Social and Economic Impacts of Apparel Trade–Questions from FASH455


Debate on Used clothing trade and AGOA

#1 What evidence can support the arguments that cutting off secondhand clothing imports from Africa will allow African nations to build their own textile industry? Likewise, what evidence can support the arguments that African countries overall benefit from importing used clothing from countries like the United States?

#2 Given the debate on used clothing trade on African nations, will you continue to donate used clothing? Why or why not?

#3 China holds a dominant position in textile and apparel production and exports because of their vast amounts of technology, workers, and resources. How do you think least developing countries like Africa will be able to keep up with such steep competition? Why or why not it is a wise decision for the United States to threaten to take away East African countries’ benefits under AGOA?

Social and economic impact of apparel trade

#4 Is factory employment in India a step in the right direction for the country’s gender equality? What effects, positive or negative, could such employment have in regards to gender issues?

#5 We keep arguing that globalization is negative because we are taking jobs away from U.S. workers. But by sending more work to factories in India, we’ve created jobs for these Indian women who, before working in the factories, were sheltered and only sent off into the world for arranged marriage. In this sense, is globalization still negative if we’re creating a sense of freedom and purpose for these women?

#6 As detailed in the article, the working conditions and treatment of workers is extremely unethical in some garment factories.  Can globalization help this issue or hurt it more? 

#7 How do you compare your life to the Indian girls in the article? And please just imagine: ten years later, what will the life of these Indian girls look like? How about yours?

Welcome to our online discussion! Please mention the question # in your comment.

Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

27 thoughts on “Social and Economic Impacts of Apparel Trade–Questions from FASH455”

  1. Regarding question #6, unethical issues in garment factories I think will only worsen with globalization. With the rise of globalization factories need to be faster and more efficient then ever. Therefore, worse conditions will most likely be seen in factories due to a high demand of production for what will now be on an international scale. Also as far as wages, workers may not be paid as much as before.

    1. interesting point. But what makes you think the unethical issues in garment factories will only worsen with globalization? For example, in countries like India and Bangladesh, was the factory working condition better than today?

  2. #2: I understand that there is a devastating amount of used clothing that is sent to African countries that aren’t needed and it’s becoming a problem in those nations because of the oversupply of used apparel. In fact, Rwanda alone imports around $18 million of secondhand clothing each year and is planning on banning the sale of secondhand clothes within the next couple years (
    However, it is personally hard to justify not giving away my used clothing if it’s in good condition to places like GoodWill or other secondhand clothing stores, when people in this country rely on those apparel items for their discounted prices. I think there are solutions other than sending the used clothing overseas to African countries, since it’s severely hurting their people and economies. We should be responsible for how much clothing we are producing, selling, consuming, and giving away. I think giving away clothes is a better option than having the clothes go to a landfill. Although, I think textile and apparel companies and other of industries (not just the textile and apparel industry) should be brainstorming ways to 1) make clothing/textile products they are manufacturing more sustainable 2) slowing down the cycle of fast fashion and 3) finding ways to recycle clothes in a responsible manner. For example, I know of brands like Noorism and Zero Waste Daniel who currently are doing their part to reuse secondhand denim and fabric scraps to create and sell new garments, which is a great start but they are still relatively small brands. Big brands, retailers, and companies need to start doing their part to help.

    1. great thoughts and thank you for the additional article! So do you think it can be a good idea if the US government prohibits the export of used clothing to other countries?

  3. With regards to question #4, it is clear that giving women factory jobs is opening up so many new opportunities for them and making them much more independent. I think this is an amazing step for a country that has very little women’s rights. This is an extremely positive development for young women looking to break the mold of marrying young to a husband chosen by their parents, but it could have some negative consequences. It could lead to violence towards these women from people who are determined to keep their culture the same. Many people in India still want to keep their cultural and religious beliefs the same way they’ve ben for so long, and giving women jobs and pushing off marriage does not conform to these beliefs.

  4. #5 I believe this example of globalization in India where it provides these Indian girls a sense of freedom and purpose is an overlooked benefit of globalization. In globalization, there must be trade-offs because we do not live in a perfect world. Although it may be taking jobs away from American workers, it is pleasing to know that these Indian women are being given a whole new life they would otherwise never have been able to experience all due to globalization. It is sad that Americans are loosing jobs but they should be able to find other ones, whereas in India globalization provided these women with a life altering opportunity of freedom and purpose.

