The Truth About Where Your Donated Clothes End Up

By the time the bale of jeans is unloaded from a container here in Accra, Ghana, it is worth around $144. That's $1.30 per pair of jeans. But when the bale is opened up and the jeans are laid out for sale in the so-called "bend over" markets, customers bend over and select their purchases from the ground for an average price of $6.66 per pair of jeans. That's a 500 percent increase in value just by opening up the bale of clothes.

So now you know that about 70 percent of your old donated jeans are being used as cloths to wipe oil off of engine parts and the remaining 20 to 25 percent of pants that left your closet with no value are ultimately sold in Africa, where American clothes are extremely popular, for an average price of about $7 per pair. That's a bargain for African shoppers -- most of them are low-income earners who cannot afford to buy newly made U.S. clothes.

And jeans are by no means the only American charity clothing items on sale here. I saw everything from T-shirts with U.S. logos like "General Motors" to major league baseball caps, name brand dresses, sports shoes and even underwear. All of them used.

There are two ways to look at all this. One view is that it is wrong for entrepreneurs to profit from what you give away to charity, and that by dumping huge amounts of cheap U.S. clothing on the streets here, African textile industries are closing their factories and laying people off because they cannot make clothes as cheaply as those American items found in the bend over markets.

Bama Athreya, deputy director of the International Labor Rights Fund in Washingtron D.C., told ABC News: "Many of these countries in Africa used to have a fairly well-developed indigenous market for textiles and clothing and particularly for hand-crafted or hand-tailored clothes. And we've seen those markets virtually disappear over the last decade or two."

Athreya concedes that the African market for used U.S. clothing is not the only reason African workers have lost jobs. ABC News has spoken to various sources who point out that Africa also lags in production techniques and suffers from lack of infrastructure, job training and from corruption that undermines efficiency. But, added Athreya, "There is no question that the secondhand clothing market has had a significant impact on domestic African clothing production. The tailors, the small producers have been put out of business. Those were good jobs for Africans and there are no jobs taking their place. This is a trade that feeds on the poor rather than benefits the poor."

And if Africans can't keep their factories open in order to make clothes, they can't make clothes to export to the United States, thus they continue to suffer economically.

Neil Kearney, general secretary of the Brussels based International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Federation says the practice is exploitative, "It is neo colonialism in its purest form. It's exporting poverty to Africa, a continent that is already exceedingly poor."

This state of affairs upsets AnnMarie Resnick, a woman we met in Manhattan while she was donating clothes, who told ABC News: "It stinks. I don't like it, but I would still give. There are a lot of people who are going to constantly profit, because this is probably happening with really nice people. With us -- and we profit too -- we get a tax deduction. If I knew how to send to Africa myself, I would."

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