June 6, 2018

Wise Giving Wednesday: Donated Used Clothing Sold in East Africa

Quite a number of charities accept used clothing donations. Some will sell items that are in good condition in thrift stores to both help raise funds as well as employ individuals in need. Some might sell clothing to companies that will shred them into rag bond paper. While others may sell the used clothing, in bulk, to for-profit dealers that ship them overseas. 

As reported in the Washington Post this past week, one of the used-clothing markets (East Africa), has become a billion dollar business. Who would guess that those unwanted t-shirts, jeans, sweaters, dresses and other items would cumulatively result in such a large economic sum. 

According to a July 2017 Report issued by the U.S. Agency for International Development, “Overview of the Used Clothing Market in East Africa,” of the four largest importers of used clothing in East Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda), Kenya is the largest. Kenya’s used clothing imports in 2016 were $124 million. The U.S. AID report notes “This is the equivalent to 6,000 40-foot containers carrying some 144,000 metric tons of clothes.”  Not all of this comes from the United States.  The report estimates that the U.S. supplies only about 19.5 percent of the total used clothing exports to this region but the U.S. share might be larger if it includes indirect shipments from such countries as the United Arab Emirates, India and others. The AID report further adds that “The used clothing industry creates an estimated 355,000 jobs in the East African community, which conservatively generates incomes of $230 million that supports an estimated 1.4 million people.” 

However, in an article appearing in The Washington Post on May 30th (“African Nations are fed up with the West’s hand-me downs. But it is tough to keep them out.”) journalists Max Bearak and David Lynch report that East African nations believe the used-clothing sales in their region are preventing them from growing their own textile industries. Some of them recently attempted to raise tariffs on imported used clothing in an effort to reduce this influence. Under pressure from the U.S. government, all of them returned to their previous rates except, Rwanda. As a result, Rwanda is now facing a potential loss of some of its duty free trading privileges with the U.S. 

In part, the philanthropic lesson here is that even the best of donated intentions can sometimes result in unimagined consequences down the line. As donors, we often assume that our generosity only results in helping others. While the charities that accept such used clothing donations are able to convert these gifts into cash to support their missions, that is only the beginning of the journey for unwanted apparel. 

Video of the Week 

As part of our Building Trust Video Series, we are pleased to provide a video featuring John Walter, President & CEO, Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy, a BBB Accredited Charity, which strives to build alliances between philanthropic individuals and organizations, and medical and academic institutions, to promote cell and gene therapy research in order to combat cancer.

Recent Reports 

We are always working with charities to publish or update reports for donors. Visit Give.org or local BBBs to check out any charity before giving. Our recently evaluated charities include:

Finally, remember to let us know by going to http://www.give.org/charity-inquiry/ if you are  interested in seeing a report on a charity not on the list and we will do our best to produce one. 

H. Art Taylor, President & CEO
BBB Wise Giving Alliance