Go into your favorite shop and pick up a t-shirt which has some catchy little phrase telling how important it is to “Save Africa”. It sounds like a wonderful idea after all. I mean you like the t-shirt, its in a color that looks great on you and you’ll get to tell all your friends about how you helped feed the poor in the process.
We at Mama Afrika sell goods to feed the poor; so it would only follow that we would love the idea. But when people ask me about it, I tell them what they might not have considered before deciding on their most recent purchase.
If the company offers a donation with the purchase of your cell phone, tennis shoes, t-shirt or other product you normally buy; it seems logical that it is better to buy that one than not. Heck, why not even talk ourselves into “needing” the new shoes so that we can help?
Well, lets start at the beginning: the vast majority of those products are not made in Africa. Africa makes textiles though, so why not? Well, if the company producing the t-shirt can buy them from a factory in China where the workers have no rights and are paid a penny or two for the sewing, they should be able to donate a large part of their sales revenue to the poor. Now though, the donation is being made at the expense of the Chinese factory worker who has no basic rights that the average employee in the West takes for granted.
But let’s forget the Chinese worker for a moment and consider that the fact that the fabric is being sewn in China also means that it isnt being made in a textile factory in Lesotho for example where over 35% of the population is infected with the HIV virus; but have no place to work since the United Nations decided not to renew the trade agreement which gave them the ability to trade at an advantage by not having import taxes charged. So, where there were hundreds of thousands of factory employees able to support their families by working hard in textile mills just a few years ago… now those factories have closed and people are finding less opportunity to buy African clothing items. Who has filled that gap? Why, China of course.
Yes, the cotton might be high quality African cotton; but it is exported at very low prices and finished in China.
So far, we’ve found two reasons not to buy that t-shirt which is supposed to “Save Africa”. Let’s move on to reason number three: donations don’t save people unless its in the midst of crisis.
Yes, if we are talking about a natural disaster or a coup d’etat, donations are needed to feed and move people to a safer location. But it is NOT a permanent solution. What is needed is trade on fair terms. Africans don’t want to live their lives waiting for hand-outs, even if the people handing out the money or goods are famous European or American rock stars or hits at the box-office.
The only solution is to offer Africans the ability to feed themselves through earnings. We need to think long term and figure out that supporting fair trade companies, offering assistance in the form of micro-loans so that men and women in Africa can start small businesses, donating to programs which train youth to learn trades or even something as small as only buying fair trade coffee or tea each morning instead of giving your $5 to a company like Starbucks which tried to trademark the name of Ethiopian coffees, preventing the farmers from being able to market their own product globally.
I guess the thing that bothers me most about these campaigns is that it takes advantage of people who really want to do something good for their fellow man. So I say this: you can’t know the negative impact until someone tells you. Now you’ve been informed. So make informed choices and spread the word. Skip the “Save the world” t-shirt and find ways to make a real impact with your dollar, euro or yen.