Haiti Doesn’t Need Your Old T-Shirt
Try on this article published in the November 2011 edition of Foreign Policy, by Charles Kenny (full article here).
The West can (and should) stop dumping its hand-me-downs on the developing world.
The Green Bay Packers this year beat the Pittsburgh Steelers to win Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, Texas. In parts of the developing world, however, an alternate reality exists: “Pittsburgh Steelers: Super Bowl XLV Champions” appears emblazoned on T-shirts from Nicaragua to Zambia. The shirt wearers, of course, are not an international cadre of Steelers die-hards, but recipients of the many thousands of excess shirts the National Football League produced to anticipate the post-game merchandising frenzy. Each year, the NFL donates the losing team’s shirts to the charity World Vision, which then ships them off to developing countries to be handed out for free.
Everyone wins, right? The NFL offloads 100,000 shirts (and hats and sweatshirts) that can’t be sold — and takes the donation as a tax break. World Vision gets clothes to distribute at no cost. And some Nicaraguans and Zambians get a free shirt. What’s not to like?
Quite a lot, as it happens — so much so that there’s even a Twitter hashtag, #SWEDOW, for “Stuff We Don’t Want,” to track such developed-world offloading, whether it’s knit teddy bears for kids in refugee camps, handmade puppets for orphans, yoga mats for Haiti, or dresses made out of pillowcases for African children. The blog Tales from the Hood, run by an anonymous aid worker, even set up a SWEDOW prize, won by Knickers 4 Africa, a (thankfully now defunct) British NGO set up a couple of years ago to send panties south of the Sahara.