German Cabinet ministers Hubertus Heil and Sonja Schulze witnessed firsthand the masses of used clothes that are shipped to West Africa from industrialized nations each week, when they visited one of the world’s largest secondhand markets in Ghana.
The mountains of second-hand clothes and textile scraps that arrive in the country from abroad mean local manufacturers struggle and they also cause environmental problems.
At the market visited by the ministers, some 100 containers with some 15 million items arrive every week.
“I think you also have to raise awareness among consumers,” German Labour Minister Hubertus Heil said in Accra during the ministers’ five-day visit to the region.
Consumers should think a bit more about what they buy, Heil said. Many people in Western countries with a higher income often bought things they didn’t really need, he added.
But while consumers could shop more consciously, it was also up to governments and companies to tackle the problem, the German labour minister said.
The German government was supporting the European Commission in a new supply chain law that is currently being prepared, Heil said. Among other things, it stipulates that companies must take greater care to ensure that their finished products do not cause major problems, for example as recycled material or waste.
In Germany, a new Supply Chain Act came into force at the start of the year after a long struggle. Companies are now obliged to ensure human rights are respected across the production process, with increased reporting requirements and fines for violations.
However, that law didn’t tackle issues caused by the finished product, Heil said.
Heil and German Developement Minister Schulze, who during their five-day trip want to promote better working conditions and less environmental damage, are scheduled to travel on to Ivory Coast on Wednesday, where they plan to visit a cocoa plantation.