Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Why do your British charity shop donations end up on sale for profit in the Philippines?

I'll clarify at the onset that I don't know the answer to that question... I was actually kind of hoping you might?

I was always a fan of the charity shop institution in my native land. I can't think of a better example of a win-win situation than getting to feel good about throwing your old clothes into a charity-branded skip rather than a regular bin before heading to the shop in person to sift through dog-eared paperbacks and buy 12" LPs you lack the equipment to play but imagine would look great on your dorm walls.

I haven't seen those shops here in the Philippines, maybe because people aren't stupid and have seen what happens when other countries have made generous donations to help them in their times of need. It wouldn't fill me with confidence in the chain of affluence either.

That doesn't mean I miss out entirely though, as I can still get my fix of three-years-out-of-date celebrity Christmas market biographies by heading to my local for-profit used book shops. Some of them still include the Help the Aged etc. stamps and pamphlets inside for added authenticity!

I can only hope that some kind of favourable donation took place on these books' journeys from a modest not-for-profit shop run by volunteers to a branded mall bookshop whose profits are most certainly not going to a deserving cause.

Second-hand books

I haven't bought used books elsewhere in the country outside of guest house libraries, so this could just be a Davao thing. I've seen these tell-tale tomes at used book shops in several local malls (Abreeza, Victoria, SM Ecoland), so they could all be pilfering from the same boat.

What makes these books stand out a mile - and what makes it confusing from a commercial perspective, even leaving morals aside - is that British culture isn't exactly big in the Philippines. They know things like Harry Potter and Mr. Bean, but they don't show Doctor Who, and you can forget about any decent British films making it to local cinemas.

These islands were colonised by Spain and America instead, and beyond the mainstream Westernisation there's a lot of love for Korean and Japanese pop culture too. But I would bet good money that no-one around here would be excited to read the biography of the bloke who does Lily Savage or have any interest in how Gary Rhodes bakes cakes or whatever he does (I grew up in England in the '90s and even I don't know what type of food he's famous for). Most kitchens here don't have ovens anyway.

They don't know who these people are. You wouldn't see these books on the shelves of a "real" bookshop like National Bookstore, they need the space for Disney Princess bags and other things that aren't books. So why even bother displaying them? Like I've said before, why not just recycle them sooner rather than later and get your shelf space back?

The books in that photo aren't (all) the worst examples (I've got nothing against Count Duckula), but why do these fat, heavy, unsaleable hardbacks occupy pride of place on a display shelf where they're going to stay for as long as the owner's patience lasts? (Which, considering some of the 1980s annuals and hopelessly obsolete programming guides still on the shelves, may be some time).

Is it just because they're shiny?

I'd suggest that if no-one among your young staff recognises the face of what's clearly supposed to be a celebrity, you shouldn't bank on the unlikely possibility that a homesick Brit with low standards will one day be willing to fork over a minimum of ₱300 (£5) for a trashy memoir aimed at barrel-scraping gift buyers five Christmases ago.

But that would be asking too much business sense from shops that rely entirely on mysterious foreign benefactors but DON'T LET YOU DONATE YOUR OWN, DECENT BOOKS THAT YOU ENJOYED AND THAT OTHER PEOPLE MIGHT ACTUALLY BE INTERESTED IN BUYING.

There are more important issues to get worked up over in this country, to be fair, but it's always good to get these things out.

What can I do about it?

If you're serious about helping the needy, you could help to make room on these shelves (and your own shelves) for more deserving literature, while also reducing the carbon cost of transporting needlessly large prestige hardbacks around the world, by not impulsively and thoughtlessly buying the latest celebrity bestseller for your sister or aunt who probably likes that person on the telly but could be putting their time to better use than reading a ghostwritten memoir. They would probably prefer the cash.

Second-hand clothes

Understandably, the chance to snap up quality foreign-made and authentic branded clothing at bargain prices is very appealing to people living on a low income, and second-hand clothes (ukay-ukay, named after the act of sorting frantically through piles of fabrics in search of the prize) is like crack to many Filipina women. In that it's addictive, it puts strain on family relationships, and it's totally illegal.

I don't know how much of your disposable fashion donations end up in the Philippines, but none of it's supposed to. I'd have to Google the reasons to remind myself, so you can do that yourself, but since I have family members who've earned a living buying bales of assorted and quality-graded tops and pants and pairing these items strategically for modest profit, I know whereof I write.

Baguio is the heart of ukay-ukay (it's also the Philippines' favourite cool-climate getaway and the hub of the illegal dog meat trade, but they only mention some of that on the tourism sites). No Filipino would return from a trip to the mountain town without bringing back a healthy selection of illicit clothes for all the family, from one of the countless stores that routinely swings in and out of business between half-hearted police busts.

What can I do about it?

I doubt that policing second-hand clothing is a major drain on public funds, considering these businesses aren't exactly sly about it and they could easily shut it down if they wanted to.

You shouldn't really be playing the 'fast fashion' game anyway, but if you are determined to keep throwing out last season's decent apparel for superficial first-world reasons, you could be making some equally vain women on the other side of the world very happy.

Second-hand people

Even the men (sorry, that should be "people." Oh no, wait, it's just men) that end up in the Philippines are hardly representative of the best of their home countries.

Whether they've been used up and spat out in a failed marriage that was, unfailingly, that bitch's fault, paedophiles, prostitute fans and other immoral bastards, people with low self-esteem who need the synthetic ego boost of being considered a slightly higher status male while the economic disparity lasts, or just cheapskates who stubbornly refuse to accept that living cheap carries a reasonable cost to their quality of life, they're hardly a worthy replacement for the bright and motivated 10% of the population that's left to seek a decent wage overseas and has to deal with your racism.

What can I do about it?

I wouldn't know anything about that. Here are some bin cats enjoying second-hand food.


  1. Would you like me to post you some ghost-written memooirs of Australian 'celebrities'? No one here wants them either.

    1. I even have to think carefully about buying books I like (they do sometimes have them), since there's no ethical way to pass them on once I'm done and I don't care about building a bookshelf of things I won't bother reading again. Whenever I see book donations advertised, it's only for children's books. It's situations like this that turn a man to ebooks.

      Like I said, not the most pressing issue this country has to deal with, but maybe once he's through lawlessly killing all the drug dealers, maybe the President can sort this out next?