  5. #2
    I don’t think I will stop donating entirely but I absolutely intend on looking for other ways to dispose of clothing I no longer wear. I think it is more important to try and stimulate the African economy and allow them the opportunity to produce their own goods because in doing so, they are creating more jobs, and stimulating their own community’s economy. I think recycling clothing is one of the best things you can do. First I’d say see if friends or family could utilize the clothing but if it reaches a point where it is unwearable, recycling is the most fiscally and environmentally conscious decision with regards to discarding garments. A lot has yet to be done on developing the technology to easily and efficiently recycle clothing however, any steps we can take to showing society that it is something worth developing are steps we should be taking as consumers.

  6. posted on behalf of
    Factory jobs in India are helping to even out the playing field when it comes to gender equality. Allowing women from poorer areas to work in the factories gives them opportunists that they would not have otherwise. For example, these women from the smaller towns have to be given arranged marriages and continue to have their lives dictated by their in-laws. However, by being able to work in factories they are able to create their own future and earn their own money. Not only that, but some of them are even making more money than the men in their hometown are making by working at these factories.
    Going off of these, globalization does not have to be viewed as strictly a negative. Although with globalization comes the loss of jobs in the United States, it also does provide opportunity for impoverish countries and cities. For example, If factories in Bangalore did not exist then thousands of women would not have the opportunity to make their own living and their own money. It is important to look at the bigger picture and not only focus on how it is effecting us as a country but how it is effecting the entirety of the world when it comes to economics and opportunities.
    It is rather tricky to distinguish the impacts of globalization when it comes to the working conditions of factories. Overall, as time passes the conditions of factories are getting better. However, this cannot necessarily be associated with globalization 100%. I believe the biggest reason on why the conditions are getting better is due to the fact that people are learning and becoming more aware of the working conditions overall. With learning there was a deathly fire in a Bangladesh factory or that a factory collapsed, people are more inclined to make the work environment more safe in order to protect their employees and avoid scandals. It is obvious that U.S. companies will not want to work with factories that are notorious for horrible working conditions because we as Americans do not find this morally okay. That is when globalization has a factor. Factories have to continue to improve the conditions overall to make sure they can keep up with the U.S. standards or in other words the standards of the companies they are supplying to. However, there will always be factories and companies that want the lowest price and the fastest production. Because of that, there will always continue to be terrible working conditions that are overlooked simply to make the companies more profitable. It can be said that globalization can have a positive effect on factory working conditions but also can cause some factories to worsen if they continue to be overlooked simply for companies to gain for it.

  7. #6
    I think that globalization has the potential to either hurt or help unethical working conditions in the garment industry. It could help if other nations step in and make sure that the foreign factories they are using standby their ethical standards. However, if countries like the United States do not make known how important ethicality is to them, then this could hurt the already unethical conditions even more. Based off of what other nations approve of and allow to happen in their garment factories, they can either prevent or stand aside while unethical working conditions continue to grow.

  8. #2
    After reading the article regarding the problems with donating used clothing to African nations I will try to lessen my impact to the used clothing trade. Currently, it is rare that I donate clothing to a company, instead re-purposing it to something else, or donating it to family friends. I agree with others that its important to leave the African economy alone enough to let it grow on its own. Africa has become the dumping ground for objects that Americans grow tired of. It’s disgusting and not only is it affecting the African economy but it’s destroying the environment as well. America should invest in better recycling programs and initiatives instead of dumping their garbage on other countries land. And, retailers should adopt more up-cycling and “buy back” programs, where they can take back customers old clothing and recycle it properly or even reuse it.

  9. #3: The general approach to advancing developing countries’ economies is often rooted in Modernization Theory which essentially argues that industrializing will improve economic and social factors in developing countries and allow them to eventually reach parity with post-industrialized nations. China was a unique situation because of the governments involvement in China’s industrialization and economic growth.
    The theory is flawed because countries like the US and the UK were able to industrialize without outside competition. Developing countries today cannot follow the same pattern for economic growth because of countries like the US and China who make it impossible for these developing countries to compete with post-industrialized economies. As a result, developing countries in East Africa need AGOA and other preferential trade agreements in order to build their economies. They may have enough workers, but they do not have the technology and resources to create garments on the same scale. The US should not be threatening East African countries’ benefits under AGOA. They should be recognizing that their advanced economy is making it difficult for these countries to develop the same way as the US historically did.
    While the US is moving towards more protectionist trade policies, it would be beneficial for the global economy to continue to support these East African nations and maintain these new trade allies. The wealthier these countries become, the more products they will ultimately be able to afford to buy from the US. They will still be a good market for US goods and may help the US become less reliant on Chinese manufacturers if they so desire.

