A vast quantity of used or surplus clothing from the Global North ends up in African countries where they are sold in street markets. According to the charity Oxfam, 70% of clothes donated or discarded in Europe end up in Africa where they represent an important source of clothing for the locals. In Ghana they are called “obroni wawu” — dead white man’s clothes. Said Accra’s waste manager, Solomon Noi, “We have become the dumping ground for textile waste that is produced from Europe, from the Americas and [elsewhere].” According to the World Economic Forum, 85% of all textiles go to the dump each year and clothing production has roughly doubled since 2000, a consequence of the ‘fast fashion’ trend. Of the clothing that ends up there, 40% is of poor quality. We are dealing with a clothing waste crisis.
Why is it important?
In places like Accra, the dumped clothes are often burned, polluting the air which locals then breathe. Some of the clothing ends up in landfills and some ends up in the city’s network of open sewers.The drainage system becomes choked and promotes flooding. Mosquitos breed as a result. Locals scour through the bales of clothing to find the good quality ones to resell. This provides a source of employment and it also enables citizens to purchase clothing more cheaply than locally produced ones. But the practice severely hinders the local textile industries of African countries and their ability to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. Overall, this comes at a great cost to the health of citizens and the environment.
What can businesses do about it?
Companies/nations should be mindful of the consequences when using African countries as dumping grounds. While there’s much debate over whether these practices are positive for African countries overall, sentiment over the past few years has leaned towards regarding it as detrimental. When the focus was on sweatshops, many clothing retailers/manufacturers changed their business practices to avoid reputational and ultimately economic damage. Fashion retailers should take note of this shift in sentiment away from fast fashion when deciding to produce products in bulk. There may be reputational damage if your brand becomes associated with dumping in Africa. While this phenomenon suggests that we limit our donating, there’s another trend of second-hand fashion that is going strong. The message that should be going out is to consume less ultimately.
By Faeeza Khan
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Image credit: Francois Le Nguyen