The hidden face of the fashion world – This week on FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT
Have you ever thought about what happens to your old clothes once you drop them off at the op shop?
Perhaps now is the time to start, because these goodwill gestures are helping fuel an environmental catastrophe halfway around the world.
When Australian charities cannot sell donated clothes, tons of clothes end up being exported to countries like Ghana in West Africa. Ship after ship docks weekly with bullets from Europe, the United States, China and Australia.
They call them “the clothes of the dead white man”. Once in Ghana, they are taken to the bustling Kantamanto markets in the capital Accra and from there they make their way to villages and towns across the country.
The industry provides jobs for thousands of people, like Asare Asamoah, a successful importer. He brings back clothes, mostly from the UK, and if they are of good quality, he can make a decent living.
But it is a risky business. He has to pay up front for a bullet and never knows if it is trash or treasure. With the fast and cheap fashion flooding the world, the quality of clothes arriving in Ghana is getting worse and worse.
“Sometimes you went to buy something and then you don’t get what you want”, Asamoah said. “So you are wasting your money. “
And there is a dark side to this industry.
Corresponding Linton Besser travels to Ghana to uncover the dirty secret behind the world’s fashion addiction.
While 60 percent of imported fashion items are reused and resold, 40 percent is waste, creating an environmental catastrophe for this poor nation.
With the main textile waste landfill now full, unregulated landfills surround the city. These mountains of foul clothing are often set on fire, filling the sky with acrid smoke.
“It is totally a disservice for us in this part of the world because we have become a kind of dumping ground for textile waste that is produced from Europe, the Americas”, says Accra waste manager Solomon Noi.
Emmanuel Ajaab imports used clothes from Australia but he despairs of the poor quality of the clothes that arrive. From a ball of about 200 clothes, he finds only seven that he can resell at a good price.
“In Europe, UK and Australia, America they think of Africa here, sorry to say we are not like a human being”, he said to the foreign correspondent.
Thrown textiles are also washed away by monsoon rains and end up choking the city’s waterways and beaches, putting fishermen and aquatic life at risk. Liz Ricketts, who heads an NGO campaigning to raise awareness of Ghana’s textile waste crisis, blames international fashion houses.
“Waste is part of the business model of fashion. Many brands overproduce up to 40 percent ”, Ricketts said.
Noi begs those who donate their clothes to think twice about where they are going.