  10. #6 I believe globalization can help improve these issues. With increased globalization, more companies are hiring workers overseas, which then sell to more consumers. Many consumers care about where their clothes are made and it can greatly hurt the companies business if they continue to treat workers unethically and consumers find out. I don’t think many companies are willing to take that risk. I also think increased globalization will improve conditions because over time companies can gradually improve the work environment and policies.

  11. #2 As we can see from this article, donated clothes can do a lot more harm than most people realize. Not only do they go to these developing countries and stifle local economic growth and encourage dependence, an overwhelming majority end up in landfills. Instead of donating clothes that we know will most likely end up in landfills, I think we will start to see more upcycling fashion companies and maybe an increase in users on social marketplaces such Poshmark and eBay.

  12. #2 Given the debate on used clothing trade on African nations, will you continue to donate used clothing? Why or why not? No, I will not continue to donate used clothing. Instead, I will either refashion the clothing, give it to a younger family member, or recycle the materials. There is already an enormous surplus of used clothing which is preventing Africa’s textile industry from growing and developing.

    #7 How do you compare your life to the Indian girls in the article? And please just imagine: ten years later, what will the life of these Indian girls look like? How about yours? My life is so different from the Indian girls in the article. I am living a life in which I am expected to go to college, get an education, and then find a job, whereas they are expected to strive towards marriage and working is looked down upon. In ten years, I will have a job in the fashion industry where my salary will continue to grow, and for them, their future is so undetermined and anything could happen. They could be the pioneers of a change in the Indian way of life for young girls, or they could lose their jobs and be shunned by their village members due to their choice.

    -Katherine Kornienko

    1. very interesting point! I hope the readings help our students see the social and economic impact of the apparel industry and many tough challenges remain to find a better solution.

  13. #2 Given the debate on used clothing trade on African nations, will you continue to donate used clothing? Why or why not?
    There are many pros and cons to donating clothing. Many times the donators have good intentions in donating with the hopes of helping someone less fortunate and keeping their clothes out of landfills for a little while longer. Unfortunately, many times these clothes end up piled to the sky in Africa. So many people are donating that they don’t know what to do with all the clothes. This is actually hurting Africa more than helping because they are unable to start their own T&A industry. This is hindering their industrial and economic growth as a nation. It may seem counter intuitive, but it is more helpful for the donations to stop in order to give manufacturing a chance. This will grow more jobs and exports from Africa.
    I will continue to donate clothes but look very carefully into where my clothes are going after they have been donated. I will only donate to organizations that keep the clothes locally. Additionally, I will try to recycle and reuse my clothes in unconventional ways to keep them both out of landfills and in rotting piles of donated clothes that have been tossed to the curb. I still think donating is better than throwing clothes out in the trash, but we must donate smarter.

  14. #4. I think factory employment for women in India is a step in the right direction for gender equality. By having a job and making their own money, women can be dependent and not rely on man’s salary. Factory jobs allow women to develop a sense of self worth, interact with others,and even become educated. Because a woman will be able to her own money, she can decide her own fate rather than be subjected to a man’s earnings. Although this is a positive step, unfortunately women are not always treated right in the work force and are abused by male supervisors. It is important that the owner’s of these factories make sure that the women are treated fairly. The companies must set strict guidelines and rules. It is up to the consumers to make sure that the companies are ensuring that their women employee’s are treated fairly. If this is not the case then consumers should not buy the company’s products.

  15. In regards to question #2, the issue of donating clothing is definitely a very important thing to address in the lifecycle of our clothing. Since reading the article, and even before this class, I’ve started making more of an effort to find alternatives to just donating old clothing. Starting last summer I created an account on the clothing resale app Poshmark to sell my unwanted clothing that is still in great condition. Besides resale, I’ve look for alternatives like using my extensive collection of t-shirts to create a t-shirt quilt which I will use more than the 100+ high school, college, vacation, and sports shirts I’ve accumulated over the years. Also, I have made a very conscious effort to only purchase garments that are classic and versatile so I am not throwing out trendy clothing at the end of every season. So, even though I may not be able to completely stop donating clothing I will be doing it much less and instead looking to creative solutions to solve this issue.

