Donating clothes to charity shops is having an unexpected impact on African countries, where people snap up British cast-offs
Donations to British charity shops are threatening the existence of African textile industries.
Around 90% of clothes donated to high-street charity shops in the UK end up being exported, mostly to Africa.
Ghana, which is the greatest recipient of charity shop cast-offs from the UK, takes in 30,000 tonnes of clothes each year.
Despite being referred to as white men’s dead clothes (“obroni wawu”), people snap up the second-hand clothing, which is cheaper than clothes made locally.
The second-hand clothes export market from the UK to Ghana is now thought to be worth around £50 million.
Of course, we should take our spare clothes to the charity shop or the jumble sale but we need to try to resist buying the useless fraction of it in the first place
Osei-Bonsu Safo Kantanka, a historian from the Ashanti region of Ghana, said the practice is a disaster for Ghanaian businesses and culture.
“It is killing our culture,” he said. “If there was no obroni wawu, a lot of people would turn to the local type of dress”.
“Our belief and respect for our own things has faded to a degree that if we are not very careful sometime, somewhere, someday, we will not see some of our things anymore.”
Thirty years ago there were 40 textile factories in Ghana but only one remains today.
Environmental bodies say the UK’s throw away culture in relation to clothes is having a knock-on effect on countries around the world.
Dr Richard Dixon, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “Just because many clothing items have become ridiculously cheap doesn’t mean it’s actually all right to buy things we know we’ll probably never wear. Of course, we should take our spare clothes to the charity shop or the jumble sale but we need to try to resist buying the useless fraction of it in the first place.”
Documentary The Secret Life of your Clothes, which highlights what happens to many of the clothes donated to charity, will be on BBC 2 tonight (Monday 14 July) at 9pm.