clothing purchases in developing countries are second hand clothes what does it mean for their own textile and garment industry?
Research by Andrew Brookes (lecturer in development geography) has found that this has led to an 80% fall in textile and clothing employment.
Second hand clothes are cheaper to buy than new clothes but even then they are still unaffordable
Stall holders do not have a choice in their stock so it is a risky business
Foreign clothes do not match the traditional cultural needs
It makes developing countries dependant on the west, preventing them from progressing
So how did this happen?
Although developing countries planned to produce their own goods after colonialism, they have a huge debt to repay to the West, and therefore have had to relax the barriers of trade which had protected factories. Once they were open to imports their second hand industry boomed and their own industries failed and jobs were lost.
“One of the sad ironies of today’s globalised economy is that many cotton farmers and ex-factory workers in countries such as Zambia are now too poor to afford any clothes other than imported second-hand ones from the west, whereas 30 or 40 years ago they could buy locally produced new clothes.”
In 2016 countries in East Africa announced a plan to ban imports of second-hand clothes by 2019. The affect of this will be negative for those who rely on this industry for their income but it will give a chance of their own textile industry and economy to improve. It will give them a chance to develop and reduce their dependancy on the West.
So next time you want to get rid of your clothes consider the consequences.
And next time you want to buy something consider the consequences.
Swapshops are a great way to extend the life of clothes in a conscious way. We should take responsibility of our waste rather than dump it at someone else’s doorstep.
This week Fair Favourites are Maison Bengal. I first spotted these bags at Ganesha in Southbank and then the V&A.
“Maison Bengal was set-up in 2004 in order to help fight poverty in Bangladesh, working particularly with mothers and young women. We work very closely with three fair trade organisations in country, each one best placed to identify the most marginalised communities in their area and provide training in handicraft production. Maison Bengal works with each group separately to utilise their locally grown natural materials and develop their renowned traditional skills. “
Dispatches did a report on the price of cheap clothes made in Britain on Monday.
The report exposed the factories in Leicester where they paid employees £3-£4 per hour, where employees worked 12 hours a day. It appeared that most of the people employed in these factories were immigrants. It’s possible they have assistance from the benefits system in which case the businesses are using the benefit system to their advantage. But it’s also possible that they don’t. A lot of immigrants have no recourse to public funds and no right to work. In my job, where I help vulnerable people with financial issues, I come across people in this situation all the time. So this could all be under the radar.
These factories supplied chains like River Island, Misguided and New Look. One of the factories owners, Shahir (I have to admit it was quite sad to see a muslim factory owner contributing to this unjust system), explained to the undercover reporter that the reason the pay was so low was because "We don’t get paid much for our clothes, and we need to compete with China and Bangladesh… If we pay everyone £10 or £6, then we will make a loss.“ which I think shows that the big brands need to invest more in the factories they source their stock from if they really have ethical standards. The undercover reporter also found that there were many fire hazards in a factory. This included making people work in front of a fire exit that doesn’t even open in the right direction.
New Look and River Island were notified of the issues and suspended the use of the factories as they did not fulfil their ethical standards. The report appeared to show these factories as ones that slipped through the net as the big brands were part of the Ethical Trading Initiative- “a leading alliance of companies, trade unions and NGOs that promotes respect for workers’ rights around the globe. Our vision is a world where all workers are free from exploitation and discrimination, and enjoy conditions of freedom, security and equity.”
Although I fully support this initiative, I can’t help but think that if so many factories slip through the net here, it’s hard to imagine that things will improve much faster in other countries. Just in December, after demanding an increase in their wages, 11 garment union leaders and activists were detained, security forces raided their homes, trade union offices have been vandalised, 1600 workers have been fired and police have filed cases against 600 workers. Read about it and send a letter from here to ask the Prime Minister to release those that are detained.
Just this yesterday a 20 year old man who worked in a footwear factory passed away from burns when a “fire broke out from a mosquito coil and quickly spread across the factory in the presence of chemicals around 2:00am while the workers were at work. The flame was put out by locals and factory workers by the time fire fighting units arrived, he added.” You can read about it here.
It’s one of those things that makes people feel hopeless because it’s such a wide issue in the establishment and the government. People do not have rights and they are used as commodities. I watched a John Pilger documentary recently. It was made in the 70′s about oppression in Mexico- The Mexicans. One of the discussions he had with a journalist was quite directly related to this topic. The issue of American factories in Mexico, paying workers 40p per hour and then selling the clothes back to them at retail price. The journalist also points out that corruption has been made so smooth working, it is no longer a bad thing but a way of life.
When I discussed this show with my colleague the next day she was very shocked about this poor treatment and poor wages happening in the UK. A few years ago I read about the poor treatment of workers in UK farms in the ecologist’s guide to food. I’ll do a post about this soon and find out the state of things now, as the book I read came out about 4 years ago.
Corruption, it seems, really is a way of life.
Although I’m ending on a downer, I’m not on a downer. There are so many businesses that support workers rights and we have the ability to contribute to this system instead of the corrupt one. We can also show solidarity and use our privilege to speak out against injustice.
So smoothly moving from one topic to another, please find below my fair favourites of the week!
FAIR FAVOURITES OF THE WEEK
I’ve chosen Women Worldwide this week! Women Worldwide empower women around the world. You can read stories about the people who made the products on the website too.
In small communities in Madagascar’s Sava region, the heavy workload
involved in growing vanilla and the poor price that farmers receive for
their pods mean child labour is often a necessity. Malnutrition and child stuntingare realities of family life.
“What disturbs me and my fellow Africans most is the inherent prejudice
with which the continent is judged. Relying on a biased source, news
articles such as the Mail Online’s serve to propagate old racial
stereotyping. The newspaper should apologise not only to the president,
but to all Africans