Do second-hand clothing exports harm countries of the "Third World"?In the past years, there has been an controversial discussion about the question, whether exporting used clothes to developing countries is harmful. Studies of the Swiss Academy for Development (SAD) on social compatibility and public acceptance of used clothing exports to Africa, as well as a short report by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) on used clothing exports showed, that these exports do not ruin the domestic textile industry.
The study of the BMZ for example examined the results of used clothing export to Benin,
Cameroon and Ghana. The study concludes that there is no evidence of a harmful effect of the
used clothing imports. Even a currents study by the organisation "Fairwertung", an umbrella
organisation for textile recyclers, comes to the conclusion that used clothing exports from
Western Europe have no negative effect on textile and clothing industry as well as textile
trade in Central and Eastern Europe.
It is a matter of fact that the people in developing countries are not poor because they import used clothes, but they buy used clothes because they are poor and have been poor before the imports started. An import ban for used textiles as well as high customs duties and subventions will not change anything. Many people buy used clothes because they cannot afford new clothes. The main cause for the African cotton industry was the poor quality and the insufficient competitiveness on the market. An import ban would particularly affect the poorest of the people. And, the frowned upon imports of used clothing have already created many jobs in these countries, as e.g. wholesale traders, market traders, tailors, dyers ...
The import of used clothes has created a new industry branch in these countries. Asking for stopping the imports of used clothing is like patronising the local population. In those developing countries there are local tailors, cheap imports from Asia and there are used textiles. As a matter of course, anybody will choose the more favourable clothes for everyday use, and for holidays maybe something more elaborate and expensive. Which tailor tries to work competitively and offer his goods at the best price, if some authorities protect them with import bans? Does such a protection not produce adverse results? If used clothes were banned (which by the way are in excellent conditions, but much cheaper than new ones), the countries would be flooded with low-quality goods from Asia. The reason for this certainly lies in the poverty of the people, who simply cannot afford to have the local tailor manufacture their clothes. Even in Western Europe people go to second-hand stores to get their clothing, often for financial reasons.
The "used clothing business" has become an important economy, both in Germany and abroad.
It is estimated that in Germany approximately 10,000 people are employed in the textile recycling industry, approximately 100,000 in Europe. Also in non-European countries, the used clothing imports have created many jobs and industry branches. Studies estimate that e.g. in Ghana approximately 1.5 million people live from textile trade and tailoring. Calling for a ban of used clothing exports is certainly not the right way to combat poverty and discrimination in these countries, but this would only affect the poorest of the people.