  16. #2 I think this question is a very important one today. Reading these articles gave me a new perspective on donating clothing, as we are always encouraged to donate our old clothes and told that people in these countries need them. On the other hand, I think some people in our country who can’t afford new clothing are definitely in need of donations. I usually donate my gently used old clothing to places like Goodwill, where people here in the US can enjoy them. Maybe a solution to other countries not wanting our donations is to ban used clothing exports to the countries where they feel they do not need them.

  17. #1
    In my Anthropology of Clothing course that I took last year, we were required to watch the documentary “T-shirt Travels” which focuses on the second-hand clothing market in Zambia, and how it has affected the apparel industry in the country. As stated in the film,“The creditors of Africa would have us believe that globalization and the free market economy is the solution to the debt crisis”, however that is quite the opposite. In Zambia, the workers there are even worse off than those in Bangladesh. Those who had jobs such as teachers and nurses are now selling second-hand clothes in order to make a living. Even so, it is the commercial dealers that are making the money in this situation, by buying the second-hand clothes from Goodwill for nominal cost, and then turning around and selling them to the merchants at prices that are increased by 300-400%. Because of the second-hand clothing market, all of the retailers and manufacturers have been shut down because no one could afford to buy from them. This significantly damaged their economy, which is when the industrialized countries in the North decided to step in and assist, which ultimately led to Zambia’s dependence on other countries in order to continue on as a country.

  18. #6 I think ultimately in the process of globalization, increased communication across borders will help to improve working conditions for laborers in all fields. Already many brands require that certain safety standards and guidelines be upheld in order to source from a given factory, whether or not those guidelines are law of either country. Such guidelines can eventually shape laws internationally if enough companies consistently require them. As supply chains for many products continue to diversify, there will continue to be more liaison positions and companies that aid in contractor supplier relations.

  19. After the debate on the used clothing trade on African nations, it is hard to say if i will continue or not to donate my used clothing. It almost feels wrong to say no to that, when you constantly see commercials and ads of African families in need of anything. After learning that much of the amount of clothing sent to Africa is not needed and is becoming overwhelming to the nation, I feel I can find better solutions to donating my used clothing. A lot of homeless shelters, and places like goodwill directly disperse the clothing to local communities in need. This would be a good option because right here in America, many families are in need. Recycling or reusing my clothing on places such as Poshmark, or younger family members can be another great option. Most people do not even know where there donated clothes end up, and I think it needs to be more apparent how we are producing, selling, and sending too much clothing everywhere in the world.

  20. #2: After the debate on the used clothing trade on African Nations, I have decided that I will only donate my clothes to organizations that absolutely need it. It is sad to hear that our efforts of donating clothing to Africa is actually hurting them rather than helping. If this is true, I am confused as to why their are so many commercials, and charities that want to donate to Africa. I want to try to research better and more useful ways to donate my clothing. Although there are second hand thrift stores such as Good Will and Posh Mark, I would much rather donate my clothing for free instead of gaining a profit from it. I also think a great way to help African nations get rid of any unused clothes would be to have representative go to Africa and donate all the unused clothing their to other struggling countries that are not as publicized. Even here in the United States there are millions of homeless people, so donating to homeless shelters would be my main goal.

  21. #7 When comparing my life to that of the girls in the article I was starting to feel sad. So much of it is so similar, yet so much different. I can compare they’re life of work, staying in rooms with the other girls, to that of going away to college. Gossipping about boys with roommates, being on our phones, and trying to do life on our own. But at the same time, they arent getting the same support from their parents like I do. Things that I am encouraged to do, is frownd upon by their society. In 10 years I hope to be married with a job, maybe even a few kids. If these girls don’t make it in the factory then they have nothing to work for.

  22. #2 Although there is a substantial amount of clothing being donated to Africa and it is hurting their economy, I will not stop donating my used clothing altogether. If clothing being donated to Africa is putting their economy at a disadvantage, then I think we should specifically stop donating there but not stop donating in general. Retailers and consumers have a responsibility to properly dispose of unwanted clothing and should pay attention to where they donate it. If Africa doesn’t want or need it, then we should be donating to other countries who do. In my opinion, donating clothing to people who need it is a much better alternative then it ending up in a landfill and contributing to the ongoing pollution problem that the fashion industry adds to every year. It is also up to retailers to find new ways to make their products more sustainable and it is up to consumers to reuse or donate their clothing where it is genuinely needed.

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