Why these African countries don't want our clothing waste

We shop till we drop, hoard clothes in our wardrobes, and every few years we have a clear-out, donating our unwanted clothes. We feel better for it, thinking it justifies the over consumption, but have we ever stopped to consider if these poor countries actually want our waste?

Well the truth is… No, they don’t!

The proposed import ban

The East African Community (consisting of Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda) have in fact proposed to implement a complete ban on all imported clothing and shoes from more economically developed countries. They want locals to stop relying on waste from other countries, and to boost manufacturing and industries from within the countries, to create jobs and improve the economy.

They are absolutely fed up of being given all the second hand wear, which now is usually of such low quality that it is not worth wearing. Our donations such as a pair of jeans can be sold for as little as 1 euro in some of the local clothing markets. This makes locally produced clothes seem too expensive therefore local industries cannot compete.

Will it be imposed?

Unfortunately the proposed ban is highly unlikely to be imposed. This is largely due to the resistance from western countries such as the US, who unload millions of their second hand clothes all over the world. There are also local traders within East Africa who trade these imports and whose livelihood depends on this, such as the Gikomba Street Market which is the largest second hand clothing market in Kenya.

local African clothing industry

The effect of our donations

Our' ‘donations’ are severely damaging the local markets. 30 years ago, Kenya had approximately 110 large scale textile manufacturers however this dropped by 50% by 2006, largely due to our ‘donations’. This dropped the local employment rate of 500,000 to 20,000 workers within the local clothing industry.

In 2018, Uganda imported around 1,300 tonnes of used clothing from the U.S. and 80% of all clothing purchased in Uganda was second hand.

Our donated clothes are sold

According to The Guardian, when we drop off our ‘donations’ to charities such as Oxfam, they do not in turn give away these secondhand clothes for free. They sell our donated clothing to traders, who in turn sell these clothes within developing countries.

The clothing received within these countries is of low quality, in poor condition and the completely the wrong size for local people.

However a total ban on imports of clothing donations will most likely effect the poorest. Therefore there are suggestions being made to subsidise local production manufacturers to allow growth in the local economy, and to propose a gradual ban of Western imports.

What can we do?

Local economies within East Africa will prosper if they focus on protecting their domestic markets and grow jobs within the countries rather than relying heavily on our exports.

Nevertheless, we in Western countries must look into responsible means of disposing barely worn clothing items, particularly as less economically developed countries may soon choose not to be responsible for dealing with our waste.

Sources:

https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/may/04/east-africa-kenya-ban-second-hand-clothing-imports-west

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/these-african-countries-dont-want-your-used-clothing-anymore

Alina Bassi