The controversial topic of exporting donated cloth to African countries

Due to of the fast fashion industry more clothes are bought and not used after a short time, even though the items are still in a good and wearable condition. That is why around 391.752 tons of textiles are thrown away in Germany every year. The big question is: What to do with those items? 

Besides second-hand flea markets and local second-hand shops, there is also the alternative to use one of the many containers by different companies and NGO´s. These textiles get sorted and sold to commercial customers. Some are process into cleaning rags or raw materials, but most of them (50-55 %) are sold and exported as clothing (FAIRWertung). Is the export to other counties, e.g. in Africa sustainable or is it harming the local industry? The discussion about the impact of the export of second-hand clothing, especially on countries in Africa, is controversial. This article presents pro and contra arguments for the export of second-hand cloth to Africa.

First of all it´s good to increase the lifetime of an item, because the production of new cloth consumes resources (e.g. water, energy) and emits CO2. Also, textile production often lead to high pollution of water and air, if the waste is not properly treated. Besides that, if the item actually reaches people in need and the profit made by selling the cloth is used for social projects or covering costs only, like some companies do, it seems like a fair thing to do. But not all companies are as transparent as they should be, and some might make huge profits out of donated items.

On the other side, the local textile industry has to compete with the donated cloth. Obviously, the local industry can-not produce and sell as cheap as the imported cloth.  Therefor the textile industry in some African countries has shrunk enormously in the last 50 years and some African countries have been thinking about an import stop of second-hand clothing for years. But that might just lead to profits for the cheap and less qualitative imports of new clothing e.g. from Asia. Those are dominating the market at the moment and not leaving enough room for the local industry ether way. Reason is the low purchasing power of the general public, based on the low income and therefor the dependency on cheap clothing, and the few local companies that could actually compete with the Asian imports. But wouldn´t there be higher income and cheaper local cloth if a local fashion industry had a chance?

But today through the new arisen marked of second-hand clothing, also new jobs and opportunities have followed, which would get lost if the countries would simply stop the import. But are these the right jobs in order to create a sustainable economy?

Nor do the people want to be told by politicians what they are allowed to buy. Therefore the main instrument to reduce the import the past years has been increasing the customs fee.

So there are important arguments for and against old clothes collections. In each individual case, it should be checked what the company providing the container does with the clothing and what it uses its profits for! For example, check out ´Fairwertung´, an organization for cloth donations, whose 130 members had to sign a Code of Conduct.



Das Geschäft mit den Kleiderspenden (

Rekord beim Textilmüll: Jeder Deutsche wirft jährlich 4,7 Kilogramm Kleidung weg - Wirtschaft - Tagesspiegel

Textilrecycling - Der Import schafft Arbeitsplätze für Hunderttausende - Wirtschaft - (

Recycling: Warum Afrika unsere Altkleider nicht will | Augsburger Allgemeine (

Was Altkleider für Afrikas Wirtschaft bedeuten - WELT

Der Altkleider-Wahnsinn: Mit Spenden Schlechtes tun | Wirtschaft | DW | 27.11.2018

Altkleider-Wahnsinn: Wer von unseren Spenden profitiert - und wer nicht - FOCUS Online

Altkleiderspenden für soziale Projekte! | Dachverband FairWertung

Bild: © Andreas Lischka