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Used textile exports 'not hurting Africa'

A report into the impact of exports of used clothing from Europe has been welcomed as evidence that they are not hitting African textile production.

Research for the Nordic Council of Ministers looked at whether used clothing donated by the public in their countries supported the circular economy through reuse and recycling, and whether accusations of negative economic and social impacts were valid.

Part of the report looks at claims that used clothing imports have been an important factor in the decline of African textile production.

It concludes that the ageing and inefficient domestic industries in Africa have been unable to compete with cheap production in Asia as trade barriers were lowered at the turn of the century.

Alan Wheeler, director of the Textile Recycling Association, said it would be reasonable to believe the report’s conclusions could be applied to used clothing from the UK.

“Blaming used clothing imports and citing them as the main reason as to why some African textile producers are struggling is a red herring.” he said.

“The abolition of the multi-fibre agreement by the World Trade Organisation in 2005 was the death-knell for many textile producers in this region and other parts of the world. Within months of this happening, exports of new clothing from China doubled and many African producers were simply not able to cope.”

The researchers also argue that the economic and environmental benefits of used clothing are complementary.

Team leader David Watson said: “The sorting companies have such tight margins that every single fraction that can be sold for reuse, is sold for reuse, and anything else that can be recycled, is recycled. Otherwise they just wouldn’t be able to pay for the sorting activities.”

He said that meant only good-quality clothing was exported to Africa for reuse, while recycling grades are processed into new products.

“This should put to rest any misunderstanding that Africans are sold low-quality, low-grade clothing. This is simply not the case.”

  • The Nordic Council is the official inter-parliamentary body in the Nordic region with representatives from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Åland.

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