For more than 20 years, the Tvind organisation has exploited one of the simplest and most lucrative ways to earn money – collecting and ‘recycling’ old clothes, for ‘good causes’ . It began with UFF and Humana and is now big in the USA as Planet Aid and Gaia, Britain as Green World, and in Eastern Europe as Holland House.
But who profits from this trade in western cast-offs? Is it really the poor farmers and children of the Third World? Or is there a money-go-round that ultimately benefits the Teachers Group and its top leaders most? (see panel, right)
Stories and evidence coming in to Tvind Alert suggest there is far more to Tvind’s recycling business than simply aid. Clothes are passed from one Tvind company to another, money transfers are made between companies and offshore tax havens, and charity projects prove impossible to trace.
Disillusioned Tvind insiders and embittered employees have now started coming forward with information about Tvind’s web of offshore companies.
Tvind has often refused to comply with requests for information about its trade and there must be serious doubt about the accuracy of statements it makes about the quantities of clothes it handles. It frequently ignores local regulations and has been accused of flouting EC export rules. In Denmark, France and Britain, and now Sweden, it has been in serious trouble with authorities over tax evasion and irregular book-keeping.
In Britain, the Charity Commission removed charity status from Humana after inspectors found cause for concern – little of the money from selling clothes was going to charity and it was impossible to prove any of it was actually going to Africa. Read about the closure of Humana UK here. (Two years later, Tvind is back under the names ‘Planet Aid UK’ and ‘Green World Recycling’ – and money is going into private bank accounts, not to charity. Read about Green World Recycling here.)
In 1990, the Swedish development agency SIDA investigated UFF and found only 2% of its profits left the Tvind organisation. The Valdelin Report. Today, according to insiders, much of the clothing is profitably sold in Eastern Europe, especially Romania, the Ukraine and Russia. In Sweden, UFF has again come under investigation by a newspaper for alleged fraud (December 2001 – see below)
Using distinctive wooden collection boxes in car parks, supermarkets and gas stations, Tvind collects thousands of tons of used clothes every year under a variety of names – in Europe, North America and southern Africa. The clothes are taken to regional depots for sorting. In some countries good quality clothes are sold locally, otherwise they are traded on the old-clothes market, or shipped to dealers in the third world.
Volunteers, students and low-paid staff are used to collect and sort the clothes and man the shops. The clothes companies are almost exclusively run by members of the Teachers Group, who are often directors of several different Tvind companies.