The Or Foundation

Chloe Assam from The Or Foundation discusses the Stop Waste Colonialism campaign


The Or Foundation is at the forefront of pushing for a justice-led circular economy in the fashion industry. One that breaks the corporate and governmental systems that encourage over consumption in the Global North, leading to environmental and social catastrophe in the Global South. The NGO was co-founded in 2021 by Liz Rickets and Branson Skinner and now centres its efforts on Accra’s Kantamanto Market, one of the largest second-hand clothing markets in the world. From on-ground relief and recovery efforts to education, research and advocacy, its activism is far-reaching and fearless.

Its latest campaign, Stop Waste Colonialism, calls for globally accountable Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policies for textiles. Its 2023 position paper proposes introducing a fee per garment produced to fund waste management systems, the fair distribution of funds to effected countries to repair damage and build infrastructures, and for companies to publicly disclose production volumes while setting targets to reduce production by at least 40% over five years. Here, The Or Foundation’s senior programmes manager Chloe Assam talks us through this powerful initiative.

 

 


“Sustainability is a language and whereas many cultures have lost it, Kantamanto is still fluent”


How has The Or Foundation’s purpose grown over the years?

The Or Foundation’s mission has always been to develop solutions to fashion’s global waste crisis and the communities that are most impacted by it. In the early days the organisation focused on educating young people ages six to 16 years old, before they identified as consumers. Today we’re more focused on championing Kantamanto Market as the best resistance to fast fashion. Working with the market community has allowed us to leverage insights and knowledge to identify and implement innovative recycling solutions, advocate for meaningful international policy change, lead science-backed research initiatives, and provide education and programming. 

How do you frame the issue of textile waste in Ghana today?

There is no retail utopia. When clothes don’t get sold in the U.S. or Europe, they end up in Ghana, where the issue of waste is acutely visible because there is no “away” after Kantamanto. What ends up here remains here. Kantamanto receives roughly 15 million second-hand garments every week in a country of only 32 million people. The 30,000 people who work in the market are successfully reselling, repairing and remanufacturing over 25 million garments per year. But what can’t be reused, repaired or upcycled ends up in our waterways and washed up on our beaches.  

What should people know about the Kantamanto community? 

The issue is just as much social as it is environmental. Oftentimes when people hear about or see images about Kantamanto, they tend to latch on to the waste. And though it’s important that people are aware of this, we also want them to understand that sustainability is a language and whereas many cultures have lost it, Kantamanto is still fluent. This should be celebrated and highlighted as a model for everyone else, as a way for other cultures to reconnect and remember more sustainable behaviours that were likely the norm one or two generations ago.

What are some recent wins you’ve achieved for Kantamanto?

In the last year we facilitated a Town Hall at the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) with over 200 people in attendance to not only show their support for Kantamanto but also learn about EPR. We also facilitated three different delegation trips to the EU for community members to speak about the issues and stories on the ground. We also continue to remove 30 tonnes of textile waste each month from the beach, which will not be possible without community organising. 

What is at the core of the Stop Waste Colonialism campaign? 

The key concern is that the EU will follow the French precedent, which does not take the three principles we are calling for into account. We’re asking people to go on to our Stop Waste Colonialism website and sign the petition to join us in ensuring that EPR fees internalise the true cost of waste management, reduce production volumes and distribute resources globally to communities like Kantamanto where the clothing is ultimately managed. Our goal is to make sure that they are included in the policy framework. As long as these countries manage clothing waste exports, money must follow to support the people doing the work of circularity. 

Part of the campaign is Speak Volumes, a platform facilitating consumers to ask companies to be transparent about their production volumes. How as it been received so far?

People have found it refreshing to see tangible figures, and it’s been interesting how they call on both their favourite and least favourite brands to participate. Companies are opening up and are realising that they have to start talking about production volumes if we’re going to transition into a circular economy. Communication is a step in the right direction, but at the same time we are disappointed that the brands have not acted quickly enough. 

What are your goals for 2024? 

We continue to focus on our push for EPR and want to succeed in making sure that the EU and California policy allow for global accountability. We also look forward to launching several community businesses based on our research and development work and expanding opportunities for community members to represent themselves locally and internationally. In the coming months, we’ll be publishing our scientific research to ensure that the true lifecycle of a garment is considered in policy.


Visit The Or
Visit Stop Waste Colonialism  

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